"What's wrong with you?" asked the visitor.
"Nothing," I replied. "I've been in hospital. I've had high doses of steroids to control my asthma. I'm just a bit puffy."
"I've had similar treatments and I was fine'" she continued, "I think you're just fat."
Maybe it was steroid-triggered aggression (that's a thing). Maybe it was exhaustion from being in hospital for a few days (it was really stressful in there). Or maybe I just didn't think the comment was acceptable. I. Lost. All. Control. I slammed the door in our visitor's face, shouting "You're a horrible woman!" as I marched upstairs to another room in my parents' home.
My dad returned from work at the very moment I'd begun shouting and slamming doors. He followed me upstairs to find me dissolved in a puddle of tears.
"What's going on?" he asked, "you don't usually behave like this."
He was right. Though I have a bit of a temper it's deeply hidden under many layers of empathy and patience. It's very rare for me to lose it and learning to pull myself back when I do, is a lesson I continue to build on. I explained what had happened and my dad swiftly vanished, mumbling that he'd be back shortly. Later, I'd discover that he'd immediately evicted the visitor.
When my dad returned, I was ready to apologise for my rudeness, I'd thought about how to make amends. As I started to share these thoughts with him, he stopped me and told me how unnecessary it was for me to apologise. I was raised in an Anglo-centric home and was taught to be polite, so I was initially really confused.
"She should be apologising to you," said my dad. "And her comment is simply not true. There's nothing wrong with you. We won't have issues like that in this house, there's no need. You're absolutely perfect the way you are. Do you understand? Perfect!" It was a rare moment of raw emotion from my dad, so forcefully delivered that I actually believed him - and have from that day onwards.
A couple of weeks ago one of my friends was subjected to a similarly themed careless comment from a colleague, in the workplace. When I heard the story, I was enraged - it pulled up layers of pain I've felt from similar remarks in my past. It's just not ok to put assumptions and words on other people that have the intent to make them feel judged and hurt. These types of comments have no positive value or outcome. As I watched a man pull past me in a traffic muddle yesterday mouthing "You c-word" while flapping his arms in the air, for no recognisable reason, it was so clear that this moment was a reflection of his inner state. Despite knowing I'd done nothing wrong (I was following the road markings and traffic lights) I spent a moment unpacking what I might have done wrong. What a waste of brain-space - though it was such a good reminder!
We live in a world that has so many words designed to hurt and with a brutal media that judges celebrities - the very group of people they idolise as 'perfect' in terms of their looks and lifestyles. It's an impossible hypocricy loop. I'm forever grateful that in that moment of door slamming, I was told by my dad in such a firm and matter-of-fact way, that my body is absolutely fine the way it is. It was probably the most important thing I've ever heard from a self-image perspective. I needed him to stand up for me in that moment, so I'd have the confidence to stand up for myself in future (it's really not easy to stand up when you're being put down).
When I first heard 'Victoria's Secret' by Jax, playing on Radio One (yup, down with the kids, me). I felt a sense of lightness in the air. It was a real moment of letting go. We should focus on our health and wellbeing - not the comments of others, and definitely not the unrealistic expectations created by complete strangers that just don't matter. I love that Jax put her tack and flash mob video out on YouTube and it's found its way into mainstream media - into some of the places that reinforce the very lies the song brings to light. (The flash mob version is kiddie-friendly - show it to kids who are battling with unrealistic appearance expectations, right now).
As I stand in front of the mirror these days, I feel ok in my skin, most of the time. I'm able to see my scars as strength badges. My deepening lines around my eyes as squiggles on a map that's been rich with experiences. Sometimes when my jean's button gets stuck though, I unravel for a moment and that's ok too. Learning to love yourself is like any relationship - easy on the good days and a little tougher when things are harder. We only get one body - we might as well learn to love it for the remarkable machine of complexity, science and wonder that it is.