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The Body Image Lessons I Learned From Illness and Disability

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I no longer care about my body being perfect. It’s taken a long time to get here, but I’ve realized my body has been through too much to spend time and energy caring about losing that extra 10 pounds or minimizing my scars. I just wish my body didn’t have to experience a lot of distress in order to give myself permission to accept it without wanting to achieve the next level of idealism.

How can I expect my body to be perfect after everything I’ve gone through in the last decade? Having dermatillomania (excoriation disorder) for most of my life I was ashamed of the marks I left on my body. I’ve always had a kangaroo pouch for a stomach no matter how thin I became. Even when anxiety-related gastrointestinal issues caused me to lose weight, I always found it difficult to minimize my tummy size. Being physically disabled for the past eight years, I’ve learned to let go of the mental torture of striving for the body I cannot have.

I developed piriformis syndrome on my left side after a fall, which lasted for nearly six years. Unable to fully sit on my bottom, dragging my left leg to walk, and being in agony, how could I work with a “broken” body to look how I wanted it to? After getting surgery in another country out of desperation due to my right hip compensating, I learned I have femoral acetabular impingement (FAI) in my hips. It explained minor undiagnosed pains before my fall, but its severity was accelerated from the stress of trying to get by.

I endured a medical trauma in 2016 that resulted in severe panic attacks and a fear of vomiting. I also experienced a miscarriage with a D and C in late 2018. My next pregnancy resulted in extreme sickness the entire time with a C-section to accommodate my hip disability.

Now that I have a daughter, I hope she doesn’t have to go through a fourth of what I’ve been through, but I want her to know she deserves to love her body no matter its condition or appearance. We are riddled with manufactured images in the media that include photo/video editing, good lighting, the correct angles, proper posing, and professional makeup from people who are also working to “improve” themselves to be in the public eye.

The barriers to my perfectionism have been gifts in disguise. My body has failed me from the waist down but I no longer desire to work towards goals now out of my reach. There is no reason to, with no one to impress except my ego. If only I knew this years ago, I could have spent the time to do better in the world instead of focusing on the supposed betterment of my body.

These days I aim to be strong. While I don’t know when I’ll be able to work on my physical strength, my daughter will know a mother who rejects the messages society places on us. I will be a better example for her to navigate the pressures of this world, emphasizing that our bodies house our souls and nothing can be as beautiful as a woman who loves her body and herself.

Originally published: March 18, 2020
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