Vulnerability and body image

“What makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful”

Brene Brown

Vulnerability impacts on us all from time to time.  Body image can be a contributing factor for many people and often begins from a young age or can occur when the body changes.

For me, I had always been on the thin side from a young age.  Then when I began smoking in my teens this continued throughout all four of my pregnancies until I ceased smoking in my 30’s.  After this, I went up 3 dress sizes – I began as a size 6 and then bloomed into a size 12/14 complete with a couple of extra chins.  Add in my lack of height and I looked positively chubby.  Thankfully this slowed down after a while and I have stayed at a size 12 now for many years. Please be reassured that I know that this is a healthy size, I only wish that I was a little taller and I know that this is never going to happen.  Unfortunately, though, the damage of body image had commenced.  Not an eating disorder, but my body image was really negative.

Yes, I looked in the mirror daily, but this was to put on my makeup prior to leaving the home.  I only looked at my body from the neck up or when clothed.

Roll on a couple of decades and I found my breast cancer by accident.  It was only that I noted my stretch marks (from my pregnancies and breast feeding) had gotten a little bigger.  Initially I thought that I had put on some weight, but eventually realised it was more than this.  Perhaps if I looked in the mirror more with my full body, I may have found it earlier.  We can’t turn back the clock and it is no point in ruminating on what could have been.

Now with a mastectomy – my negative body image continues. I know that the mastectomy was needed (and wanted) due to the actual cancer size and grade and I am happy with this decision.  It is the little (or big) things that continue to impact on me.  A year in and the underwear that I need is quite ugly.  I always had bought beautiful Simone Perele underwear (bras and knickers) – so the availability of bras for those with a prothesis are less than ideal for me.  They remind me of maternity bras from thirty years ago – in which function was the only thing they thought of.  Thankfully maternity bras are now more glamourous, and I am waiting impatiently for the mastectomy world to catch up.

Whilst undergoing treatment, I had the vulnerability of losing my hair and wearing hats to cover my baldness.  My veins played up and for 11 weeks of treatment I had a PIC line as part of my everyday uniform.  This increased my vulnerability and sense of identity. 

Then there are the added side effects of my treatment and as one survivor states “cancer that keeps giving” – neuropathy.  The embarrassment of standing in the supermarket at the vegetable aisle attempting to open a plastic bag with fingers which don’t quite work.  The numbness of my fingertips which feel worse in the colder winter months. 

All of these influence my sense of self and whilst the world may see my positive personality shine through, my vulnerability is waiting to pounce when I feel a little low.  You may not see me during these times as I may stay at home to lick my wounds for a little while and work on getting my bruises healed.