I woke up this morning with the usual nest of 'bed head' hair plastered across a slightly puffy, 'pillow wrinkle' marked face that hasn't worn make-up for 10 months and had a revelation of sorts - and it relates to the fact that I couldn't give a flying shite that I continue to look like a bit of a mess throughout the day.
What others see on the outside has never been a priority to me (or my husband...thankfully), and I certainly don't judge a book by its cover, but comments can hurt, cause/feed damage and be triggering when deep-seated, complex issues are involved.
Those dreaded comments: 'You've really let yourself go.' 'You've put on weight.' etc, etc have harmed my core to the point where I'd rather sit in a bath of open safety pins than go out and 'be seen'. It's another person's responsibility to adopt tact before opening their mouth to express thoughts like that, but I also believe my reaction is my responsibility - not theirs. I now choose to 'not give a f**k'. Any inner turmoil I have (and why) isn't their business. They see a snippet of information, make their judgement, say something inappropriate and then carry on with their day, and I'd like to know I can carry on with mine without feeling destroyed because they chose to voice their misguided observations.
It hasn't always been (and still isn't) that easy though, and there are reasons why.
From the age of 17 I've battled with anorexia, and since March this year I've worked my arse off to move into the next stage of feeling freedom from it. Now, at the age of 42, I'm delighted to say that it's worked and I can now eat a slice of toast and marmalade in the morning with joy rather than shame, I haven't cried at my dinner plate for a long time, and since asking my husband to help me manage sensible usage of the bathroom scales I haven't felt panic when I approach and stand on them. After a tough (but rewarding) journey over the last few months, I'm proud to say that my clothes are tighter, the increased number on the scales gives me a sense of achievement rather than terror, and I frickin' well LOVE food without feeling guilty about enjoying tastes and satisfying hunger.
Then there's the reason I'm here, this aftermath and the difficult process of learning to see my body as my own after how it was used by an awful person in my past.
Since the UK Covid lockdown started in March my husband and I have chilled and worked at home in what we call our 'comfies'; baggy jogging bottoms (or sweat pants as they may be known in other parts of the world), over-sized T shirts and, in my case, pink and grey knitted slipper-boots with super-soft fluffy lining. Pre-Covid, I'd work from home in the same easy attire and make myself presentable for work meetings and social gatherings, and my husband would shoot upstairs to get into his 'comfies' as soon as he arrived home from his office. Lockdown has allowed us to enjoy our comfortable, baggy clothing 24/7 and that suits me (and him) just fine.
During this aftermath, anything linked with my body and appearance triggers painful memories and uncomfortable feelings. The prospect of wearing anything other than plain, unattractive baggy clothes fills me with dread, the thought of putting make-up on is alien to me, I hate seeing myself in the mirror and don't recognise the person who looks back at me, and I recoil in disgust when someone says 'you looking nice today'. I guess I can thank 'lockdown' for allowing me to be pretty much invisible! For reasons poignant to me I had my long hair cut into a bob a few weeks ago (I wrote a blog entry about that!) so I'm embracing having control over my locks, but the rest of me is a bit of a challenge.
A dear friend of mine is currently getting support to heal from abuse during her childhood and trauma in her adult years. Wearing colourful clothes with carefully applied make-up helps her feel strong, so I've found that super-hero capes come in all forms and styles - some are designed to be empowering and some are made and worn to offer comfort. My friend has 'high-fashion' capes and I have plain, over-sized ones...usually borrowed from my husband because they're REALLY baggy and I love how they smell of his 'Lynx' deodorant.
As survivors of rape and sexual assault, is there common ground we share with self-image and how we want others to see us on the outside? Is it about protection from what we fear others might see and feel when they see us? Is it about personal control over our bodies and how we choose to cover it? Is it about how we want to present ourselves to others on the outside to reflect inner-strength or hide pain? Is a need to wear 'comfies' all day linked with a passive neglect of self-care and poor body image? Is it our right to have a rest and wear what makes us feel safe, comfortable, protected and soothed? Maybe it's a combination of them all and much more.
One day I'll open my wardrobe and pluck out one of my favourite tunic dresses, don some leggins, slap on a bit of eyeliner and feel like 'me' again when I do it. My make-up bag and favourite clothes make me cry at the moment - there's too much grief, and the thought of making an effort to look even remotely 'attractive' turns my stomach - but I'm working towards seeing a wardrobe filled with superhero capes and a make-up bag packed with war paint.