Early morning, I wake feeling like an outsider watching my limp body in bed. I get up and look in the mirror… “who the fuck is this?” I look into my eyes and run my fingers up my naked flesh, “This is me. This is my skin as it is today.” I enjoy the touch but barely recognise who is standing there. I sit with the discomfort. One day at a time, the more I practice being present in my skin, the more confident I will become.
Most days I look in the mirror and have no real idea of what I actually look like. I don’t feel in my body – like it is other and I am a guest.
How do I overcome this? I mindfully situate myself in my body every single day – whether that is by lifting weights, yoga or my moving meditations of dance and sensual touch (that’s code for masturbating…)
Want to hear Alyssa talk about her body’s remarkable journey? Tune into the latest episode of I Swear I Never here.
Every woman has their scars, stretched marks of change of the body adapting as we evolve, mould from one physical iteration to the next. Our bodies are the physical representations of our memories that live, reside and linger atop dappled and torn skin.
In 2016, I underwent gastric surgery. 3/4 of my stomach was removed. 118kgs to a skeletal 55kgs within one year. I didn’t tell many people but everyone wanted to know what I’d been doing. They told me that I looked amazing (insinuating that I didn’t look amazing in the first place). I had loved my large body. I was a strong, confident, big lady. I built my burlesque around being a plus-size QUEEN. I knew who I was. After the surgery, I was lost. I stopped performing burlesque because I was scared of people looking at me and judging me.
I grew terrified of food. I avoided social situations and eating around people. I swapped my self-abusive diet for a cocktail of vices. I began to consume Bloody Marys for breakfast, gin sodas for lunch, champagne and maybe steamed greens for dinner.
As my skin shrunk to a socially-acceptable size, so too did my sense of self. I didn’t feel good enough to be in it. I was trapped in a cycle of guilt and avoidance.
Roll forward three years, I’ve given up drinking, drugs and partying. I picked up my first barbell over a year ago and while it sounds cliché – I began yoga and meditating. My strength has grown not just in musculature but in mental leaps and bounds. My burlesque evolved and I began to define myself through the strength in my acts, my artistic integrity and a fearless feminist message, rather than what my body looked like.
I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been, but somehow, I still don’t feel at home in my skin.
My mental state is a bit of a mess – I’ve got bipolar, severe eating issues, PSTD and a bundle of obsessive habits. While I know intimately what it feels like to not be able to stop thinking about my defects and self-perceived flaws, I’m working on regaining love and acceptance for myself every day.
Here are 7 tips:
1. Firstly, talking things through with mental health professionals will ALWAYS help!
2. Understand how or why you have disconnected to your body.
This step means that you have to confront your past and that will definitely be tough!
3. Explore how your behavioural patterns have adapted to keep you in this cycle of disconnection.
Look at your coping mechanisms – are you drinking or doing drugs to avoid feeling present in your body or being able to cope with social situations (NOTE: these vices are a pretty good benchmark for a lot of mental issues. Are you fucking yourself up to avoid thinking about why you’re fucked up?)
4. Reduce your appearance preoccupation.
Spend time thinking about what your body can DO rather than what it looks like. I think about how I move and express myself as a dancer or feel strong by lifting some really heavy shit. I think about eating to nourish my body to build strength, rather than avoiding food to be thin.
5. Reduce the need to seek reassurance from outsiders regarding your appearance.
We get it – we post a pic to Insta and torrents of online lovers will be all like, “Oh you look amazing!” But what is more important is being able to feel amazing in your body without NEEDING to hear it from another. On this note, I prefer to give compliments that focus on strength rather than those that traditionally tie women to unhealthy beauty standards. For example, “You’re looking really strong!” Rather than, “You look like you’ve lost weight!”
6. Overcome avoidance and safety behaviours.
Many of us experience anxiety on a daily basis but when it alters your behaviours to an unhealthy level, then it is important to ask why. We’re all on our own journey and I still struggle with this one. I still go home for lunch to avoid eating unknown calories at cafes or having to make food choices in front of people (which often causes me to panic and not eat at all). Hello safety foods (I still carry low cal protein bars with me everywhere I go).
7. Make a plan!
After questioning our behaviours and challenging our beliefs as to why and how we have come to have this fractured self-relationship, it’s important to make a plan to help you stay on track. For me, I make 5 minutes every morning to stand in the mirror practicing saying, “this is my skin”.
Alyssa Kitt Hanley is The Feminist Fatale. She is a freelance writer, journalist and researcher, as well as an acclaimed burlesque performer and teacher. Instagram @missalyssakitt @alyssahanleywrites
If this raised issues for you around mental health or diet culture, help is available. Contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Butterfly Foundation on 1800 33 4673.
This article originally appeared on Whimn and is republished here with permission.