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I halt reading the seemingly inconsequential word.
“Jeans”, “yeah, jeans and a knit,” “jeans and a nice top,” jeans and boots,” “jeans and a T-shirt,”
“Yeah, let's do jeans.”
“Jeans” is repeated 1,2, 3, 4, 5 times in my DMs, as my friends all agree on the dress code for our first post-iso catch-up.
The sight of the word repeated over and over again echos a quiet fear which laid dormant in my mind for the entirety of social isolation.
Or, more accurately, the duration of my entire life.
Never mind that the notion of getting out of activewear for even just one night fills me with separation anxiety, but the thought of wearing jeans makes my (now much larger, thanks to isolation) stomach drop.
I can all but feel the metal button digging into me, leaving its taunting indents in my skin while half-heartedly, typing the words, "yeah, jeans sound good.”
My cheeks tingle with heat as I protectively wrap my arms around my midsection to cover my protruding stomach, which according to society, social media, and often our own minds, is the worst thing we as women can have.
My pale, spongy reflection is so far the clear-skinned fitness Queen I'd imagined three months ago when self-isolation began.
Hating what stared back at me in the mirror, I thought, “I should just stay home.”
.... Or go live under a bridge or atop a Belltower.
Either way, the message is crystalline and scathing;
“I am ugly, I am fat, I am a failure. I should just stay at home.”
Stay at home, as I have for months.
Stay at home, and not see my friends that I haven't seen since March.
I should stay at home because I have gained weight.
Because I feel “fat.”
And according to society - fat is the worst thing a woman, nay a person, can be.
I should just stay home because the thought of returning to 'normal life', the thought of seeing people, of people seeing me, the thought of judgement, cold piercing stares, clothes shopping, the thought of doing anything more than existing right now is frankly, terrifying.
The idea of not staying home feels like a hand clasping around my neck while an endless barrage of questions dizzy me.
How do you even talk to people anymore?
Can I leave the house in pyjamas?
What is socially acceptable behaviour?
Will they notice I've gained weight?
What will we talk about?
I HAVE ACCOMPLISHED NOTHING.
I, like so many others, thought during lockdown, I would somehow, suddenly morph into my best self.
I'll work out every day!
I'll do yoga!
I'll save money!
I'll learn a new skill!
SKINCARE! TIK TOK! GREEN JUICE! KNITTING!
In reality, three months later, I am poor, a size larger, and my skincare routine consists of an $80 serum, which remains unopened in my cupboard.
I did do yoga....twice.
Which shockingly, did not transform me into a bendy zen goddess, rude.
Whether or not you went into isolation with plans of reinvention or self-improvement, I can almost guarantee it hasn't gone as planned.
I still cannot touch my toes and am absolutely riddled with anxiety.
(Yoga is clearly a sham.)
Standing in a Mexican standoff with my size-too-small-jeans and the send button to a message which reads, 'can't make it, sorry girls,' it hits me.
My friends are probably feeling the exact same way.
And, if I heard them saying the things about themselves which my internal monologue is saying about me right now - I would slap them.
In the face…
Probably with a chair.
Because they are strong, intelligent, beautiful, empowered, kind and witty women - who (in my humble opinion) are perfect.
And how dare they say otherwise!
Who do they think they are to speak about the people I love in that way?
Who do I think I am, to speak about me, someone they love in this way?
Why can I not see what my friends perceive as their biggest physical flaws - yet, flaws are all I see when it comes to myself?
Why can't we see ourselves as we see our best friends, or as our best friends see us?
I'm not about to get all “self-love-wellness-we're-all-beautiful” cringe on you, because I know how condescending and toxic the “love yourself” message can sound.
While I do wish we could all love ourselves, I understand the complicated dynamics of trying to do so.
You're allowed to feel insecure.
You're allowed to not like parts of your body.
You're allowed to want to change or even to change, cover or enhance whatever parts of yourself you want.
I'm not telling you to love yourself right now.
I'm telling you to give yourself a damn break.
We are collectively living through multiple worldwide traumas.
And we are surviving.
Whether you're 20 kgs heavier, can't run 10 km, didn't transform your skin, or learn anything new, whether you smashed all your goals or didn't set any to begin with, whether or not you read 20 books, finished Netflix, or didn't leave your blanket nest, you're still a worthwhile human being.
You still have value.
You still survived the damn apocalypse.
And if a daily packet of Oreos helped you do so, then who cares?
As restrictions begin to ease and the overwhelming flood of 'return-to-real-life' anxiety surges in, don't put too much pressure on yourself to sink or swim.
Tread the water and regain your bearings.
And when you're ready; swim to shore and emerge as whatever beautiful, majestic, mermaid or sea creature you have become.
Whether you feel more Ariel, Ursula or even Sebastian - This is a time for self-compassion.
The abhorrent, dysmorphic apparition I see in the mirror, is not me.
And whatever self-loathing thoughts you have and ugliness you see - is not you.
Deleting the message cancelling my plans I instead type, “be there soon.”
As my friends reply;
“Can't wait to see you, xx”
“Hurry up, I miss you”
And a few simple “yays."
The anxiety-induced nausea begins to dissipate.
I put the damn jeans on and walk out the door.