my body: this elastic, changing container. today marks one month since my surgery and i see healing, i see hope.
the past 14 months i have spent many hours in despair, only able to see my body in terms of broken, sick, weak, damaged, ugly. yet something has shifted the past month, a significant shift towards the positive.
my squishy belly has always been an area that i reviled. i grew up in an era that instructed girls at puberty to "suck in your tummy". i learned to feel shame for my soft, rounded belly. actress bo derek's taunt bikini belly in the movie "10" was the standard. mine was symbolic of failure. my belly showed the world how i lost my battle with food, over and over. in middle school, i binged secretly on girl scout cookies. by the end of high school, i ate almost nothing and dropped 40 pounds, to my parent's delight.
as an adult, i've enjoyed long periods of peace with my body, but also times of great struggle and strife. this relationship between me and my body has rarely been an easy one.
as breast cancer has marked me with scars, i have had to come to terms with the loss of esteem for that part of my body i always loved: my breasts. i see them now and i am glad to have them, even bearing the history of this last year so vividly. one month out from my last surgery, they look quite the matching pair, when i am dressed. naked, there is still much healing to be done. but i can see now, how the next several months will show steady improvement. already, the shape is becoming more natural.
yet even though i spend far more time dressed than i do naked, it is the naked me i most want to love.
during one extraordinary time of peace with my body, i worked as an artist's model. for a few hours every week, i was nude for a group of painters. to them, i wasn't skinny, i wasn't fat, i was just beautiful. a subject with lovely coloring and interesting shapes. i have never felt so celebrated as i did then. i originally began nude modeling to push myself, i wanted to be more comfortable in my skin. i wanted to love my body, to see it though another lens. the experience was a great success. that group of painters did more for my body image than any lover i've ever had. (which is a sad comment on my choice of lovers, i realize.)
so here i am now, looking through my own lens, trying to see what is good. looking for beauty and hope. seeing my body as something i am lucky to have. the smaller breasts look better on my frame than i imagined in those tense months leading up to the surgery.
strangely, i look slimmer. one friend said i look like i lost 20 pounds. no, i said, less than a pound. but my proportions have changed in a way that to my eyes, looks dramatic. and good.
the soft belly is unchanged and i have decided to treasure it. that particular curve is exactly what would be needed if i ever had to build two new breasts in the future. if breast cancer comes back, i am ready. my two back up b-cups are growing right here - my belly. if i had a double mastectomy, then skilled plastic surgeons can actually use my own belly tissue to create breasts.
now, i am looking on my belly with affection. it just might come in handy someday. i find that deeply comforting, to know that should disaster strike again, i am prepared.
these shifts in perception have helped me adjust my goals and expectations. i no longer feel driven to achieve a particular weight. if i feel good, i will look good. and my healthy eating, my maintaining of a balanced ph in my body - that is better cancer prevention than any "perfect" body mass index score.
as my foot has improved so much this past fall, and with the final surgery safely behind me, i can now begin exercise again. gentle and slow to start. yesterday, i bounced softly on my trampoline, dancing to inspiring music.
a start, just 10 minutes. but a start.