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June 8, 2008

I’m not even sure when it started. Some time around the age of 9 or 10 I guess. Possibly after my surgeries started. Or after I had started going to a special school. Maybe it was just puberty like any other “normal” kid. I became embarrassed of my body.

I know every kid goes through this stage of course. But for me, with the added element of a disability mixed in, it became much more than just insecurity.

I remember for a long time not even believing that I was in the body that I was in. I had built up an idea of who I was, and that wasn’t it. I lived in that bubble. I didn’t want to deal with the reality of this mangled mess. Then I would pass a store window and accidentally catch my own reflection out of the corner of my eye. I would cringe. It was upsetting. I didn’t want to be that person.

In my mid-twenties, I decided enough was enough. I had accepted my reality of having a disability, but I still had not come to grips with the body that I was in. This had to change and I decided to figure out how on my own.

It took decades. I forced myself to look at my own reflection, to take pictures and video even. To look and watch and accept slowly that yes, that IS me and that IS my body. It may sound silly to some of you, how could you not know what you really look like? But I had never wanted to really look. I didn’t want to see, I didn’t want to deal with it. My technique may not be the best, I’m not sure, but it’s what worked for me.

Accepting is only part of the challenge. I then had to move on to actually liking what I saw. To believing that I was actually ok to look at, and that someone else might think so too.  Again, this took a very long time. But I eventually got there. It helped that I had a few girlfriends along the way. But I am certain I could never have been with anyone if I had not first accepted my body for what it was.

Still, even after all that work and effort, there was one thing I was never able to do. Much like the chubby kid at public pool who wears a t-shirt, I have never had the courage to take my shirt off in public. I had convinced myself that nobody wants to see that, “it’s not normal, I’m not normal, stay covered up”.  Until today.

Kelly and I went for a walk at a trail we had never been to. It was hotter than hell today, around 96 Fahrenheit and very humid, so it felt more like 105. The trail was deserted so I thought what the heck, and off came my shirt. No big deal, there’s nobody around.  But then, in the distance, some kids on bikes were coming. I nearly panicked and put it back on. I fought the urge, I drew on the courage that I get from Kelly, the confidence her love gives me, and fought the urge. It was two boys, they nodded hello and kept going, as if it was nothing, which it was. Then came the man with the dog. Same thing, only he made small talk before moving on.

When we left the trail, I put my shirt back on and we drove to another nature park. This is one we go to often. Many more people there. I doubted we could stay long because it was so hot. When we got there, Kelly settled in to read her book at a covered picnic table, and I went off into the woods. The heat was unbearable, and I decided after only a few minutes that the only way I could handle it was to take my shirt off again, and I did.

For a long time I saw no one, but soon I came across a family, they smiled and said hello. Later I passed a mother and daughter, bikers, runners, a young couple with a dog. Everyone smiled and many made small talk about the heat. It was great; I grew so comfortable I spent well over 2 hours shirtless.  I even was able to use the timer on my camera to get a picture of myself. It was a little washed out because I was white as a ghost. I’m a nice shade of lobster red now.

I think Kelly was quite surprised to see me arrive at her side sans-shirt. She knew of my insecurity, and as she was under a canopy in a more open public area, she knew it was something that was unthinkable for me just few hours before. 

She was still enjoying her book, so I went back into the woods for a bit longer. I had not had enough. I stopped for about ten minutes on a deserted part of the trail, way in the back. The park burns the area every spring to keep it free of trees, so it’s a natural prairie grass type habitat. I’m not sure if I can adequately explain how alive I felt. For over 30 years, I had not felt the sun or the wind on my skin. I turned towards the sun and just enjoyed its heat. I closed my eyes and felt the wind on my skin. I’m free.


11 Comments leave one →
  1. June 9, 2008 1:55 am

    That’s great. Something so simple can really free us from decades of ‘self-imprisonment’.

