I was asked to take part in the What I See Project which is asking women all around the world to talk about what we see when we look in the mirror. I poeted* my response, because that’s what I do. Looking back I want to tweak quite a lot of it, but the video (and typed out words) are below.
I was disappointed but unsurprised that I couldn’t completely side-step weight and various other body hang-ups – but I firmly believe I have much more going on than what I look like, and I’m forever grateful to my mother for not fucking me up about body image. (I didn’t know this was a rare thing ’til my late teens/early twenties, but the more I learn of other women’s relationships with food/their bodies, the more I realise I dodged a bullet.)
I have felt a lot more comfortable in my own skin ever since I came out as bi… because frankly it just suits me. I’d been happily self-identifying as “a slightly dykey straight girl” since my teens, so when I actually started fancying girls in my early twenties: everything just fit. It felt like a missing piece of a puzzle had finally settled into place. The idea that I was failing at femininity just evaporated when I realised I wasn’t straight. It almost felt like I’d been given an opt-out clause to all gender clichés. Suddenly a wealth of other possible female identities opened up to me. “If I don’t fit the trad femininity model then: Shrug. Fuck it. Nyah-nyah-nyah: I don’t need to.”
Also – it’s very empowering to find girls hot who don’t look like catwalk/glamour models, and to have them find me hot right back. It’s like a closed circuit of attraction which media manipulation can’t get it’s nasty little claws into half as easily.
One thing which I surprised myself by talking about in the poem was how much I found myself struggling to balance some adult success with still often feeling like the odd-one-out Hufflepuff I did as a kid. The more my achievements grow, the bigger the potential fall seems to be with my imposter syndrome. This isn’t something I’d ever really looked at explicitly – so thank you to the project for making me examine it.
In some ways find the entire premise of the What I See Project slightly frustrating. Given that women have their self-esteem systematically eroded because they don’t look like the photoshopped models on magazine covers: then reclaiming our own experiences and our own self-image is an important thing. Acknowledging we all feel frail can be empowering when we see it as part of the human condition – not as a direct result of our own imperfections/failings – but also a large part of me wishes we could just skip a step to not caring, and get on with our lives. Get on with what we want to do rather than fretting about whether our bums look big in this.
Fighting to be OK with our own bodies feels to me like low-hanging fruit which we should be over. But very few of us are – and that’s why we need things like the What I See Project. Also – as I’ve learnt looking through the videos on the site – lots of people have been talking about more than just body image – seeing their pasts and their presents and their futures in the mirror. Each person talks very intimately so you get a real snapshot of a life through the self-image lens.
Another blogger taking part in this project is Alice Cullerne Bown at her blog Dulwich Divorcee. Please do go have a look and see what other women all around the world are seeing in their mirrors on the What I See Project website.
What I see in the Mirror (poem)
I see someone starting to feel comfortable
In their own skin
Who’ll never be thin
But will walk a marathon soon
And I wish I were thinner
And I wish I didn’t care
But it’s there:
In my head I’m slimmer
So every time I see a mirror
There’s a moment of “oh…. yeah.”
But I was raised to not let pass
The thought that I could be caught
Or summarised in a looking glass.
No matter what the billboards blare,
My body is but one thing that’s there,
And my actions and my words
Will speak louder.
I know my worth can’t be calculated by a stranger’s eyes
I am blessed I was never left to think otherwise.
I do not live life waiting
To be someone’s woman.
I am no princess in a tower
I’d be a lousy loot drop
Because I am a fully-statted character
And I play my own adventure.
I see some femme, some butch
And the blessing that bi identity brings
I see the twit that didn’t twig ‘til twenty-three
When a conga-line of clues
Danced then fell like drunken dominoes
All pointing to:
‘You. Like. Ladies. Too.’
And suddenly my skin made sense
It fit snug – clung to curves and muscles equally
Explaining why, even when
I was a girl who liked guys
It never quite felt right
To date like a straight girl.
The fallacy that femininity was what I must be
When word ‘queer’ undid its spell:
In the mirror I see some affection for
A body I once believed
Would never be beautiful enough
To hold a lover against.
I see a brain that can dissect and disprove
That damaged, damaging idea
But can’t always dispel it.
In the mirror I see someone accomplished
Who will drive themselves sad again
If they live a life limited to trophies.
In the mirror I see someone who’s had to learn
To look after themselves
I see iron supplements, antidepressants, and learning to say no
No, sorry, I need time to collect.
When I look in the mirror I see She:
She who is learning to silence whole halls with her words
And sticks in strangers’ minds
I see She who feels the fluster of others’ praise
And I see me:
The same idiot as ever:
– who forgot to buy milk or hang up the washing
– and can’t believe strangers hold her in high regard
Because I still see myself in my maroon school uniform
Marooned every time they picked teams in PE
Or picked partners in class
Not disliked, just left last by default
I see myself fighting back blushes and tears
Swearing “they’ll see”
“I’ll show them one day.”
When I look in the mirror
I see a fully grown woman
Standing astride her achievements
And I see that it is One Day
And I see that I could show Them
But I don’t know who They are.
I see myself wracked by self-doubt
And delusions of grandeur
In almost equal measure
In the mirror I see someone who has drawn and defined herself:
Hennaed hair, tinted brows, bold frames and kohl
I see someone painting a palette of their own choosing
Across the canvas they came with.
*Poet is totally a verb now. I said so. With my poetic licence.