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Body of Work

A few things I can comfortably presume I’m not going to care about when I’m on my death bed;

-Tummy rolls.

- Spots.

- Bad hair days.

- My double /triple/quadruple chins.

I know that when the time comes for me to say goodbye to this cruel world that my last few thoughts will not include frustration and mild-depression at having posted a bad selfie that only attracted 10 ‘likes’, or at how much back-fat was visible in that bikini circa 2002.

The point being, why then do we waste so much time while we’re still ably walking the earth in worrying about our appearance?

Don’t get me wrong, I am just as insecure (and oftentimes, vain) as the next woman. I have a million and one things I’d ideally change about my carcass were money no object, but then who would I be were I to make these changes? I wouldn’t recognise myself; quite literally. Or my bank-balance.

Isn’t the prevailing idea for us to make the best of what we have, not transform ourselves into clones of 2-bit celebrities? Where is the personality found in becoming a carbon-copy of another woman? Where is the joy found in spending hours obsessing over our own perceived ‘flaws’?

If that’s how you want to look, and live, then no judgement here. Everyone is of course free to do whatever they see fit to, and with, their own body. My only worry is whether or not we remember to take a moment to consider quite how much of our valuable time is spent focusing on appearance and in hating what we see in the mirror.

A good daily example for me would be those moments when I open the camera on my phone and it’s front-facing. I’ll recoil in horror and disgust, briefly questioning whether I’ve had a stroke. I’ll close the camera with the speed of light and shake my head at why I even allow myself to go out in public. I know logically, that no one, NO ONE, looks good from the angle of that Jammie Dodger crumb looking up at you from deep in your bra, but it still makes me feel physically ill at the reality of my visage.

Which, in turn makes me consider the rest of this particular bodily package and what it has to offer the world. And in those moments, it doesn’t seem very much. I briefly reach for the nearest brown paper bag to place firmly over my head, before stopping to consider whether or not how I look is the sole reason for my existence.  Logically I know that is absolutely not the case, but the packaging of a gift is what lures us in; no one wants given a gold watch wrapped in chip paper. OK that’s not entirely true, most of us would probably wholeheartedly accept that, but the point is; people do tend to judge a book by it’s cover. We are told constantly that first impressions count, so our appearance is the first barometer of ‘us’.

When we are lacking in self confidence physically, that tends to affect us mentally. This is especially true for those of us with chronic illness. Many of us have scars from surgery and endless procedures and needle-proddings. Our bodies may have changed over the years due to the effects of treatments  and medications. We are exhausted, and often struggle to find the energy to paint our faces or slip into out best gown. Unless we’re talking dressing-gowns then I am ON BOARD.

My own body has been through the mill since I became a professional patient. I have scars that won’t ever heal, I have poor skin, hair-loss, teeth and gums which have eroded, a myriad of other chronic illnesses as a result of my Crohn’s and Arthritis, and constant pain across some part of my body.

We are often told our scars are a result of how hard we have ‘fought’ an illness; this seems unfounded to me. Prior to my last major surgery, I simply watched several episodes of Bargain Hunt on my own in surgical stockings before being sedated and parts of me removed by a surgeon. The only part of ‘fighting’ I did after that was with my nurse to TOP UP THE MORPHINE YOU ABSOLUTE WITCH.

But this ‘fighting’ does come. After all the hospital dramatics. The fighting begins when we have to learn to adapt to our new bodies. Learn to love what we have been left with. Start to regain our confidence and physical and mental strength. Most of the fight has to be done within ourselves to overcome our perceived ‘flaws’.

Learning to love a chronically ill body can be challenging, especially when our bodies so often seem to be fighting against us; but like most relationships, they require care, love and endurance. Offering some of that up to ourselves is a great place to start.