Sometimes I wonder whether people with visible differences and disabilities are not expected to be happy with our appearance. That we should feel ashamed. We should want to and try to change how we look. We should seek a cure, or at least something to cover up that unsightly... Why should we want to go to a hairdresser and get a fabulous haircut or buy some great clothes when we've got this affliction? How can we possibly be happy when we're so far removed from any magazine cover, let alone the model on page 87 of that magazine? Others tell us they could not handle looking like us.
So what would you say if I said I was happy with myself when I look in the mirror? Even when people question whether I should be or suggest I should find a cosmetic cure? Because I am. I can look myself in the eye the same way I look the world in the eye. Being comfortable with and confident about my appearance surprises people. It shouldn't.
I believe it's ok to be proud of our appearance if we have a visible difference or disability, or if we don't. We should celebrate our beauty by taking pride in ourselves. We should feel good about the way we look - as much as I hate this othering phrase - just like everyone else.
I've never had a problem with my weight or body image. I have never been on a diet and am body confident. I almost feel that I should feel guilty for writing that.
It's no secret I love my food. There's evidence about what I eat on my social media - it's for the world to see. I eat what makes me feel happy and healthy. Sometimes I eat too much.
Lately I've been looking at my body and not loving it as much as I should. I could do with toning my tummy. My arms looked huge in a recent photo. I should probably lose a few kilos. I've been comparing too much. I watch those Bonds ads - where the trim and taut girls are dancing - and think back to when I looked like that. I'm almost 32 and I have noticed that my super lucky, super fast metabolism has started to slow down a lot compared to when I was 22.
I've been dreaming of exercising, and actually want to do it. I've been pretty sore over the last month and that's probably what stopped me. That and fear. Fear of being sore, losing precious time and a lack of enjoyment. I need to drink a cup of concrete and do the exercise properly. (I have gone for a short run, lots of walks, done some arm/thigh squats and a few situps/pushups on my floor, but I need more than that.)
I went past a sportswear shop yesterday and bought some new clothes for exercising in. They are heavily discounted, brightly coloured brand names - leggings and tank tops and an awesome hi-vis lightweight jacket - five items for $120!
And I wore those clothes last night. To the gym. I did 45 minutes of exercise. I clumsily navigated the elliptical trainer (I imagine astronauts feel the same way when they walk above the earth) and held on for dear life runwalking six kilometres an hour on the treadmill. I burnt calories and felt the burn in my calves. I moved three kilometres in total. It's a start.
It felt great. Then it felt sore (in my skin). Then great again. And I realised that I should love my body for what it can do - walk and climb and lift. And renew. It's amazing that every day I start anew with a different layer of skin. Different skin to what I had yesterday. That's amazing!
So, what I see when I look in the mirror is more complex than just appearance. It's about my skin working really hard - so hard I can see it changing - and also my face - being a silent participant in changing expectations about it might be like to look different. Sometimes I set out to be an appearance activist, other times I just find myself being one by going about my daily life.
I was asked to participate in the What I See Project, answering the question "what do I see when you look in the mirror?". I filmed it weeks ago now - well Tash filmed me, and I did 3467 takes, because it all sounded better in my head. Here's what I had to say.
The What I See Project is a global online platform that recognises and amplifies women’s voices. The What I See Project was established to celebrate the inspiring women from everyday life whose stories would otherwise go unacknowledged. It was launched in February 2013, and has already seen over 500 contributions from more than 350 women across eleven different countries. This community continues to grow everyday.
The project aims to provide a safe environment where women can share their struggles, achievements and inner thoughts, and express themselves freely through a website that appreciates them for who they really are. Throughout a year, The What I See Project aims to reach out to as many women as possible, from as diverse a range of locations and walks of life as possible.
From 26 August - 1 October, The What I See Project will showcase over 100 unique female voices as part of an awareness campaign. A diverse group of writers, editors, bloggers and communicators from fashion, science, business, politics, art, sport, feminism and motherhood have participated to tell their inspiring stories. There are also a number of prominent female ambassadors representing the campaign. The campaign highlights real female role models, the everyday heroines whom other women can relate to and admire, and amplify voices that would otherwise go unheard.
Ten short documentaries have been released, each one exploring the thoughts and feelings of a woman who has become an outstanding success in their particular profession. A film of these ambassadors will then be premiered on 1 October at The Science Museum in London (I was invited but sadly could not attend).
I was honoured to be asked to be involved in the What I See project - I came across it on Twitter about six months ago and loved the diversity of women and listening to the ways they saw themselves. There is such wisdom, knowledge and self awareness in all of their stories. A friend of mine happened to be in a video too! Small world!
You can get involved with the What I See Project in the following ways:
Twitter (Hashtag for campaign #whatiseecampaign)