Womanhood and Recovery

Written by Classmate

I have been wanting to write about being a woman for some time. I wasn’t sure what I had to say on the topic and I didn’t really want to be exclusive, or bring it back to the sterile ideas of biology and hormones and genitalia. So here’s my take on it:

When ED was the worst for me, I didn’t identify as I woman. I was over 18, so technically not a girl. But I felt like a girl. Or a boy. Or nothing.

I remember groups where someone would talk about being a woman and I would feel myself stiffen. I feared it. I feared what it meant. I associated it with being lots of negative words that I don’t feel it helpful to list. I remember a particular group where we had a long frank discussion about being a woman. It was a Tuesday and no men had turned up that day so the conversation evolved. It had a big impact on me. And I remember thinking I was more open to the idea of being a woman.

Despite working in healthcare I struggled to say the words of my body. I struggled to purchase underwear. I struggled to speak about sex. I hated that my body had needs, and I rejoiced when my period left. I just rewrote that sentence because I had written ‘monthly visitor’ because God forbid I’d use words like menstruation that seem so naked and vulnerable.

I wore high neck tops and swathed myself in smocks and baggy jumpers. I had no intention of letting anyone see the shape of my body. I had lots of irrational thoughts about size and weight and numbers and all sorts that I won’t grace with space on this post.

A few years ago I came across a poem, which really spoke to me. I was about to start lifting lines that spoke to me, but realised I was copying and pasting the whole poem. So look up the poem ‘Phenomenal Woman’ by Maya Angelou. It’s amazing, right? https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/48985

A few years ago I went on a carework to the supermarket with J. The supermarket had been a place of great distress for me, and I’d spend hours agonising over everything. My partner sometimes went without me because he couldn’t face how long I’d take, and the random bursting into tears. So anyway we were walking along the street and I was so nervous. And J was bouncing along full of life, talking about how I was a strong and independent woman sorting out my needs. And it was like something clicked in me. I felt a lot lighter and learned a lot from that carework session.

So fast forward a few years to last week and I’m sitting in the back of a taxi on my way to get a cervical smear. I had ignored many letters inviting me to take part in this life saving scheme, but I had a list the length of my arm about why I hadn’t been. I’d been given ‘final reminders’ and found them a bit terrorising at the time, though now I see it in a different light. So there I am in the taxi, a bit nervous, feeling a little guilty for not coming for so long. And suddenly my mind goes back to that carework. And I thought to myself ‘I’m a strong, independent woman and I’m looking after my needs’. And I felt my shoulders drop. And this feeling washed over me and I felt like a woman. Like a real woman. I felt grown up, responsible, feminine, proud, strong, resilient, determined, full of lightness. And suddenly something clicked and I felt this urge to scream from the rooftops that I was a woman looking after my needs. It sounds mad, I know. I’ll forgive you if you’re rolling your eyes or reading in horror. http://www.cervicalcheck.ie/

I want to be a mama. Even during ED I was very sure I wanted to be a mama. We can use various dreams to motivate our recovery, and besides finishing college this was a HUGE one for me. I was walking home from the bus last night and out of nowhere I started asking myself what I want to teach my daughters.

Do I want them to love themselves? Love their bodies? Have high self esteem? Be dreamers? Be brave? Be powerful? Be content? Be responsible for themselves? Be inspiring? Have an impact on the world? Of course the answer is a HELL YES! So I want to practice what I preach. Monkey see, monkey do. I don’t even have daughters but already I am excited to be their role model.

I stumbled across a youtuber whose main focus is periods. She talks about hormones, cycles, sanitary items, all that stuff that we often pretend isn’t happening. She actually made a video talking about going to the gynaecologist. It wasn’t vulgar or inappropriate, but she spoke about being nervous, and spoke before and after the event. And it took the edge off my trip to have my smear. If she can do it and not feel horrible, well so can I! I have watched this young woman for about 6 months, captivated by her honesty. I don’t believe we need to be airing this stuff out at the dinner table, but I don’t think we need to build up so much mystery around a perfectly normal monthly event that signifies health and fertility.

I’ve been wedding dress shopping the last while. I was somewhat relieved to have it confirmed by a practitioner that it was indeed a challenging sort of thing, and fair play for how I was handling it. For any of you who haven’t been wedding dress shopping, I’ll explain a bit. You pick a few dresses you like, and go behind a curtain where you strip to your knickers. No bra. Another woman either helps you in and out of the dress so you don’t rip it, or else you’re trusted to get yourself into it. They stand behind you, pinning and clipping and zipping. There’s bright lights and a little place for you to stand in all your glory as the little group look you up and down, and vocalise their opinions. Basically my idea of a NIGHTMARE when in the depths of ED.

Well anyway, I tried on a wild card yesterday, and came out in this figure hugging mermaid style dress, and felt like SUCH a woman. It was like that feeling washed over me again and I felt so proud of myself and everything I’ve been through. I know, it’s only a dress. I know it makes no sense how a truck load of lace could have me thinking about my ovaries. But there I was, strutting around in a borrowed pair of high heels, feeling like I could do anything.

