I do not know how I came to notice the stretch marks on my upper right calf, behind the knee, but I do. Like the roots of a tree, this caramel vein had wound its way carelessly through brown skin. This root, however, nourishes nothing; this root saps whatever vanity I have for the moment because, as my eyes focus on the handful of lines, I realize that my body is flawed in yet another way. It dawns on me that the medication that I am using to help me overcome a mental illness is contributing to a weight gain that is too-fast-too-soon. The skin has stretched in an attempt to accommodate.
I cross my legs and try to avoid thinking about the perfect, flawless body a young woman is supposed to have. I probably had it when I did not recognize how a body could be received. I was quite naive as a young teenager in this respect. Sure, I noticed the lanky guys leaning against the red tiles in the store fronts, just waiting for me to approach so that they could sweep their gazes over my form. They pursed their lips and whistled as they came out to greet me.
Brazen, they would ask for my number; indifferent, I would walk on by. I had the ideal body, and it meant nothing to me. But now that I know what a body means in this western world, I realize that I do not have it.
It is hard to feel secure in my body when I am faced with expectations of flawlessness, conformity to cultural norms and continuity from my days as a 16-year-old. I would actually love to ask these critics, especially the women, why, in a time when women are harming themselves—trying to slim down to an ideal—would they want to harp on my flaws? Sometimes I will mention that I can get sick and that the medications which stabilize my health are the ones that contribute to the weight gain. Therefore, if I had to choose, I would choose health over taunt skin. Other times I realize that my battle is not with them; I am my biggest critic.
I know my imperfections. However, when I really think about it, I do not regret the changes, because this body has changed to get me through life.
If my body is perfect, if it is flawless, it has not adequately lived—but I live my life. These legs have brought me to home to the countryside of Jamaica to just relax. I waded through lush grass in sandals to grab guava from a tree and taste its fruit with cool breezes swirling by. Later, I would notice the bright pink mosquito bites above my right ankle.
These knees have seen the games of a child, reflecting with their faint scars how many times I have fallen chasing or being chased by friends. This belly has seen enough food to nourish me back into health, and with medication changing how it relates to food, I notice it rounding out. This body has seen me grow up. This body has seen me through a psychotic breakdown. This body has seen me through the recovery. I do not hold that against it—no, not at all. I may wish to take better care of it, in fact physical exercise is very important for recovery, but I want this body to reflect my experiences, my maturity, my life.
I am trying to love this body. I am trying to love it, not really because I think the curves of my thicker thighs suit me better, or my stretch marks are misunderstood marks of beauty, or my rounded belly proves its softness in a tight hug, but because it is mine. I take it as an accurate chronicle of who I am and what I have been through, not as an exact replica of an external and ever changing standard.
This body that I wear is a temple for the living God, but it is not a revered building, unused for most of the year and used with care for the rest. No, it is an active participant in life, joyfully getting out into the world to be a body for Christ and has the curves and marks to prove it.