Ok so I don’t often go “deep” on here, but occasionally I have a bit of a personal revelation and I feel I should share it in case it resonates with even one other person out there in the world.
This one is about body confidence…or lack thereof…
I find it strange when people say that they think I’m confident. That they presume I’m strong and without insecurities. I take this as a compliment of course, but it’s far from the truth…in all walks of life really. But today I’m focusing on my body, my self-image, my self-confidence.
I’ll set the scene…
So going back to the day I was born. Luckily I was born totally healthy, with ten fingers and ten toes and to a loving set of parents and a doting older brother. Totally the ideal situation and no complaints there. BUT, I was born with a “birthmark”. I say “birthmark” because this is what the doctors labelled it, although no one had ever seen anything quite like it. Essentially it was as though the top layers of my skin, on my left thigh hadn’t quite formed. Instead I had a large circular patch that took up roughly half of my thigh that looked like exposed veins. So although it wasn’t a disfigurement and it didn’t cause me pain, it was different and something I was aware of from the moment I can remember.
Right back in primary school, I remember feeling self-conscious changing for PE and having to wear shorts as my peers would point at it, stare at it, ask questions about it. I didn’t like that. I didn’t like that I was different.
Then in secondary school, when good ol’ puberty kicked-in, I had the added angst of being a teenage girl with a developing body and all the insecurities that come along with that, as well as a total and utter insecurity and hatred of my “birthmark”. I don’t need to go into what that means in terms of self-confidence when dating for the first time and even sex! Let’s just say, it would take a lot for me to trust someone enough to even tell them about my birthmark, let alone show it to them…friend or boyfriend! In fact, I would avoid any situation where it would be exposed – swimming, girly beach holidays, sports, all sorts! I missed out on a lot growing up because I was so bloody insecure.
I must say now that I had nothing but support and adoration from my parents and family. I was never belittled for my feelings and I know they always tried to instil self-confidence in me, both as a person and in my body. But it’s so hard for anyone to re-wire you isn’t it? To re-train your brain. I had a deep loathing for my birthmark and I was angry that I felt robbed of certain experiences it stopped me from enjoying.
So as soon as I could make any sort of decision, we discussed my options with our doctor/surgeon at Great Ormond Street. Unfortunately due to the positioning of my birthmark, it grew as I grew, so there weren’t really any options available to me until I was considered fully grown. Which meant waiting until I was 18. Agonising!
Then in the summer before my 18th birthday, the months before I’d be leaving home to go to university, I was taken in for surgery to try and “fix” my leg.
Now because of the nature of the surgery, it was deemed “cosmetic” and I went to a specialist plastics unit. So the surgery that was offered to me was either skin grafting (which seemed counter-productive as would cause massive scarring to another part of my body) or skin expansion. To explain this simply, that means inserting an implant (almost like a breast implant), under the top layer of good skin on my thigh. This implant had a “port” that could be reached via an injection through the skin and would be injected weekly with fluid to slowly inflate the implant and essentially stretch my skin. The plan was for this to happen over a 3-month period, the good skin would be expanded enough so that through another surgery, it’d be cut and pulled over the offending “birthmark”, hiding it beneath and I’d be stitched in one seemless line at the very top of my thigh, into my bikini line. So although I’d have a scar, it wouldn’t be seen, I’d be able to wear bikinis, shorts, feel “normal”. Well that was the dream…
So in reality, the surgeons had never quite done a surgery like mine before and weren’t prepared for things to go wrong…which they did. They over inflated the impact too soon, causing my stitches to burst and for me to be left with a gaping hole in my leg that looked like a gunshot wound. And it was infected. I was rushed into surgery to remove the bag, cut out the infected tissue and insert a new implant. I didn’t lose all of the progress but it was a set-back, and a scary one. I hated surgery, it scared me. I was a hundred miles from home, I had to stay in hospital and my parents were so so worried. Then, after another month or two, by which point I’d started uni (don’t get me started on the trauma of freshers week, having to wear huge floaty skirts to disguise an inflated thigh!) it happened again! This time, the implant somehow was punctured and started to leak and the expanded skin was basically deflating. I was soul-destroyed and exhausted by the process that was now into its 6 month. I was rushed into another surgery to remove the bag and we collectively made the decision to end the process there for now. It was too emotionally and physically exhausting and I had to concentrate on uni.
BUT, the skin hadn’t been expanded enough to cover the birthmark and instead only covered about half of it and instead I had two great big scars across and down by thigh to add to the equation! Brilliant. I was devastated and probably even more self-conscious then I’d ever been.
