BATTLING WITH MY BODY IMAGE
Whenever I see a photo of myself from behind, I’m always a little shocked. My clothes are off centre, my shoulder blade juts out on one side, and things just seem generally imbalanced. I’m used to the way I look from the front, but seeing my back always reminds me of a part of myself which I manage to forget about most of the time: scoliosis. Though we all battle with body image issues, comparing yourself to all those gorgeous girls on your Instagram explore page feels that little bit harder when your body is permanently irregular. If it’s not the three 12 inch scars snaking their way around my torso then it’s my appalling posture. If it’s not my wonky pelvis which send my skirts on a trip around my hips then it’s my dramatic glute imbalance. Some of these traits have been with me since I was 10 years old, but accepting my body doesn’t get any easier. The negative impact which scoliosis has on body image is often overshadowed by the physical effects of the condition, but for me, the ensuing mental health problems have been the most difficult part to cope with. In light of Scoliosis Awareness Day, I wanted to use my platform to talk about why this surprisingly common condition is much, much more than its physical effects.
“I still struggle with being confident in myself, and my body image, for I have never been able to wear the same type of nice clothes that other girls my age are able to wear (tank tops, white shirts, crop tops, tight shirts). This might seem like a small problem to the rest of you, but every time I leave a retail store, I always feel alone and frustrated, wishing to myself that this could be simpler. I struggle to find pants that fit my brace, not me. I’m not able to do the same things that others are able to do just fine (bending over, running, walking up the stairs) and I always feel like everything in my life must be done around the bracing schedule.”
– An excerpt from a comment on my scoliosis story on YouTube.
Following the performance of MerseyGirls in the latest series of Britain’s Got Talent, I saw floods of comments on Twitter criticising the dancers. Sob stories aside, I couldn’t believe that people were saying ‘scoliosis isn’t even that bad’. Though I’ve never wanted to be a victim of my condition, I can vouch for the fact that scoliosis can, in fact, be very bad. Like any condition, some cases are more severe than others, yet even if your scoliosis doesn’t qualify for corrective surgery, there are many ways in which mild scoliosis can affect your life. Some people experience back pain on the daily, others have to wear uncomfortable braces for up to 23 hours a day, and almost all scoliosis sufferers will struggle with their body image as a result of the condition. The curvature of the spine sends everything else into disarray, often resulting in a lopsided pelvis, rib humps at both the front and the back, and a marked difference between the curves of the waist on each side of the body. When taking into account the posture problems that go hand in hand with scoliosis, too, you can see how scoliosis can easily become a whole body condition.
Scoliosis is not only more common, but tends to be more severe in females. It’s a condition that’s sadly biased towards girls and women, and this feels all the more difficult when we live in a world which is obsessed with bodies, particularly those of females. Every day, we’re bombarded with advertisements for products which will supposedly ‘improve’ the way we look, making us more desirable, more appealing. They’re demonstrated by women with flawless skin, taut tummies and tiny waists. It’s soul destroying for the best of us, but when your body is abnormal, it can feel like your condition (which can’t be fixed by any amount of makeup, dieting or hitting the gym) makes you ugly and unlovable. Many of us hide our bodies from the world, ashamed by the way we look. As teenagers, we hear our friends complaining about their perfectly normal bodies, and we feel isolated, angry, jealous and guilty, all at once. We know that things could be much worse, and we know that we should be grateful that our conditions allow us to live a largely normal life, yet we still can’t shake those feelings of insecurity. Navigating our first serious relationships is something else entirely.
Being a teenager is difficult at the best of times, and I’m glad those years are over. However, it’s been almost ten years since my first corrective surgery, and my perception of myself has changed a lot in that time. Therefore, to end this post on a positive note, I wanted to share four things I’ve learnt on my journey.
1. NOBODY CARES ABOUT YOUR BODY AS MUCH AS YOU DO
The media encourages us to look for flaws and imperfections. Whether it’s an advertisement convincing you you’re not good enough, or a cruel feature on a celebrity’s cellulite, we’re obsessed with criticising imperfect bodies, so it’s only natural to think that others are scrutinising your body as much as you are. However, they simply aren’t. Sadly, because of the aforementioned media problems, we’re all so wrapped up in our own worries that we hardly notice those around us. Though you might think your scoliosis is the most obvious thing in the world, the truth is that most people won’t even notice it, and if they do, they’re going to forget about it almost instantly.
2. PEOPLE THINK YOU’RE ATTRACTIVE
Even though you may think you’re the most hideous being on the planet, at least one person out there thinks you’re attractive, and that’s that! As we get older, we realise that attractiveness is much more than how we look, which is why you’ll see married couples in their 80s head over heels for one another. Looks don’t last forever, so don’t make it your life mission to achieve the perfect body, because you’ll never do it.
3. YOUR BODY IS JUST A SHELL
Contrary to what the media would have you believe, your body is the least important thing about you. It’s just a vessel through which you can live and laugh. Though we all judge people on their outward appearances initially, we stay for who they are, rather than how they look. You might be passionate or funny or intelligent or warmhearted, but however people describe you, it’s how you are as a person that defines you. As you get to know somebody, their physical attractiveness becomes less and less important, and anybody that thinks differently isn’t worth your time. Imagine if we spent as much time on improving who we are as people as we did on trying to improve our appearances?
4. THINGS ARE NEVER WHAT THEY SEEM
While celebrity culture has always been a thing, the rise of influencers has done nothing to help our obsession with bodies. While celebrities set the bar, influencers bring things closer to home, making the perfect body seem more achievable. However, we must never forget the case of Essena O’Neill, because things are rarely what they seem. While celebrities are surrounded by teams of the top people and products helping them to look their best, influencers are sucking in, skipping meals and utilising their best angles in pursuit of the perfect shot. A little bit of Photoshop here and there doesn’t go amiss either. If you’re comparing yourself to the bodies you see online, then you will never be happy, because much of it isn’t even real. Remember that!
5. YOUR BODY IS AMAZING
Lastly, we never give credit to our bodies for what they can do, rather than how they look. We can run, we can dance, we can swim, we can kiss, we can breathe, the list goes on and on! After all the hate I’ve given my body over the years, it still fought off a deadly infection until the very last moment when the doctors could identify the correct antibiotic to treat it. It literally staved off death, so does it deserve the criticism I give it? No! Even if your body has never been tested, every second it’s pumping blood around your body, compelling you to breathe and keeping you alive. That’s something to be thankful for, right?
“I had spinal fusion four months and don’t regret one bit of it. I love my body!!!”
“I’m so proud of my scars.’
“I had my spinal fusion operation 6 years ago. I went from 55kg-65kg last year and ran a half marathon and competed in school and interschool cross country. You have no limits.”
– Excerpts from comments on my scoliosis story on YouTube.
Happy Scoliosis Awareness Day! What have you learnt about body image over the years?