The other morning I stood naked in front of my mirror and actually looked at my body. I was horrified.
As a general rule I don’t like to look at myself naked. I don’t even particularly enjoy being naked unless sex is involved. I can just about look at myself naked side on (I look thinner that way) and I can comfortably do front on in underwear, but full-on full-frontal nudity is just not for me.
What I do love is to look at my body when it is safely swaddled in clothes. I enjoy the way I can use different cuts and colours to play with my proportions such that the real shape of my body remains a mystery to everyone including me.
However, on this particular morning it was still dark in the room so I chanced a look. Despite the softer, more forgiving early morning light, all my soft, lumpy curves were on full display with no scrap of fabric to hide or support them. Having not looked at myself properly naked for many months I realised how disconnected my internal perception of my body and its physical actuality had become.
In my head I am a thin woman. Not stick thin but strong thin, the athletic dancers body of my youth. The body I actually have is strong, yes, but made softer and fleshier from years of eating more sweet treats than my slowing metabolism can actually process. And this is the body that I find so confronting. It’s not that there is anything particularly wrong with it, it does the job after all, it’s just not the body I imagine myself as possessing.
The body positivity movement, which first began in the 60s to raise awareness of the barriers faced the overweight, but is now co-opted by all manner of people, would tell me that my body is perfect and that I should love it just the way it is, cellulite, wobbly bits et al. However, I find the pressure to embrace and love your physical flaws can become as much of a prison as a hatred of them.
Rather than exist within that binary, my feelings tend to dwell in the nebulous grey area in between. Sometimes I fight with my body trying to shrink it, at other times I enjoy its new curves. And then there are the times when all I want is to eat a whole block of chocolate, being able to fit in my clothes be damned. These behaviours tend to leave me feeling guilty, guilty for eating too much, guilty for not exercising enough, guilty for caring so much about what I look like.
While procrastinating at work one evening I happened across a 2018 article in The Guardian that described the rise of the body neutrality movement — ‘Instead of emphasising the need to love how you look, concepts such as body neutrality, fat acceptance and body respect are allowing women to make peace with their bodies.’
This intrigued me. At one time or another the striving for love or the removal of hate had required rather a lot of time, effort and perseverance of me — in comparison, neutrality distinguished itself as a less energy intensive option.
And so that is what I am going to aim for from now on, the end of warfare and the beginnings of peace so that next time I catch my naked body in the mirror I am not quite so horrified or surprised by what I see.