I never felt like that in condition. Never ever.

I wear my grandmother’s ring everyday. She passed away right before I repeated my leaving cert, and I’d love to tell her that I got what I wanted. She was a very inspiring woman. She grew up in the war, and was no stranger to tough times. But when I hear stories or see photos, I see a strength in her that makes me so very proud to be her granddaughter. She was kind, accepting, fun loving, hard working, and loyal. She was also very beautiful. I wonder how my grandchildren will think of me. I wonder will I be an inspiration. I wonder will someone wear this ring someday, and think of me every time they look down. I hope so.

Sometimes I ask myself about beauty. Is it ok to want to feel beautiful? Is it shallow? Is it important? What is beauty anyway? And I’ve decided that OF COURSE it’s ok to want to feel beautiful. I’m pretty sure it’s hardwired into our genes anyway. But we need to be careful of what we decide is beautiful. And there’s more to beauty than fake eye lashes and hungry bodies. In fact, beauty means different things across the world, and throughout history. Goes to show there are no hard and fast rules.

It’s suggested we gather role models to help keep us motivated during recovery. And I realised recently that all my role models are women! And ALL of them I admire because of something other than their exterior. I admire their bravery, their kindness, their sass, and their creativity.

Back to the dress shopping. Last week one of the women told me she didn’t like a dress on me, because I looked like I ‘had a pair of hips’. I felt myself stiffen again. I kinda wanted to punch her (not really). I felt totally able for that comment but in condition I would have died on the spot. I also wonder how other women might feel being told in a negative way that it look like they had the necessary articulations for their lower limbs. But I’ve pondered this all week. The natural course of events leads women to put on weight around their hips. Hips widen in order to facilitate child bearing. And to facilitate strutting, am I right lol. But seriously though, women’s bodies are not meant to be ‘perfect’. Cellulite is normal. Soft bits, wobbly bits, are all normal. Stretch marks are normal. Breasts that lose elasticity and head for the knees, are normal. Our bodies are weird and wonderful and valuable and special and individual. And a lot of the time I really don’t like the commentary in the media around women’s bodies. And the idea that I put myself at risk by not getting a smear when it was advised because I was ashamed, is sad. Very sad.

I had a really great realisation yesterday, when it was pointed out in a session that I am a lot freer that I realised I was. I have been doing so many things with freedom that I have been taking it for granted. We worked on this a bit. We pretended we were going back in time to when I was just starting recovery to tell me all the things I do today that are no big deal and are drama free. I think this post is a great example of this. In ED I wouldn’t have been caught dead writing about having a smear, or me beaming with Dr. Tarek telling me I’m a ‘good gooooood girl’ because I have a regular period, or that a woman in a dress shop saw my breasts and I didn’t implode, or that I quite liked my body in a wedding dress.

I realised I have changed the narrative. The lingo has changed. I care about my body in ways that I never did. I feel a pride in my body now. I feel so much gratitude for what it’s been through. I’ve been getting tests done on my heart recently and got a very good result back that I was so happy I started half-crying. I felt so much relief that I didn’t permanently hurt my body. Because it’s so valuable to me. I felt like rubbing my own arm saying sorry body, sorry body, sorry body.

I’ve been buying bridal magazines because any excuse to peruse pretty pictures lol, but my goodness is there a lot of diet talk. Even my own grandmother told me not to get my other grandmother’s ring resized because I’ll be going on a diet for the wedding and my FINGER will get thinner. I almost laughed. Anyways I don’t plan to go on a diet. I have no desire to be hungry and cranky and malnourished and deprived before the most exciting day of our lives. But it makes me sad that there are women all over the country being taken in by this bullshit. There are women right now feeling like they’re not good enough. But they ARE good enough. We all are. Because good enough is a state of mind, it’s a perspective, and it can be learned. I know because I learned it.

I could write all day about how I felt about my body in ED, or how I thought about womanhood, but it won’t help anyone and I don’t need to think about it because it’s over.

I also could write all day about the Repeal the 8th movement, how I feel about the patriarchy or my opinions on how other countries treat their women. But it’s not the time or place. I merely want to celebrate recovery and womanhood. 

We have choices regarding how we think about our bodies. We can decide we want to love our bodies just the way they are. It’s a decision, and it’s worth making. I know that full freedom with my body requires more acceptance on my part, so that’s what I’ll be working on. What will you be working on?

I love listening to Run the World (girls) by Beyonce on Spotify, particularly if I’m walking somewhere because the timing suits my walk and I get to feel sassy and powerful hehe. The singing doesn’t get going for approx a minute, but I love watching the video anyway.

“Strong enough to bear the children

Then get back to business”





Just wanted to say to whoever wrote the article, thank you, it’s amazing!

Maria Kelly