10 years later
Fast-forward 10 years and I’d moved to Manchester, was married and living my life. I still wouldn’t go swimming, would wear shorts in the pool on holiday and would hide away when changing in front of friends or family. It was still getting me down! Sadly, the reassurance and adoration from my husband wasn’t enough to make me love my body.
So I decided to pick-up where I’d left off and see a surgeon but this time up in Manchester. It was 10 years since my previous surgery and surely they’d developed some magic way of making my leg look perfect by now?
I discussed my options, which were, quite frankly limited and they were happy to consider me for surgery. This time we tried another tact and looked at the texture of the skin, rather than how it looked. So fat grafting (essentially Lipo-ing fat out of my hips and infecting it into my thigh) was on the cards and another general anaesthetic. I wasn’t looking forward to it but I knew I had to give it a go or else I’d never forgive myself. Surgery done, the recovery was simpler, shorter but still not great. But it seemed to have worked – well at least enough for me to see and feel a difference. My expectations were far lower this time round. I knew they couldn’t make my thigh look “normal” but I just wanted it to look and feel different and it did!
But that joy was short-lived. Unfortunately with fat-grafting, the fat doesn’t always take permanently and essentially melts away into the body. Of course this is what happened with me! After going through another surgery, all that recovery and all that emotional stress, it didn’t even bloody work!
That was it, soul totally destroyed and I had to accept that I’d never feel confident in my body, ever!
I’m going to gloss over this section, but I decided to try a new route and have some cognitive therapy sessions to try and change the way I felt about my body. It definitely shed some light on why I felt the way I did about myself (essentially stuck in that child-phase of insecurity and not wanting to feel different) and made me re-evaluate how I needed to approach this. It also high-lighted that at NO POINT along my journey, was I ever offered counselling to try and get to the route of why I felt the way I did. The only options presented were surgical and again, there was no follow-up to that. I was depressed after my surgeries went wrong and at an all time low in terms of self-confidence and that was never discussed. And that’s what actually upsets me the most about this story – the fact that I had to wait until I was 29 years old and pregnant, for it all to change…
My Pregnant Body
When I was pregnant, I was in awe of my body! I couldn’t believe that it was capable of growing a human being and I developed a completely new respect for the human body and my own.
I loved my bump and what it provided for our growing child. I loved the way it looked. I felt so utterly proud and for once, the focus was on that. This time I didn’t mind people commenting on my body, because they were commenting on my bump. I barely even thought about my leg.
For the first time, I went on holiday with friends and family and I walked around the pool in a bikini, proud of my growing bump and not worrying as much about my leg. Yes, I knew it was there. Yes, I didn’t look like my idea of “perfect”, but did I care as much? No!
Those of you that have had a baby, will know that during the labour process, your body is out there for your partner and your nurses, midwives, doctors, surgeons to see…in its entirety! I’ll say no more than that on the matter. But, however you give birth, your body does an incredible thing. It gives life to another human being. It creates the path to this mad world we live in. It’s insane!
Your body is also incredibly resilient. It goes through a pretty traumatic process and it recovers! It feeds, it nurtures. Yes it changes shape, yes it’s different, but it’s incredible!
After I gave birth to my daughter, I had total admiration and awe for my body. I had no idea what it would go through and that it’d come out the other side, still in tact. I felt something I’d never really felt for my body before, self-love. I was bloody awesome! My body was bloody awesome! No I’ve not got model legs, toned abs or perky boobs, but I love what I do have. I love what has given life to my beautiful daughter.
Setting an Example
More than what I’ve said above, I have a new sense of strength that I want to pass on to my daughter. I don’t want her to ever feel the way I did about myself. I don’t want her to ever doubt her beauty and strength. I don’t ever want her to feel self-conscious or lack self-esteem and I will do everything in my power to instil a sense of self-worth in her, just like I know her dad will too.
So I now have to set an example. I have to show her that I’m confident and comfortable in my own skin. I have to show her that it’s ok to look different and that in fact, it’s our differences that make us beautiful and interesting. I have to ensure she knows that it doesn’t matter what other people may say or think and that she, like us all, are perfect in our ways.
This is a big responsibility but it is also so empowering. I have a new sense of self-love for my imperfectly perfect body and I can’t wait to watch my daughter grow and guide her through this crazy journey of life and self-love.
So there it is. My story. My insecurities. My strengths. My new found confidence.