Body Interest

Reflections
on ABC’s ‘No Body’s Perfect’ Week

This
week the ABC has been running stories on body image and it’s got me thinking
about my body image and how it’s changed in the four decades of my life.

    Over my teenage years, collectively
I was told that I had long arms like an ape; a ski-slope nose (for which a
demonstration ensued with fingers as a skier racing down my proboscis); a funny
running style; that I would have to watch my weight all my life because I was
prone to weight gain; that I had a slouch and rounded shoulders; that my hair
was mousy coloured; and that I stood with my hips and guts sticking out, just
like my Nanna.

Being
a not completely closeted person, I was also able to observe quite readily for
myself that I also had knobbly knees, with long, bony toes dangling at the end
of ‘clod hoppers’ that were decidedly big for a woman. I later realised that I
also have rather large hands for a woman. I even bit my fingernails for years
so that any potential elegance in the hand department was duly subverted.

The
only compliment I recall receiving was when my piano teacher found my long
fingers to be a wonderful thing! Unfortunately for both of us, my lack of
talent on the piano had her rather less excited!

Some
in my family said we had ‘thunder thighs’ and there was some truth to that.
I’ve never been one of those people who have a gap between their thighs but in
any case I came to see that most people don’t have a gap and that strong thighs
actually tie the human body together. Without them we wouldn’t be able to move
our bodies around. We wouldn’t be able to run or jump or swim or walk without
able thighs. So I became thankful for their capacity rather than lamenting
their solidity.

    Meanwhile, I’ve always
thought we have shapely calves on my Mum’s side… though it can be a challenge
to show them off without also displaying my knobbly knees.

Over
the years, it’s been a combination of not quite caring enough about looks to
get really stressed about it, plus a logical and a quasi-scientific approach
that’s got me through. By keen observation I discovered that everybody had
something they didn’t like about their body; that where I was full-figured
without trying, others struggled to gain weight, their beam-pole stature being
a source of anxiety for them.

When
I was a child, I always wanted dark brown, thick, curly hair – the opposite of
my ‘dead straight’ blondish hair, which was very blonde when I was a child.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that dark haired people often wished they
were blonde, and curly haired people hated their curls!? Perhaps my own body
wasn’t so bad after all? And further, since no one else seemed to think their
body was right, even if I thought it was, it seemed reasonable to assert that
our perceptions of ourselves were flawed and that there was no right. And that
being the case, it followed that I was fine just the way I was.

And
so, I got on with my life, dismissing rabid concerns of looks as much as I
could. My twenties began to lean towards my thirties as new changes occurred in
tandem with childbearing and childbirth and a new period of reflection ensued.

    It’s tempting to dismiss
all those negative comments I began with, as being the thoughtless comments of
other teens who were also discovering their bodies, but several of them were
made by older female members of my own family. And I think some of the comments
made by them were made with the genuine intention of helping to expand my
awareness, but their negative nature actually did nothing to help me.

In
my daughter’s early years, I read that the biggest influence on a girl’s sense
of body image is her mother’s esteem of her own body. And when I look back at
my Mum and her mother, and other family members on both sides, I can see that a
negative body image has been passed down steadily over the generations. I
decided that this wasn’t going to happen to my daughter if I could help it.

    But this meant a challenge
for me because my own attitude to my body had become highly critical again and
I knew it was unlikely that I could turn that around in any big way before she
reached school. The best I could do was to openly acknowledge the
contradictions I felt about my own body image and to work to overcome negatives
that I knew were unhelpful to me because they were either (1) wrong, or (2)
inescapable, or (3) like a range of great actors and ‘characters’ I admire,
were simply interesting. Did I mention, that some crooked teeth and a hatch
work of wrinkles became mine in my late thirties?

More
recently, I’ve thought about how I’ve never befriended someone because of how
they look – or decided not to be friends with someone because of how they
look.  I don’t think any of my
friends should lose weight or change anything about how they look and I
realised that I’m more accepting of my friends’ looks than I am of my own!

    So, I decided to become my
own best friend and talk positively to myself. It’s starting to work. That
critical voice in my head is getting less frequent, quieter, and far less
compelling.

Who
knows, perhaps with practice the critical voice in my head will fall completely
silent and acceptance will reign. Interestingly, the critical voice quietens
when I walk regularly, which also keeps my tummy pudding in check! And doing a
yoga class once a week, keeps me flexible and strong in body and speaking
kindly to myself. So, keeping healthy in body is a win for my mind as well.

But
all of these negatives – and positives – about body image are really no more
than ideas about the vessel in which we move through the world, and we are more
than that. These ideas are subjective judgements and proclamations that are
driven by trends and our mood at the time as much as anything else.

    All religions speak of a
spirit or soul that is bigger than this life we know and, although I’m not
religious, I do feel this way. I feel that when I say ‘I’ it’s with reference to a self that is something more than the
flesh and blood I see in the mirror.

Our
bodies carry us around, that’s their primary function, and to some degree they
show the world something of who we are and what we’ve experienced in life. But
they are still just the vessel, not the cargo.

    My body is really just a
vessel and my perception of it is far less important than the cargo, that is
me.

©
Palitja Moore, text, 2016; image, N Moore, at Edithburgh Tidal Pool, March 2016.

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