Don’t worry, this title doesn’t mean what you think it means.
I delivered a chair the other day, to a customer living in a basement flat. The chair was valuable and fragile and the entrance was too narrow for the chair to turn the corner. It was heavy. Between my colleague and I we got it in by lowering it over an iron bar, way over our heads, swinging it round underneath the bar and slowly maneuvering ourselves back in to a position where we could move it in to the flat. We were in some pretty odd positions but we’re strong and we know how to hold our bodies when we’re lifting and maneuvering so we don’t get hurt. It struck me as we drove away that it’s moments like that which make me love my body.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not immune to having been socialised for all of my teenage and adult life to a certain body image for women. Of course I get temporary, superficial satisfaction from looking in the mirror and realizing I’m having a ‘thin day’ rather than a ‘fat day’ and finding a mirror in a toilet somewhere with lighting that doesn’t show my multiplying wrinkles. But what makes me love my body in a long lasting, deep down, satisfying way is what it can do and what I can do with it.
My body is amazing because when a tackle in a rugby game ripped through the ligaments in my knee, doctors took a bit of my hamstring out and put it in to my knee, sewed me up and left me to get strong again. Within six months I was in full fire gear with an oxygen cylinder on my back crouch walking across a yard to prove I was fit for work. My body is amazing because people look at me and my colleague and think we can’t get that eight foot long sofa down the twelve winding flights of stairs of a tower block without smashing it to bits and we manage do it. I twist and turn and push and pull and lift and my body finds a way. My body is amazing because when I started training for London’s Fittest Firefighter competition I stood up a tower holding on to a rope, tied to a heavy barrel down below, and pulled, and nothing happened. A few months later, in the competition, after lots of hard work, I pulled it up hand over hand in seconds.
My body is not without it’s quirks. My ankles sometimes muffin-top over my socks when it’s hot and I didn’t know that was possible. For some reason my fat goes to my knees. I am partial to a bit of deodorant on my inner thighs because they touch and the chafing is just too much in the summer. I get prickly heat and am prone to unattractive rashes. The women in the beauty salon, where I got wrapped in a sari in Mumbai, asked if I wanted my arms waxed and laughed when I said no. I also have hairy toes.
But, when I look at my body I see callouses on my hands that remind me that I rowed in Henley Regatta, I see a scar on my knee that reminds me that my leg healed itself up as good as new after my injury, I see a laugh line on one side of my mouth that reminds me how often my wonky smile is plastered across my face and I see muscles and bruises, the badges of what I do now, helping people to move house. I feel strong and my body is useful and that is what makes it amazing and why I love it.
This is what body image should be based on. If your goals are to make your body look the way you think it should look rather than to make it able to do the things that will make you feel fulfilled you will only ever superficially love your body and that’s just not as good.
One of the things I love about Van Girls is that it lets men and women see how strong, practical and useful women’s bodies can be and that might go some way towards changing what people think women’s bodies should be.