The last photo of me that was taken before the accident was an impromptu snap taken by my husband on a walk near our home and is one of my favourite photos. In it I am wearing no makeup and my hair is scraped back probably because it was a due a wash, but I am not tight lipped with self conciousness nor concerned with my big nose or wonky teeth. It is a captured moment of happiness with my boys .
Like most women, I spent my adolesence hating the body that steadfastly refused to conform to societal demands of female perfection and my twenties so insecure that I made myself insignificant. My gaze was always critical, magnifying my flaws to crippling levels. Then my body performed it’s own perfect miracle and I became a mother. I became kinder to myself, not least because I was too tired to spend the extra emotional energy hating my reflection.
Whilst my metabolism kindly allowed me to eat and drink with impunity, the year of the accident I had made the conscious decision to make myself strong. I added regular swimming and HIIT training to the Pilates I had been practicing for the best part of a decade and my hard work paid off with lean muscles and a strong core.
The summer of 2013, my knees were still knobbly, my nose still too big but I felt in control of my body. I was physically fit and I could look at myself without criticism. That photo taken on the lane with my sons showed my increased peace with myself. Perhaps then the universe decided to punish my hubris by literally smashing my new found body confidence.
Two years later, we went for a fortnight in Mallorca, the first holiday since the accident. I agonised over what to pack that would allow me to enjoy the sun without exposing other people to the horror of my scars. I knew that walking with a crutch and limping was naturally going to invite curiosity and I was terrified that people would stare.
On the beach, I arranged a sarong over my damaged leg, ostensibly to protect the scar tissue from burning. but mostly to disguise it. Hiding behind sunglasses, I surveyed the beach and what I saw was women. Women of all ages. Women of all shapes and sizes and all uncomfortable in their own bodies and hating the skin they were in. Some were self conciously standing with an arm across their stomachs or shifting positions to disguise wobbly bits. Women adjusting swimsuits or bikinis constantly to ensure curves were contained. They were on holiday but far from relaxed.
I realised that they were all too busy listening to to their own internal critics listing every one of their perceived faults to be interested in my scars. If only they could see themselves the way that I saw them. I wanted to tell them to embrace their bodies for they were perfect in their function even if not in some idealised form. Their bodies were beautiful in their potential. They could achieve greatness. They were warriors.
If only I could have seen myself that way before it was too late.
My knees are no longer just knobbly, but also smashed and misshapen. My limbs slashed from surgery that neccesitated speed over aesthetics and my former strength diminished by trauma and pain. However, when I look in the mirror I try and find beauty in the small details. The slight curve in my thigh where I have rebuilt strength in an atrophied muscle. The tip of a ten inch long scar that has faded from a livid purple to a silver streak on my shoulder.
I still see my bad bits first, I think a habit like that is so ingrained as to be a reflex, but I am trying not to hide myself from view. I no longer wish to apologise for taking up space in the world.