I’ve been having really unsettling nightmares lately. Nonsensical stuff, in the cold light of day, but utterly shocking at night, when I open my eyes and can still see the fading shadows of the creatures and phantoms my mind conjured while I slept. I touch Eve’s back, reassured by her steady breathing. I clutch Eric’s arm, warm and unyielding. I am the only one awake, sweating, afraid. My family is safe and whole. After a few minutes, I am able to close my eyes again.
Sometimes, but not as often as I used to, I really resent having a body.
Its demands are mundane and expensive. Feed me, it wails, multiple times a day. Empty me, it moans, some time later. I’m too hot. Now I’m too cold. Oh, I couldn’t fight this bacteria quickly enough. Sorry.
I struggled for so long with bland antipathy towards the way my body looked. Finding my flaws became a game. I’d seek them out, pick them one by one, comparing and contrasting each disparate imperfection with the corresponding perfection in the people around me, friends and strangers alike. If only my nose fit my face, like hers does, I would feel better. If only my feet were just a tiny bit smaller, like hers, I wouldn’t look so weird in skirts. On and on. (Shrinking myself was a theme. My physicality loomed large when all I wanted to be was invisible.) I grew tired of my own complaining. I felt so typical in my Self-Esteem Issues. I just wished to be a floating orb of consciousness and have done with it.
What I really wanted, when I lay in bed at night, was to awake the next morning with a small cut on my head, a cut I would pick at to discover it was actually parting, splitting further, running bilaterally down the front of my face and the back of my scalp and down past my spine, splitting my stomach, a smooth, even peeling of epidermis that, when shed like an old snakeskin, forgotten and discarded on the floor, left me a gleaming new body, with all of the minor adjustments I felt God or nature or genetic gestational engineering had overlooked. My fantasy was not at all gory or bloody; it was a neat and simple disrobing of the body I disliked. The real me, the me I wished to be when I looked into the mirror, had to be there, right there, just waiting beneath the surface. The hair I want, the legs I want. I wasn’t looking for any drastic change, I would reason, staring into a mirror. I couldn’t do it for too long, though. Stare into a mirror. Things stop seeming real and your face becomes strange.
Obviously, I never did find that cut on my head.
My body contained and grew another body and then pushed that body out of mine, which is something still so unbelievable despite the evidence of this phenomenon sleeping beside me. I am not wholly in love my body yet - my belly has deflated, somewhat, but it is still lined with stretch marks and a little bit doughier than its ever been. But I care less, now. Self-love and self-esteem are fine things to have and I aspire to those ideals. I still can’t stand looking into the mirror sometimes, though, and other times I think I look pretty damn good. This is a process.
I don’t want Eve to wish she could peel her skin off. I’ll tell her, there wouldn’t be anything there but sinew and muscle. Not magical wish fulfillment. I’ll tell her, you will cry sometimes, and you won’t be able to do anything about the people who are prettier than you, but you can look into the mirror, and then walk away from it. I’ll tell her she’s beautiful. I’ll show her I’m beautiful. I’ll give her the space to believe it, and I’ll remind her that the phantoms aren’t real, but we are, our bodies are; we’re here, breathing, sleeping, alive. Imperfect. Now come eat.