Though this time has provided space for arts and crafts, multiple home bakes and endless page turning, it has also allowed for the surfacing of thoughts, feelings and observations that normally hide amongst the hustle and bustle of every day. With distractions in quarantine quickly becoming tiresome, only so much one can gain from level 155 of candy crush, we are forced to acknowledge things that we may have been overlooking for years.
Last week I noted whilst running the bath, that I have, for as long as I can remember, refused to emerge myself in the tub without an abundance of bubbles. Instinctually covering my body in foam, a white veil that protects me from facing my insecurities and hearing unwelcome opinions from my habitual mind. Eyes peeled to the ceiling, disconnected from the vessel that I inhabit, all because I listened to a boy when I was fifteen, read endless articles entitled: ‘Secrets of thin women who don’t diet’ and spoke to myself with words fuelled by disgust. I thought that I was doing so well, the Mango changing rooms the pinnacle of my body dysmorphia and my obsession with squeezing into a size 10. Yet here I am, in a moment meant for complete relaxation, comfortability, feeling as though I can’t look down beneath the bubbles, dreading the moment that they fizzle to nothing.
In my experience, steaming water which quickly turns tepid, is rarely a flattering place to lie naked. It magnifies the elements of my body that I have told myself are not attractive. My boobs flop to either side, refusing to gravitate toward each other. My stomach, no matter how full the bath is, will always poke above the surface, as if it were the iceberg awaiting the Titanic. My complexion will quickly begin to resemble the pattern on a cow’s skin, not black and white but, red and blotchy from the heat of the water. Come on G. No bubbles this time. I take off my clothes, no longer avoiding the mirror as I used to, a small step that took years to master. I dip my toe to check the warmth, the heat travels up my leg and I feel a little sick. Is it the shock of the temperature, or the lack of my bubbly comfort blankett? Slowly, my body adjusts to the water and I lower myself into the bath, sinking back into the familiar curve.
Sitting with the observations that my mind has been conditioned to think, is uncomfortable, no longer the relaxing alone time I had hoped for. I know it’s important though so I lie, emerged in the water which acts as a mirror to the truth that I still have progress to make. Though I can look in the mirror without analysing every inch of my body, and I can try on a dress that doesn’t fit in a changing room without having a complete meltdown, this simple task feels hard. Different. Confronted with the opportunity to put my money where my mouth is. Self-love? You spurt out messages of body positivity, here’s your body, be positive. I’d rather be anywhere else actually. I’d rather be on a run or in the fucking queue outside of Lidl. I’d rather bump into an ex and his new girlfriend, I’d rather be listening to my Dad’s opinions on #MeToo, I’d far rather be taking the bins out. I fucking hate taking the bins out.
But this is too important, I can’t go through life ignoring the curves and edges that exist bellow my collar bone, it’s too exhausting. Being self conscious is a burden. It’s a constant thought process of, can I lie on my side or will my stomach feel huge when he reaches over from the position of big spoon. It’s an assessment of clothes as if they were a parachute that needed checking before jumping out of a plane, shows too much thigh, arms look too flappy, stomach forced to roll above the jean edge. It’s limiting, debilitating and a very clever plot to get me to buy apple cider vinegar and those weird corsets that vibrate on your abs. Though I have passed my theory test of implementing self appreciation, I am yet to pass the practical, and here it is, in all its wet and flaccid glory.
Scanning from toe, to head, I take it all in. Painful at times, when the thoughts that surface are unkind, but I counteract them with positivity. Rather than ‘Christ my thighs are massive’, I choose ‘Wow, my thighs are strong’. A small choice and a subtle change but far more beneficial to my sense of self worth. The water skims across my body and I feel a sense of relief, I think it’s a sigh from within, my skin is pleased to be released from criticism and judgement. The compliments float atop the cool water and I feel calm, my body does not look different, the self love has not moulded my lumps and bumps into the physique of a Kardashian, but I feel altered. Passive. No longer actively loathing the simple act of lying in a bath devoid of suds.
It feels okay to accept my body, even though it does not resemble the ideal that engulfs us, like a fish in water. The ideal of beauty that exists everywhere, constantly reminding us of the attractive assets that a woman should possess. It’s like chasing the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. For we know that even those who supposedly drink from the golden chalice of perfection, recognise that this is not a 24/7 privilege. We’re not born to be stagnant, growing from the moment we enter the world. All different, impossible then to look the same. I can’t have your breasts, inner thigh or stomach, we’re too different and it’s that difference which gives us autonomy over how we perceive our own bodies. You decide what attractive is for you. Not everyone will agree, but, that’s ok. Scary. To reveal yourself to yourself is one thing, but to stand in front of another and say ‘this is me’ is scary. Notably, I have a lot of negative experiences to let go of, before I can lie in the bath and have someone sat on the toilet seat, taking in the dimensions of my body. Baby steps. Bubbles and girlfriends. No bubbles but alone. Girlfriends without bubbles. All whilst accepting that anything that has been said before, is not guaranteed to be said again. And that my voice, my thoughts matter most, they hold the weight.
The water is cold now so I stand, wrapping myself in the warmth of a towel that has patiently waited on the radiator. I sit on the edge of the bath, tired from batting away all of the things that I wanted to say, the judgements I wanted to make. The idea of having a bath without thinking about my nakedness feels distant and out of reach. Though when I look down at the water that holds no bubbly mask, I realise how far I have already come. So far removed from the teenage girl who wished for different aesthetics, dreamed of cosmetic surgery and tried desperately to make herself sick. Never would she have believed that one day she would be happy with a body larger than her own, that she would dance naked in front of the mirror and have sex with the light on. That she would appreciate the skin that she was in for all that it was, not hate it for all that it was not. So yes, perhaps I have a long way to go before I am judgement free, focusing solely on shaving my legs and listening to Blood Orange, but that does not diminish how far I have come.
When these revelations pop up, they can be painful, denial is easier and pushing difficult thought patters to the bottom of the pile is an effective quick-fix. Eventually though, it will be the only thing left on your list, the only thing standing between you and feeling contented. Lying in the bath is also much cheaper than therapy, and you get clean at the same time. Win, win.
Keep being kind to yourself, it’s a process and by loving your insecurities you are unlearning decades of normalised self hatred. So focus on how far you’ve come, it makes the steps ahead look far less daunting.
Lots of love, to you…
and your vessel. x