When I first became ill and my body started slowly breaking down, one of my top 5 concerns was how much my husband, or any man, will see me physically. Of course there were other things that rated higher like 1. What is happening to me? 2. Can I/Doctors fix it ? 3. Will I lose my job? 4. Will we lose our home and 5. Will my husband still see me the same physically?
Although I have some of the answer to those I have to admit number 5. still comes up many more times than I would like to admit.
As women we are judged by our looks, our attractiveness, our desirability, our sexuality, our ability to make a home, our ability to ‘have it all’. You cant drive down the street without seeing how much sex sells and how important looks matter to many people out there.
Where does that leave those of us who struggle to walk? Struggle to move? Struggle to see? Struggle to breathe? Struggle to do our hair and make up?… Struggle just to live. Not easy questions to be confronted with by a world fixated on image, looks and perfection. I don’t think it means that I was shallow, I just think that it shows how powerful the media and ignorance is. This Century has become the millennium of the multimedia, celebrity obsessed, botox injecting, instant gratification, pretend-to-be-sexy-and-young-forever, superficial.
When you are backed up against an insurmountable wall like that you have no where to run – even if I could! What did I do? I grieved. I grieved the health and the body I once had and realized I may never see her again. Just as an 50 + woman looks into a mirror and realizes she isn’t 18 anymore. I let myself grieve. The fight for my very survival meant that I had to look beyond the mirror. Much deeper to find the reflection of who I truly was and who I wanted to be.
The past 10 years has been a real journey of the soul. Rebuilding a spirit and identity from the shattered pieces of who I was and the things I really want to be. The past 10 years have changed the way I look. My weight has fluctuated with my meds and my mobility. My skin has changed with the meds and age. I am paler and can no longer tolerate very little sun. My hair has changed. My mobility changes all the time. My joints are damaged and sometimes I can creak and crack louder than a falling tree. Although the outside of me has changed over the years, what I was not expecting and what I never truly realized was that inside of me was being made anew.
I think back to the body conscious days of my 20s and 30s and my pursuit of attractiveness and desirability. Was I truly confident back then? No way!! Inside I was as fragile as my last relationship. A walking bundle of phobias and anxieties. I was concerned about my hair, my nails, my weight, my ability to catch attention and draw the eye. I was nowhere near the woman I truly wanted to be. But I am closer to her now.
Yes now. Even with all the shakes, the tremors, the mouth sores, the pain, the weakness, the balance problems, the damaged joints and nerves. Why? Because I have been to hell and back. I keep going there every day. I know what real substance and character is. The values that I now desire above all isnt found in a beauty magazine. Cant be put on twitter. Cant be injected into your face or thighs. Real beauty and character comes from showing your true self (imperfect and laid bare) and accepting it with dignity and wearing it with pride.
What makes us beautiful is something that cant be faked. That’s why sexy stars break up all the time. Models are continually going under the knife in the pursuit of …. well… nothing. Today’s model is tomorrows memory, but character, that is timeless.
Back to my husband and I. Did he look at other women before I got sick? Yep! Does he look at them now? Yep! Does it hurt? Nowhere near as much as it did because I realise that while he might be genetically programmed ‘to look’ until the day he dies, I am now reprogrammed to believe I am worth just as much as any woman on this earth. Any PERSON on this earth because I know what it means to be human and be merely mortal and how health and looks can and will change (sometimes suddenly) but if you can put together a person with courage, character, empathy, compassion, intelligence and resilience then you will have something much longer lasting than a tight butt or a firm breasts.
Do I still get my hair done? Do my nails? Enjoy fashion? Yes! Definitely! But I do it as an expression of what I enjoy, not out of fear or a need to compete with the rest of the world. Respect for myself means I will always try and do my best. It means I will always enjoy the simple pleasures. I will take care of what I can care for. I will tend to the things that are worth tending to because it shows I care. My fears of whether men find me attractive no longer fuel the way I experience the world and enjoy my body. Now it has become more of a question of how much I like me. I may not like these illnesses and symptoms I carry every day, but I love the woman who carries them. More now than I ever did!