Body image is a strong issue with young women. It is just so hard to feel good about yourself when much of the prime advertising time is taken up by products meant to prolong your life, remove signs of aging and change your appearance. The marketing even tries to outsell competitors in ensuring your mode of ignoring how much you hate your appearance is made more comfortable in their design than in others. There is more money to be made in scientifically designed, ultra-produced and packaged chemicals for making you feel better about not living a good life than by just eating well and getting outdoors each day. I can tell you I have a nutrient-rich diet, not by spending my money at a health food shop regularly but by spending it at the green grocers. I even have change for my crossword books and coffee!
My body image
I never really thought of myself as a person with many body issues. Sure, I have had stages where I wished I weighed a little more than I would like, maybe 1-3 kilograms. There was a time in my early teenage years where my acne was out of control. To a point that added my unhealing Lupus skin caused my mother would chase down treatment from multiple doctors. As yet undiagnosed the theories included school sores, eczema, extreme acne and variations of rare poxes. I know girls at school quietly whispered I did it to myself for attention and some even tried to suggest the sores happened when I was high. Since a drug addicted thirteen year old made more sense to those mean girls than to believe I had a skin illness. The other downside of Lupus-skin was the annual summer sunburn. I would blister, it was so bad and I could be in tears over night. I would swear profusely I had used the sun cream, my parents never believed me. They would be so angry. My grief over upsetting them was worse than the pain of the burn, I would just be confused thinking I must not know how to use it.
When I was young
Over time as I grew into a young woman the lupus inflicted body troubles never really translated into a concern over my appearance. Aside from the skin trouble I was never that shaken with my confidence that I looked okay. To me all that mattered was a healthy appearance. It wasn’t even until I was fourteen and one girlfriends mum covered my body sores with foundation before a dance so they wouldn’t be noticeable that it even occurred to me that others may care what I look like and they may not like what they see. The lesson didn’t stick though, I’ve not lost sleep in my life over my body image and how I look to others. How I look to myself though is another thing entirely.
Is society to blame?
When women are sold products they are sold on how to cover bags and dark marks around the eyes. Mine are permanent and hiding them would take too much, so I let them show. They are who I am and to some extent I am proud of my bruised eyes. My right eye is blood shot almost constantly. When my SLE Lupus flares the line from my pupil travels out red and vicious, like a beacon. It shows I am not sleeping well, have a migraine and cannot see straight. Women are also shown the latest eyebrow trends. Simply put, if I don’t have a unobrow, I don’t care. I lost over an inch of my left eyebrow in the most unfortunate event and this did make me self-conscious. Yet it was so long ago that I know no one notices and have thus given up caring. My left eyelid does not lift completely which is evident in every photo I am in and I hate it. Residual Bell’s Palsy paralysis I am told. The mantra of ‘thank heavens I have recovered this much’ and gratitude over what scar I could have earned run through my head often, don’t worry!
Or is it out of our control?
Since I had the Rituxan/Rituximab chemotherapy, as you know, my hair has been curly. Little Bo Peep ringlets. I went most of the year painfully ignoring the hairdresser until it had enough length for the weight to pull it straighter. Now I am not sure if it is the weight or the chemical wearing off but I only have a wave at the roots. My hair feels healthier, but the ends are an uncontrollable mess of spirals. The rest of my body is a different story. Try losing half your hair (chemotherapy) on your arms and legs in an obviously patchy manner, but what stays is thick, dark and rigid (steroids). It isn’t fun and I am ever so glad I moved to using a proper blade for shaving. No other sort would have been able to withstand both legs and under my arms. I will only admit once that I have become a gringo (once more the steroids). After my failed attempts at the waxers (to which I became the Red Gringo due to allergies to the face wax), I must rely on a sensitive hair removal cream.
Can we even be blamed?
Yet none of this phases me. It riles me that commercialism and marketing producers over many decades have guided us in our vulnerability to a point where we either comply with these traditions or hope our defiance doesn’t isolate us in the extremities of society. It isn’t like we haven’t already made it near enough there alone with our illnesses. No, none of this even bugs me that much. Not my obeisance to these societal pressures. Not in the same way that my body’s inevitable and uncontrollable reactions to certain essential medications.
My secret truth
I will be honest with you. I will do the thing no person ever wants to do. I will tell you how I began my latest course of prednisolone in September when the specialist team at Royal Perth Hospital identified more lesion inflammation in my cerebellum. As you may recall the dose was set at 50 mg and I accepted this. I was pleased as the treatment set in. I didn’t feel the mood changes or appetite increases as I had expected. I wondered if my mental state was better and that was helping? I had gained a few kilograms, 3 to be precise, but this was water retention, bloating. I normally anticipate a potential swing of up to five so I was not stressed. However, within a month I had swung up seven kilograms. Panic tickled the back of my throat. I wasn’t eating differently. Snacks, yes, but they weren’t large or unhealthy. I don’t eat unhealthy snacks. By November I had a serious body image assault issue. Basically none of my clothes fit.
I stopped leaving the house, or organising to see people I knew. I looked pregnant, or like I was smuggling a pillow. Some days I would change from my ‘sleeping’ pj’s into a clean pair of ‘day’ pj’s, which were just normal ones I had designated to day wear as my pants didn’t fit. I bought a daggy pair of cheap shorts only as they were the only ones that had a drawstring. Three sizes above what I normally wear. It is a saving grace that this summer is so cool and I felt okay staying in a jumper inside each day.
People say it is no big issue, but for me it is. I am ashamed. I don’t fit an entire wardrobe full of day clothes. In the season everyone takes of their clothes I cannot even put my own on. Buying new ones is useless with my finances and the fluctuating nature of the situation. Exercising with my health is out of the question. Monitoring my diet can be done but has little to no effect.
I have never been this big before and it was out of my control. I cannot do anything about it. I am only now allowed to taper down off the steroids. It means a potential for small changes. Yes I am starting to make them. Yes there is movement. Yet I can only think this will be one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. You may think that strange of me to say, and it may be. But that is my mindset right now.