Due to a chronic illness I spent the best part of two and a half years at 37 kilograms. With no “curves“, jutting hip bones and legs that resembled toothpicks, it was difficult to find any nice clothes that fit.
I was fearful of my hair falling out, so I rarely washed it. My skin was too sensitive for face products or makeup, so I wore none. All the ‘trimmings’ that I’d previously used to enhance my womanliness were gone.
As someone who was used to getting wolf whistles and compliments, I was now getting stares that resembled a mix of repulsion, pity and judgement. Walking into a five star hotel, I was stopped at the entrance by a staff member asking me why I was there.
At first I was distraught. I yearned and ached for the woman I used to be. I found an old text message from an ex-boyfriend beginning with “Hey beautiful” and I cried for hours wondering whether any man would call me beautiful again.
I would even hide my sagging bottom from my mother – my own mother – in total embarrassment. I imagined a future life of celibacy, as I believed no man my age would want to sleep with an image of his 90 year old grandmother!
But then something shifted, slowly, but it did. Ironically it was through this testing period of my life that my body confidence grew. I began to accept this woman who, under a crumpling skin, was growing some pretty deep roots.
I learnt to do it differently; I’d walk out in a scarecrow figure but with a smile.
No longer living under a pretence of needing to assume a persona, I started to get more comfortable in my own skin. My writing developed a vulnerability it never had before. My conversations were frank and open. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
I was told by many at the time that grace and an angelic quality exuded from me. This, I believe, was true acceptance.
As I got better, yet still remained at a low weight, something else pretty special began to happen. I started to get comments from other people about ‘my beauty’. Yes, my beauty! (Post continues after gallery.)
What I discovered during this time is what my grandmother used to call my ‘natural beauty’; the things that are unique to me. I have a friend, I can drown in her green eyes, yet I don’t really notice much else about her looks. Her essence to me is in her eyes. My smile and her eyes will be with us for life, no matter what other parts fade or change.
And of course, I tapped into my inner beauty. I know that without my inner beauty, my outer beauty is really just a facade, which is as temperamental as the wind and as fragile as the toothpick-sized legs I once stood on.
We’re told men are visual, and this may be so, but they also have hearts, just like we do. Think about the times you really connect with a partner. It may be after a fight when a mix of tears and mascara are streaming down your cheeks, or after you’ve just made love or given birth. When the very last thing on your mind is looking good.
(Christine Anu talks to Mamamia TV about body image. Post continues after video.)
It’s only when we take off the mask, as I was forced to do, that we give the opportunity for the inner beauty to shine. When people tell me I look better now than I did before I got sick, I get it. A load of expectations has been taken off my shoulders and it shows.
Although I have now returned to a healthy weight, lost that saggy bottom, and once again like to dress up, play with makeup, and do my hair like the many women; I also know that a full rounded version of me has days when I prefer to go a la natural, wear no makeup, hang out in my ugg boots and trackies and eat sweet, freshly baked muffins and pastries.
This isn’t about throwing out your makeup kit permanently. It’s about knowing you’re OK without it and if you can’t put it on one day, you’ll still be beautiful.
It’s about accepting that beauty is embracing all stages of our life: pre-pubescent, pubescent, fertile, menopausal and post-menopausal years. Embrace every new cycle of life and it will embrace you, helping you to discover the gifts in each.
True beauty is a result of being anchored and confident in the real you. People can’t help but notice someone who walks into a room completely at ease with themselves because if we’re honest, this is what we all desire. Ease through confidence.
We’re all beautiful. Show it. When the mask is off and the fear is gone, nothing and no one can take it away from you.
Sharon is a writer, blogger and presenter based in Byron Bay. With a career spanning 15 years in corporate marketing and communications, her focus changed after spending 7 years with a chronic illness. She now writes and speaks on all things wellness, with a particular focus on how to better align our bodies with the natural rhythms of nature and life. Find more of her writing here.