The recent news that my body is busy spinning a fibrous mass of tumour (most likely benign, my gene string seems to have gifted me the special gift of cyst forming) has prompted the renewal of a certain disapproving frowning gaze on my physical self.
I have to admit that I have always felt slightly dislocated from my corporal self. I’m a fine figure of a woman – this is loving code for could take my place in one of my beloved turn of the nineteenth century travelling freak shows.
That is – fat lady- although as I mournfully regarded myself in a mirror earlier possibly bearded lady as well.
Anyway, despite health worries I’ve never really felt desperately unhappy about being wider (as Zeph used to put it when he was little) On reflection whilst on the couch I’ve come to the possible conclusion that this could be because the couple of slender times in my life were particularly unhappy. I spy another dichotomy of feeling safe, substantial and as though I’m removed from the male gaze – really most people’s as they politely avert their eyes yet also feeling as though I could take my place in a freak show.
I also disconnect from myself physically in times of stress, pain and even during sex. Using my body as a punch bag becomes a dreadful self harming habit and has bred a contempt that,rationally, I find distressing.
Embarking on a new relationship I strived to embrace intimacy and to stay present. Much harder than I thought but with enormous benefits. Being pregnant with Zeph was the first time I ever appreciated my body’s remarkable evolution forged efficiency. Amazing that it just got on with this incredibly complicated chemical architectural design project. As he grew the casual reassigning of my internal organs, the fine tuning hormonal adjustments were a marvel. I patted the bump and congratulated my stretching fecund body. Of course there were the usual miserable pregnancy moments. A sense of being poised at the very top of a huge rollercoaster on an insubstantial tea-tray, unable to see the ground through the clouds, awaiting the first contractions. I remember waking Steve up in the night near the end and saying tearfully, “it’s too late to change my mind isn’t it?” But, on the whole, I had never felt in such accord with my body. Steve recounts with glee me climbing on to the bed clutching my blueish, bloodied, minutes old son, putting him to my breast and saying fiercely, my face flushed like an Amazonian warrior – “look what I did – aren’t I amazing?!”
Sadly that feeling soon faded and a series of miscarriages eroded my new pride and confidence in my body’s abilities. A recent encounter with mutated Pagets then a complicated bone cancer addition has left me regarding my internal workings with intense suspicion and resignation to their essential inadequacy.
On the good side meeting an old (as in I’ve known her a long time – she’s not a crone), very beautiful friend for coffee it turns out she’s weeping at night about wrinkles, grey hair and getting old. Things that hold absolutely no fear for me, I don’t fear losing that youthful dewy glow as I never had it. I’ve always had to rely on other stuff. I’m embracing ageing – I definitely feel happier – I’d like to think I was wiser but realise that’s up for debate.
Reading this over my shoulder Steve is wondering out loud why I’m so quick to see beauty in every cracked vessel around me yet resist it in the mirror. I don’t know. Maybe I need to practise.
When I was sick I read a collection of essays about illness that included one about cancer being an attempt to evolve. Like we’re trying to grow wings, or some fabulous new telepathy, carbon neutralising, saving the world organ. At the time it pissed me off. Recently it crosses my mind.