One minute we are talking about Hubby’s awards dinner tonight, and how I don’t really want to go, but that I will, and Bea is using this as an example of when CBT can be a useful tool– because she believes that CBT is a tool, not a be all end all, it does not get to the root of the issue. And the next minute we are talking about body image. Or rather, Bea is talking body image, and I am sitting, frozen, unable to speak, trying to figure out how we got to this subject, and how I can get away from it quickly.
“At least both my dresses fit.” That’s what I had said.
“Do you like to dress up?” Bea asks me.
“I don’t know…”
“Well, do you feel good about dressing up? Pretty? You always look put together, dressed cute, stylish, your hair is always done, you always look nice. I know you say you just throw clothes on, but you always present yourself well. So you must go shopping to buy clothes. What’s that like? We’ve never really talked about body image, how you see yourself, with the eating, I’ve never thought to bring that up…..you carry yourself well, look confident….what do you think about your body image?”
Bea is talking, and I’m shrinking into myself, trying to go as far away as I can. I don’t want to talk about this, I don’t want to break down the facade of confidence and put togetherness and prettiness I have managed to build over the years. I’m a great faker. I need for Kat to see a woman who likes herself, bumps, and wrinkles, zits, moles, and all. As a girl, she is going to get enough negative messages about herself and her body from society. It doesn’t need to start at home, with her mom. So I have worked from the moment we started trying to get pregnant to really build this persona of liking my outer appearance. That facade is strong now, and so in place, I don’t even have to think about it; it is on auto pilot.
“Alice, I think this is a hard topic for a lot of women, not just you. Do you remember being a kid and liking your body? A lot of times it’s not until puberty that girls start to dislike their bodies. It’s harder to say with the sexual abuse, though. Do you remember? Girls usually like their bodies because they can run, climb trees, jump, do things. And you were active, right?”
“Dance, ballet, jazz, tap, horse back riding, cheerleading, gymnastics,” I list out the activities my mother had me in.
“I don’t think I knew about the gymnastics. You were busy, that’s a lot of activities.” Bea says.
“It was what my mom wanted. I only liked the horse back riding.” I say.
“What did you like about it?”
I shake my head, I don’t know. I can’t explain. It just felt right, like I belonged, like I was okay.
Bea talks about how a lot of trauma therapy patients make a connection with horses for whatever reason, so she isn’t surprised that as a child, that was the activity I liked. “Have you ever thought about going back to riding, now, as an adult?”
I shake my head again, no, I don’t know, probably not. There are too many bad memories associated with riding now, too many expectations, too many shoulds, and not good enoughs. But I don’t explain.
“Do you remember liking your body as a kid? Liking food? Or was there already too much pressure from your mom?”
I don’t know. My memories are so vague, so not there. They are more feelings than memories, and that makes me feel crazy, too.
“Bad memories, I think. They don’t feel good.”
“Your grandpa sneaking you candy, that’s a good memory about food,” Bea reminds me.
“Yes, my grandpa, and my grandma, they didn’t have weird food things…..” I’m silent for a minute, trying to grasp a vague memory, it’s like a ghost of a memory, one that’s barely there, “I have this vague memory……..my grandma cooking breakfasts, after I would stay the night…..it’s just a feeling, really……..a feeling that no one cared what I ate.”
“Ahhhh, yes. The feeling stayed with you, even of the details are lost. The feeling that no one cared what you ate at grandma and grandpa’s house, meaning at home, someone did care,” Bea says. She gets it, she understands what I was trying to say, what the barely there memory means to me.
“What about the body image stuff? Do you think yours started to change around puberty?” She asks me, again.
I stare at the floor, at the fluffy blue rug. It’s a bright blue. I’m not sure. I don’t know. What I do remember seems too embarrassing to say out loud. I finally say, “I didn’t like myself before then.” But I don’t offer any explanations.
Bea doesn’t ask, or if she does, I don’t hear her. I’m back in my head, far away. I can’t face the body image talk, or how I really feel about myself. I don’t want to know, or think about it. I want to pretend it’s not real, that we never touched on this subject. I know Bea won’t let me do so for long, but right now, I can’t face this. I need to keep my facade firmly in place. I have an event tonight. I need to smile, and be pretty; I need to be charming and pleasant. I need to have my carefully constructed persona in order to do so, which means Bea can not begin tearing her down today.