The past few weeks, I have "kept my nose to the grindstone" (as my grandma and grandpa always told me to do) regarding the final details of The Body Project gallery, reception, book, and magazine. I have been tense. I have ranted and raved. I edited and unedited participants' stories. I've cried. I know I haven't written, and I'm sorry. Today, as I sit and read through/edit the last few stories for the book and magazine, I realize that I have never shared my full story with any of you. The story I presented in the first blog post was only the most recent inspiration for this project, but wasn't a well-rounded story that made me as vulnerable and open as all of you (who participated in the project) have been with me. Some details you might recognize, but I owe you all this.
Growing up, I had tremendous support from my parents and grand-parents and never once felt a lack of love, appreciation, or guidance. I never put much stock into my developing body (aside from the “Wilson women thighs” I was blessed with) because I was so much more in love with the development of my emotions, creativity, and self-awareness (though I was too young at the time to realize that I had already begun understanding/flexing my internal journey more than my external). The space I was allowed to grow as a child created a little girl who lived in her own world.
Throughout elementary school, I had glasses and braces, so was of course called “four eyes,” “nerd,” “brace face,” “metal mouth,” etc. but I wanted glasses and loved the freedom of choosing the colors of the rubber bands on my braces, so I didn’t care about the name calling. I was excited when I got my first period because I actually felt like I had entered a whole new realm of experience. My boobs didn’t fully bloom until the end of middle school while many girls around me, including my best friends, were fairly well-endowed. But again, I didn’t care, and I wasn’t self-conscious about my flatter chest in my tight 90s tees. I knew I was pretty because I was always told so, but I never considered whether that made me better or not better than others. I was simply confident and blissfully happy in my own little world.
At the end of my sophomore year of high school, a guy completely opposite from me (at the time, we’re incredibly similar now) turned my world upside down. He challenged my beliefs and opinions, influenced my desire to try on new faces--I dyed my hair crazy colors, wore a mixture of my own clothes and those of his genre (punk), and even came to school one day with humungous “liberty spikes” (chunks of your hair spiked up and out), dressed as me, simply to toe the line of both worlds. It was freeing. I finally took notice of the external me. I realized I liked to play with styles, colors, hairdos, makeup, etc. I realized that I liked my body, and that I was a sexual being. Our relationship was tumultuous, though. One second, we were playful and the next was a screaming match. I realized that our differences stretched further than our clothing choices, taste in music, belief/not belief in God, but into our future and how we wanted to live our lives. I didn’t agree with his lifestyle choices and tried to change him. In the end, I beat myself up for being so judgmental and controlling and vowed to be more open-minded toward all peoples.
For the first year of college, because I had set that lofty goal of being more open-minded, I was terrified of failing. So, I was the woman who sat in the corner of her room with her nose in her journal and her door shut. I was heavily against drinking, drugs, partying, random hook-ups, and cliques. I had (and still have) incredibly high expectations for myself that began the day I became aware of how I affect/treat people. I spent a great deal of my time on the phone with my best friend (who was my stand partner in orchestra my senior year of high school and is now my husband), as we listened to each other talk about anything and everything in the world. I was incredibly afraid to live and experience things, make new friends, and be vulnerable. I feared that I would disappoint myself and break those expectations. Meanwhile, the man I was falling in love with was dating a woman exactly like my ex. I fell into a pit of self-doubt and confusion. For the first time, I compared myself to another woman and wondered if I was better than her or not. It took three years for anger to subside from within at the mention of her name and for him to convince me that he loved me for me, even if I wasn’t fully confident in myself.
Then, in 2005, I found out I had moderate dysplasia (pre-cancerous cells on the tissue of the opening of the cervix) and would need to have that tissue removed. This news rocked me. What had I done? Why would this happen to me? Suddenly, I was no longer invincible. I was rudely awakened to the harsh realities of the real world, the one I didn’t live in on a regular basis. For the first time, I actually had to pay attention to my body and this drove me to tremendous anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and fear of illness.
But, that didn’t stop me from treating my body like shit, post-surgery. I drank five Mountain Dews a day, ate pizza rolls and popcorn chicken for dinner, full-sized candy bars, chips, and french fries for snacks. Fruits and vegetables? What the hell were those? I developed allergies, psoriasis, digestive issues, sudden weight-loss due to a wheat intolerance, and a really poor morale. Yoga helped me move past the size of my legs and embrace the inner me again, but my confidence in the external me plummeted with those other varying physical issues. Numerous doctors, allergy pills, shots, and creams later, I said, “Fuck it. This shit isn’t working.” I turned to holistic medicine and natural healing. I turned toward healthy foods. I turned toward positivity.
Some days, I think this is all bad karma. Maybe I was too judgmental of people. Maybe I was conceited. Maybe I blah blah blah. I can blame it on anything, but it doesn’t change anything accept my mental state, and for me, my mental state has a helluva lot to do with my physical state. I have to stop obsessing over my imperfections and understand that perfection is unattainable. I have had to/am still working on retraining my brain, adjusting my thought process, and reminding myself, daily, that all it takes is letting go and embracing what is.
Where It's Led Me
I choose to move forward. I choose to be humbled. I choose to walk around with gratefulness and appreciation. I choose to be open, honest, loving, and vulnerable. What started as a strong connection to my internal world that I ignored when I was awakened to my outer world, has now brought me to the marriage of both. My desire is to remind others that they are beautiful, inside and out, and that self-awareness and self-acceptance of body, mind, and spirit are key.