Updated: Jan 19, 2022
by Heather McCormick (she/her)
Listen to this blog here:https://open.spotify.com/episode/1vJLrAsFlUcoi0kLnS2xSb?si=2e4255691f6f4542
When I offered to write this post for women’s month, I didn’t know what to write about or focus on. In reality I could write a book on my relationship with my body, and how it has changed with various illnesses, symptoms or side effects. Some days it has been all I could think about or focus on. I’m sure many of us can relate to that journey. But when I thought back on all my experiences one thing stood out. The difference I’ve often felt between who I want to be, and who my body made me. That betrayal is the topic of this blog.
How many times have I wished to be thinner, fitter, leaner or less ‘chubby’? I couldn’t even count. The hours stood in front of the mirror as my bed filled with abandoned outfit options, all rejected over one perceived flaw my eyes were fixated on. The way they clung to my stomach or thighs. The gape at my cleavage or the pull across my shoulder. My gaze couldn’t see anything else. It didn’t even matter if I was a size 6 or a 16. The thoughts and focus was always the same. The way I wasn’t ‘enough’.
The problem was that I was always obsessed with my appearance and how that somehow related to me as a person. I spent my teens fixating on the numbers on the scale and the inches around my waist. Limiting my intake and forcing myself to be ‘less’. I didn’t use that time to live and embrace the many opportunities I was given, or the abilities I had. I didn’t appreciate the ease of walking without pain, feeling my heart race without fear or being able to stand without falling. I blamed my body, harmed it repeatedly and didn’t even take a moment to appreciate everything that it was doing for me day in, day out. I betrayed it... until it was too late.
At 19 I came home from a gruelling gym workout, sat down and found myself locked in place. My knee had flared, swollen and red, meaning I could barely walk for days. Six months later I was diagnosed with systemic lupus erthyamatosis (SLE). I refused to let it stop me and so whilst dutifully taking the medications, I kept pushing my body at full pelt. I was angry when it continued to flare, leaving me bedbound for days, so I worked harder on the days in between. I lived my life at 100 miles per hour, regularly crashing again and again. I wanted my life back and the life that my friends had.
Two years after my diagnosis I had a huge flare whilst on holiday (I’m severely sensitive to UV) and was admitted to hospital as soon as my flight landed in the UK. My lupus had attacked my kidneys, and I was placed on high dosages of steroids and an immunosuppressant. My body changed virtually overnight. I was still unwell and struggling to get mobile when the steroid weight started piling on. I gained 3 stone in 2 months. The immunosuppressant made me really unwell, so I was throwing up most days and lost a lot of the hair around my crown. I was miserable.
I had so long separated my body from my self, treating it poorly and punishing it daily. Being unwell simply emphasised that disconnect. It was now all my bodies fault that I had a chubby face, and that I had to take these horrible medications. My body confidence was at rock bottom and I wasn’t taking any responsibility for keeping myself well. I still remember crying in a changing room the day I had to buy a new size. The very few photos that exist from that time have a sadness in them. But fortunately there was an unlikely answer to this cycle.
At 22, I decided to strip.
Gym classes had become too challenging over the years of flares, and I didn’t want to have to put on any skin tight gym wear (ironically). Yet when the opportunity struck to try burlesque I couldn’t refuse. I’ve always loved the glamour of 50s clothing, so combined with some movement that didn’t hurt my joints it made perfect sense.
When I first walked into that studio with a wall of mirrors I was terrified, but being greeted with a room full of happy women of all different shapes and sizes, was calming. Having a teacher who didn’t care about your shape or judge, but only cared about having fun and embracing your body, was freeing. Learning how to pose, strip and dance WITH my body was truly liberating.
I started going to see burlesque shows regularly and the audiences didn’t care what the performers looked like or what size they were. It was all about the show, the drama, the comedy and the allure. Women of a size 4 or size 24 were just as captivating because of their confidence and ability to use their bodies to tell a story. I was hooked.
With every class, every show and every move the insecurities slowly lessened. I learnt to work with my body, and found out what it was truly capable of without going too far. I slowly started wearing more fitted gym wear to class, and soon stopped caring about running for the train in it afterwards (even in my gym leggings and heels). In that dance studio, and two years later on stage at my first proper performance, I learnt how to strip to down to my pants, look in the mirror (or at the audience), pose and laugh. Literally.
This blog isn’t some unrealistic ramble about how I came to love my body and appreciate every day, because that’s just not true. I still feel the betrayal of my body regularly when it won’t do what I want, and I still spend far too long in front of the mirror before going out. One thing that has changed though, is that I can let it go and 9 days out of 10 I can look in the mirror and smile.
Over the last year my body has broken in a number of new ways, leaving me largely housebound and at times bed bound. I can no longer dance, and haven’t for some time. Yet the self confidence I learnt on that stage lives on. If I’m having a really bad mirror day, then a shimmy is the perfect way to ‘literally’ shake it off. If that doesn’t work then y’know what, there is nothing wrong with admitting today is not a good confidence day and digging out the leggings. It doesn’t affect how I feel tomorrow.
I betrayed my body in my teens, and it betrayed me in my 20s. Now I can’t run, walk or even stand sometimes. Simple things may always hurt far more than they should and feeling like you have no control over your own body is horrible. But, here’s the thing. It is MY body, and I’m never going to get another one. So today I choose to just be in that body, size up when needed and live the life I have in the body I have. Not the one I wanted.