  2. June 9, 2008 6:42 am

    Liberation! Wonderful.
    I have shared this struggle.
    Random offerings that have helped me (love and humour required):
    -Once at a beach, an older woman told me, it all shrivels up anyways, so start being the soul in the body now instead of by force later. “It is what it is. You’ve got what you’ve got, but it isn’t YOU.”
    -A Buddhist monk told me poor self-image is vanity and ego, not insecurity. I then understood that I was placing so much value on external beauty and burning daylight wishing my body would conform to someone else’s genetic code. My personal test of success now is to gauage my inner peace regardless of compliments or insults.
    Happiness and cool summer days to you!

  3. June 9, 2008 9:44 pm

    You are free – and you look beautiful!

    (oh and do share how many people checked your blog out today! I think 2 of the popular kids linked you in. Heck – I may even mention this post in my blog. it makes me want to skinny dip….stretch marks and floaty boobs and all!!!)

  4. June 9, 2008 11:35 pm

    What a powerful post, Sylvain! In the picture you look like you and you look free!! I am going to share this with LoveHubbie…he is very handsome as well, but self-conscious about his looks now at mid-life as he used to be an athlete. Sometimes I get very angry at our culture that gives us so many bizarre messages. I am so happy for you!! Peace and love and increasing freedom, O xxoo

  5. June 10, 2008 8:56 am

    Good going, Syl!

    I had to laugh when you mentioned the ‘red as a lobster’ part–as soon as you started talking about taking your shirt off for the first time in a very great while, my first thought was, “Uh, oh. Sunburn.”

    Then, again, that’s an experience you may not have had in a long time, either!

    It’s great that everyone you ran across was so accepting of the ‘no big deal’ action you had taken. Obviously, the heat had to be a great motivator.

    It has long been true that we would spend far less time worrying what others think of us if we realized how seldom they do.

  6. June 10, 2008 5:52 pm

    Amazing how iron-clad internalized labels like “disability” and “fat girl” are. How rigidly they shape our views and actions. How ridiculous they look when you get the balls to write them down. And how trivial they seem to pretty much everyone else.

    I stayed covered up like an Old Order Mennonite until I moved to Australia. Then I learned what 40C with near-100% humidity felt like, and I stopped giving a damn. (Which is saying something in a country full of tall, bronzed, ridiculously good looking people…)

    Here’s to endless sun and wind on your skin. But get some damned sunscreen, man! 😉

  7. June 23, 2008 1:34 pm

    Wow! I am choked up reading this…the sadness I feel is for the kid you, who felt you had to stay covered up all those years…I am so happy for you, that on this day you let yourself feel safe enough to bare your body and get comfortable with it…for all the world to see. And the sky did not fall in. And no one gave you anything but a pleasant smile or nod or small talk…just like NORMAL!!!!!!!!! You are a beautiful being, Sylvain…or maybe handsome is a better adjective of a guy…I am going to really step out on a limb here now and tell you that your voice is also VERY sexy…I really liked hearing it as you calmly talked to me over the cell, as we were lost and tired trying to find our way to your house. But the whole bundle that is you, inside and out, is a throughally delightful goodlooking wonderful person. I hope YOU know that now too. 😉
    Thanks for sharing so much here, and in person, it was such a joy to meet you in person!!!!!!!!!!!!1

  8. June 26, 2008 9:40 pm

    I didn’t get to see the picture, but I know what you mean about self-image problems, well, I don’t have a disability, so I guess I can just relate about being uncomfortable in my own skin. I am doing a flickr project I call “Positive Body Image” and I photograph a part of my body that I like and I don’t like and I just list all the things I am grateful for about that body part. It’s helped me immensely and I am feeling much more confident about myself now. I’m glad you found a way to be comfortable with yourself.

  9. January 1, 2010 11:38 pm

    Great story. Thanks for the validation, It help that you have solid support (Kelly). Perhaps one day I will, too.


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