Body

What stories does your body want to tell? #2

 

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(Trigger warning — suicidal thoughts) 

Okay, let’s go to some really painful places.

I started doing selfies at what was possibly the most miserable time of my life. I remember only because when I look back on my Instagram account, these are among the earliest posts; and also because I never fail to think, “Oh, look how thin I was there.” (I’ll go into what this thinness means below)

Seeing photos of my thinner self still, today, pulls up feelings of shame. I feel conflicted and shameful about how much ‘better’ I looked then, how much larger I am now, and how hard it would be for me to get back to that size. I see the protruding collarbone and my very pointed chin in this photo and instantly wish I could get back to being that thin — this wish is a default setting. We are told “Thinner is better”, so this is the beauty-compass that I am somehow always oriented towards, in spite of all the work I am doing around body acceptance and beauty ideals.

But here’s the other — more real, more conflicted — story behind this photo. I was thin, but I was also incredibly unhappy. I had come out of a nervous breakdown where I had collapsed and hid myself away in a room for 3 weeks; I was on a weird mixture of Chinese medicine, anti-depressants, Xanax and Dormicum which I would take at regular 8-hour intervals, so I could just keep sleeping. It was just easier to be asleep, to close your eyes and go away to a quiet place where you didn’t have to deal with all the painful stuff.

I remember precisely what it was like to wake up those few months after that breakdown, around the time this photo would have been taken. I look at my eyes here and I remember how exhausted I was feeling. I feel, all over again, the dread for the day ahead, the painful, sluggish effort of having to make it through the next 20-whatever hours. I went to bed every night hoping I wouldn’t wake up the next morning. This was a time I would spend whatever free moments I had Googling how much Xanax I needed to take to get myself into a coma without dying (I wasn’t quite brave enough to want to die). I was “glamourously thin” then, and so, the equation is that I should have been happy. But all I wanted to do was get sick enough to check myself into a hospital and shut myself away from the world so I wouldn’t have to see or talk to anyone. Since I couldn’t do that, I would, instead, squirrel myself away into a quiet corner with a friend and cry and cry and cry into a cup of tea. I have never known sadness like I did then — this utter paralysing despair. And I know it all sounds horribly dramatic but this was how it was.

So yes, I looked my physical best. I fit into everything beautifully. My hair was a perfect bob. My cheekbones and my chin were chiselled. My collarbone stuck out at the right angels. But absolutely no other part of me was well. The beauty-compass in me may still orientate itself towards a desire to be “that slim” again; but the happiness-compass in me veers equally strongly away from that place because it remembers everything else that had come with being there.

I know it’s an obvious thing to say that you never know what’s going on in a person’s life; that it’s silly to look at someone (even if it’s just yourself) and think their life must be great because they look good / are in great shape / lost loads of weight or whatever other bullshit standards we equate with goodness. But truly — I never feel it more acutely than when I see old photos of myself: how gorgeously size-10 I was then, but also how desperately filled up with misery I was.

I still look at these photos to remember (in a sort of masochistic way) what there is to be glad for right now — whatever I look like and however my body wishes to be. Because hey, it’s a lot happier these days. And that’s okay.

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What stories does your body want to tell? #1

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What stories does your body want to tell? #3

Jamie Khoo

Jamie Khoo

Jamie is the one-(wo)man-band and founder of a beauty full mind. She's loved writing and words from the moment she started to read, and has written plenty for magazines such as Elle and Time Out Kuala Lumpur, and websites such as elephant journal. Sick of being told by mainstream media and society what she should think of as "beautiful" or not, she started this website to challenge normalised beauty ideals and create new definitions and conversations. Say hello to her on Facebook or by dropping her an email.

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