Written by: Isabelle
Edited by: Clarissa Lilananda
No. ‘Dear’ is what you say to friends and nice aunties - maybe an employer.
Not someone who takes it upon themselves to point out each and every fault they can find.
Let’s try again.
To my reflection,
Maybe that’s too harsh. We were doing alright, really, before it all soured. Do you remember that day, when both the situation and my body felt pear-shaped? I was eleven and you pointed out quite frankly that I was curving in the wrong directions. I don’t know what changed really, one day to the next. But like all good optical illusions, once you’ve worked out the trick, you can’t unsee it, no matter how hard you try. And believe me, I’ve tried. Before I knew it, gone was the girl who naively promised herself that she would never let ‘society’ tell her how to live – it turns out you can be persuasive. Your favourite target was my rib cage which always seems to stick out in weird ways. ‘Too skinny,’ you’d say as I poked and prodded. ‘No one in any of the ads I’ve seen has a ribcage like that,’ you’d say. In the next breath however, you’d remind me of the stretch marks arcing up the parts of my body that most definitely were not too skinny. ‘Not right either,’ you’d say. And so the years passed.
The rational, intellectual part of me knows that these images you’re idolising aren’t real. Logically, I know that the girls in the magazines don’t look like the girls in the magazines.
But face to face with your scrutiny, it’s hard to stay logical. Hard to not become that eleven-year-old suddenly looking at her body with confusion and the unshakable feeling that it’s all wrong. Hard not to become a twenty-one-year-old who is too scared to go a day without exercising, and unable to eat like no one’s watching. Since you always, always, seem to be. Taking comfort that I haven’t (yet) done anything drastic doesn’t quite hide the truth that I haven’t been far off some days. They say your body is a temple, but honestly under your gaze, mine doesn’t feel like a temple worth caring for.
But let’s run with that analogy, because, if my body is a temple then you and I need to have a word with its architects. I know we’ve been over this, but honestly. The ribs. Whose idea was that anyway? Did they want to make a nightmare of me trying to wear anything tight? And that’s just the start of the list, as you know full well.
But then again, if my body is a temple then its architects are the hundreds and hundreds of women who have shaped my body through their life and death. I collect fat around my thighs not for an Instagram photoshoot, but so that children lost to history did not want for food. Hair grows back faster than I could ever shave it not to frustrate you, but so that women long gone would survive the climate’s extremes.
Who am I to criticise a body crafted for millions of years by evolution’s merciless hand?
Or, more to the point, who are you to do the same?
Actually, I’m quite liking this analogy because, if you think about it, every temple is built for someone, so if my body is a temple, then to whom is my body dedicated? You? Advertising campaigns made by people I will never meet to sell products I will never need? People I pass on the street? I don’t know about you, but those options all make me feel a little … hollow. Quite literally, really. I’m not sure I love this idea that my mind and soul occupy some shell destined for someone else’s pleasure. The only other conclusion, however, is almost scarier than that. Because that means that perhaps it is I who is the goddess of this temple. And temples are built not to please those who wander past, no matter the judgement in their gaze, but rather the power who watches over it.
If I am the goddess of this temple I call home, why do I let your judgments colour my divine gaze?
Or, to continue the analogy, why do I let you judge its design and décor?
Why do I let you denigrate every aspect of this holy place when you are but a mere observer, and I the deity?
I, the goddess, define beauty, not you the mortal.
If I choose, every feature you have ever denigrated can be not just tolerated, but appreciated. Choosing isn’t easy, but, the thing is, I’m the goddess. Anything is possible. I can make it so.
With my newfound divine wisdom, here’s another idea I think we’ve missed. My body may be the temple of me, but we don’t judge goddesses by the beauty of their temple anyways. The temples of deities can crumble, shine, and evolve, all without tarnishing the glory of their mythology. So perhaps I’ve been looking at you all wrong, dear reflection. And instead of judging the temple, I should appreciate the goddess herself that you reflect back at me.
If I decree it so, those stretch marks you despise then become lightning bolts adorning my body; symbols of the power passed from generations to generations that crackles through my veins. I can choose to focus on the strength of the body you show me, rather than its shape. I can remember kilometres I’ve run, rather than the kilograms I’ve gained and lost. I can savour the feeling of every breath, rather than every bone.
Maybe I’m an optimist. I can’t rationalise my way out of my emotions, no matter how much parts of me want to. And let’s be honest, ten years of hurtful words since that fateful day will take more than one letter to heal. I suspect I haven’t seen the last of the bad days. Dissecting my body through your eyes isn’t going to be a habit I can break overnight. Realistically, I’ve got my work cut out for me for years. But I suspect that we might just be getting somewhere.