For many, being vulnerable with their body means styling it in novel ways or exposing it to others. Taking a chance on new fashions, or feeling vulnerable with our flesh under the gaze of others.
But to me, being vulnerable with my body means the slow unravelling of conditioning, of the voices of others that have permeated my skin, which I now choose to wash out. It’s stepping into an unexplored frontier, with few guides and many voices of doubt. A frontier that forges a different perspective and relationship to our bodies from a hard fight against the status quo.
This place of vulnerability has allowed me to see my body as a physical manifestation of my ancestors–I have my granny’s short-waist, my mum’s hips, my gran’s auburn lowlights, my dad’s feet. I’m sure, had I known them, I could see features from many more of my ancestors. I am a unique mix. I look in the mirror or down over my belly, and know no one else could look like me, and therefore, I should look like no one else. We are all made of unique material, genetically and environmentally coded, so why do we often try so hard to squeeze ourselves into a duplicating mould?
The messages I had growing up, through the media, society, and family, were ones that sexualised and commodified women’s bodies. It was made clear that it was hugely desirable to be as sexually attractive as possible and then to use it very modestly: a private, or almost private, plaything. Anything less was cause for self-loathing or frustrated attempts as change. That friction between loving ourselves and presenting a desirable casing to others leads many to a lifetime of separation from their bodies, and mental unrest.
Even as a young girl I was subject to comments on everything from my thighs, hips, waist, tummy, ankles, skin, eyes, ears, shoulders, freckles, and breasts. These sorts of comments sometimes positive, but often critical, lace the self-esteem of most girls tightly to only their outsides. Without voices or role models showing me another way to love myself, I too pulled my value tightly to my appearance. I felt accomplished when I was found to be pretty or desirable to others. My opinion of myself was never part of the equation.
To be a woman today brings so many layers of physical vulnerability. I just have to think about taking a walk alone after dark to be reminded of that, however, as much as I feel vulnerable learning new ways to see myself, I strive to be a firebreak between some of these societal pressures and issues for my children, especially my daughter. I need them to know that all bodies are unique, most wobble, are fun, and useful. Our bodies represent traits passed down in unique combinations, just for them. They deserve to be owned completely, and not real estate for money-making or something that can ever make them feel less.
As I age, I strive not to feel vulnerable over my appearance but instead to embrace the vulnerability that is needed to challenge the attitudes laid before me as a child and young woman.
I make myself vulnerable to seeing my body as 100% mine, to use as I please, to dress as I please, and to feel as attractive as I want on any given day, completely apart from anyone else’s opinion, especially that of mainstream media and advertisers, which have been conditioning mental weakness in women over their own bodies for far too long.
Turns out there’s strength in being vulnerable.
By approaching my body differently from the only ways I was shown, I feel vulnerable. In stepping away from the messages of conditioning that surrounded me as I grew up, I feel vulnerable. When I look in the mirror and accept and recognise, when I play and learn from my body, I feel vulnerable.
But I really hope my children will not feel it when they do the same.
From my vulnerability comes their strength.
This piece was written thanks to a monthly theme on VULNERABILITY from Illuminate, a writing community from The Kindred Voice.
Read more pieces on vulnerability from other Illuminate members:
Quitting Cold Turkey by Mia Sutton
I Have Been Sick All My Life by Jennifer Brown
To The Women Working in Male-Dominated Fields by Christi Jeane
Anxiety Hangover by Christine Carpenter
Butterfly Wings by Megan McCoy Dellecese
with love, eunice by Eunice Brownlee