I can honestly say, of all the photos and body parts examined during The Body Image Project, this post makes me the most nervous.
I don’t want to write it.
I REALLY don’t want to take the picture.
I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point in the past 15 years my face changed shape.
It is now completely, 100% NOT symmetrical.
As a perfectionist, THIS DRIVES ME INSANE.
As a woman, this makes me feel absolutely unattractive.
As a used-to-be-victim of serious, severe acne, this reinforces the conviction “don’t ever let anyone see your face ever again, HIDE THAT SHIT.”
I wish I could express to you the level of anxiety I feel when I look at that picture. We’ve worked through skin and lips in The Body Image Project, so I’m (kind of, more every day) okay with those aspects of my face, but still.
I don’t just feel anxious, I feel FEAR.
Legitimate, deep-seated, borderline panic.
I used to feel this way about more than just my face. I used to feel fear when I was naked, even if I was alone. I felt disgust and shame when I bent over and my skin rolled over on itself. I’d feel panic if someone tried to touch my pimply skin. I’ve experienced gut twisting, bowel dropping nausea when a lover’s hands reached for my waist, and there was a time when the thought of trying on a swimming suit in a dressing room with those harsh, top-down, florescent lights would trigger fight-or-flight.
I have felt fear with regard to almost every aspect of my body, at least one time, and for most of my life.
But then I grew up. I got older. I got wiser, and honestly I thought the fear was gone.
Then I decided to take this picture.
“SURPRISE, ERIN, YOU ARE STILL FREAKED OUT.”
[In my head just now, I heard that as “Suprise, Erin, you are still a freak.”]
Except I’m not, I don’t think.
When The Body Image Project was just a baby seed in my head, I pictured in my mind what it would be like. I’m a scientist at heart, firmly convicted that “mind can overcome irrational fear,” as well as every other aspect of our pereptive reality. (Spock is my hero.) To that end, The Project would be a systematic, procedural approach to get okay with my body.
“I’ll treat it like a science experiment. Break it down. Break it apart. If one big thing is too much, take it in smaller pieces. I’ll divide my body up into pieces and change my perspective of it, one part at a time.”
Sounds logical, right?
Devoid of emotion, and FINALLY above the stupid, fearful, cowardly, hide-from-reality way I’ve dealt with things so far.
[“Super smart idea, Erin!”]
[“Thanks, Other Erin. I thought so too.”]
THEN I HAD TO TAKE THIS PICTURE AND WRITE THIS BLOG, AND ALL LOGIC WENT OUT THE WINDOW.
I would make an attempt to write down all the phrases whizzing through my head at the sight of the first photo, but 1) I would lose most of my readers, 2) I would break the internet, and 3) I would run out of time.
SO MUCH HATE.
So much SELF-hate. And disgust. And shame, embarrassment, frustration, and loss.
[“Wait, Erin, back up. “Loss?” Where does loss fit in to things? That makes no sense.”]
Except it does, because loss stems from broken dreams, it holds hands with grief, and this bit of my reality will take a bit of grief to accept.
Sometimes accepting ourselves and our reality is like that.
We have in our heads “the way things are supposed to be.” We have big fat dreams, fantasies of near-or-total perfection, and hope that maybe, JUST MAYBE, we appear on the outside the way we wish we did from the inside.
My heart and head and guts wish that my face was pretty and symmetrical and balanced, but it’s not.
My insides wish for things that my outside just cannot. Deliver.
I’m sure that there are parts of you that you wish were different. Smaller feet. Broader shoulders. Longer waist, longer legs, shorter waist, shorter legs. Bigger breasts, a flatter stomach, smaller thighs, less hair, more slender fingers. We all hope for something, and wish for a part of ourselves to be something different.
Some of those things, breasts and hair and tummies, for example, we have a measure of control. We can effect change in those areas, albeit at a steep price of money, time, and pain, but we are not without power. I can change the size of my breasts, so accepting the reality of my small chest is easier to accept. I am not powerless to it. I choose to remain the same, and that in and of itself is powerful.
“Choice” is powerful.
Being subject to the shape of my face is not.
For the parts of us that we cannot change even with medical intervention, we must let go of the reality we wish for and accept the reality we have.
We must lose our dream, and let go of hope.
With that comes grief,
and that right there is why self-acceptance is so difficult.
Grief is hard. It hurts. It aches. It pulls and tugs and weighs us down, holds us under, and it really does feel like we ourselves are dying.
Some may say “grief over the reality of your body is stupid, it’s not like someone died.”
I say “hope is like gravity,” perception determines reality, and whether it was real-life-truth or not, the hope we hold for the way we look IS REAL. The reality we hope for IS real, and when that hope goes away it IS like dying.
It sure feels like dying.
When I took this picture, I got angry. I got upset. I cried. I am so afraid of people looking at it. *I* am afraid to look at it. The tsunami of emotions that plowed me over were so huge and so overwhelming, I really did feel as though I was drowning. I could barely breathe. Panic. Fear. Vertigo, and inside the empty room of my head I had no idea which way was up.
But then I started writing, and I didn’t stop.
Grief, just like this silly blog post, does pass. It does go away. There is some resolution to it, but the only way to find the end is to go THROUGH.
We don’t like going through the grief involved with accepting our reality, so we avoid our reality.
We avoid the parts of our lives and our relationships and our bodies that cause us grief, because grief really does feel like dying.
No matter how rough our reality is to accept, we must. We have to. We CANNOT. CAN. NOT. Make any sort of progress toward peace, balance, and self-acceptance if we are not willing to accept the truth.
My truth is that my face is all wonky and lopsided. I have to accept that.
It’s not all bad, really. I know that the people who love me, The Mr. and my kids, love my face no matter what it looks like. They don’t think I’m gross. They touch my face and kiss it, they wrap their arms around my neck and pull me close. I am loved, and I remind myself that’s all that matters.
I know that I suffer from TMJ. I have since I was 15, and the disorder has been known to cause facial and cranial deformity.
I know that no matter the cause, it’s not my fault, because it wasn’t my choice.
I know that it’s not my choice, that the shape of my face does not define me, and that in the grand scheme of life none of it matters in the slightest.
Also, I know that I am stronger, smarter, more powerful, and more capable because of my willingness to accept my face, no matter what it looks like.
I know that by comparison I have nothing to complain about. My face is functional, somewhat exotic, and “just fine.” I mean no disrespect to anyone that struggles with true, legitimate, very abnormal deformities or differences.
What I do want you to understand is that the struggle to accept our reality is real, no matter how imaginary or literal our perceived flaw, and that saying is true:
“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”
And it often will kick your ass.
….good thing we kick some serious ass in kind.
Much love to you today, Friend.
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