Some time in early high school, I participated in a co-educational dance class with boys from another school. Being that we went to an all girls school, there was much hype among my peers about these evenings of sweaty palms and awkward attempts at conversation.
All week we would talk about what we were going to wear and who were were going to talk to.
It had very little to do with the dancing and everything to do with the fact that we were hormonally charged teenagers who suddenly had a sanctioned opportunity to socialise with the opposite sex.
At the time, the fashion standards called for skin-tight, lycra boob tubes and long slinky pencil skirts (also lycra) - a look that not only was actual torture to wear, but favoured only the select few with a particular body shape and type.
I had always felt that my belly was too big and my breasts were too oddly shaped. That my hair was too fluffy and my clothes too scruffy.
And so I did what any other teenager of that generation would do - in an era before shape wear existed.
I put bathers on under my clothes to smooth out the bumps.
To flatten my tummy. To make everything appear just a little smoother.
I remember the tussle of pulling them on - heart beating fast, anxiety mounting. Awkwardly stretching and contorting in the tiny mirror to try and make my body look a certain way. I remember wondering if the sweaty teenage boys could feel the bathers under my clothes as we tentatively shuffled around the dusty wooden floor boards.
It was the beginning of many years of attempting to smooth out the bumps I presented to the world - both internally and externally. A journey that would see me turn to laxatives and weight loss pills. To detoxing and occasionally bingeing and forcing myself to throw up afterwards.
A journey that would see me carry shame about bleeding - rushing into toilets to change my pad or tampon.
A journey that would see me shave off all my body hair.
A journey that would see me wear clothes that didn’t honour my unique shape or style - clothes that would suffocate me or scratch me or restrict the way I freely moved in the world.
Later on, in my 20’s, I would suffer anxiety attacks when I would go to choose clothes to wear for the day - and I would have to sit on the bed among the debris of outfits until my stomach settled and breathing slowed.
I was, as my culture had taught me to be, at war with my body.
And when you’re at war with something, you disassociate from it.
Because that is finding safety too.
It took years to turn the critical lens away from myself and my body - toward instead the systems and cultures that expect women to look, behave and present in a certain way in order to be loved, validated or seen as successful.
And only once I could see that it was this toxicity, not me, that was the problem, was I able to start to heal my relationship with my body.
Only once I started to repair and find a narrative that expanded the concept of beauty beyond the impossible confines of our current definition was I able to find moments of residing in the body.
And only once I could find moments of residing in my body, could I truly begin to understand what it needed to be nourished.
This glorious bleeding, bumpy, beautiful body has never betrayed me.
But this culture - that taught me that I needed to contort and conform - has.