At a whisker under 6 feet (1.82m), for most of my life I have been long and lean - not skinny, just lean.
I had always played a lot of sport and ate well without too much thought, sailing through life with a positive body image. My children came along and, as poor sleepers, my activity level and cooking time decreased; eating easy meals rather than well thought out and balanced ones crept in.
Things improved once the children got older but never completely. Along with an under-active thyroid and eventual thyroid removal after a tumour, my body weight and shape deteriorated yet further.
I looked in the mirror, incredulous at the reflection looking back at me. Was that really me? When did I start looking so old, those lines on my face, the extra roundness to it? My once small and pert breasts now sagging getting closer to my knees each day, decorated with silvery stretch marks. The same silvery stretch marks that show up on my rounding stomach and hips.
I vowed when I was younger that I would age gracefully. That was before I was old; that was before I turned 40.
Now acutely aware that I was reaching middle age. I still feel light at heart, laughed at silly things, still did silly things, but my body is just not getting the message that I feel young.
I was lucky enough to spend the my 40th birthday in Ubud, Bali with Wayan of Eat, Pray Love fame. Wayan is a traditional healer. I spent the day with Wayan and six other women. I went in search of a cure for my swelling and unappealing body; to find the key to being happy within this foreign body of mine.
The morning started with a body reading from Wayan. She looked into my eyes, felt my skin and pressed my abdomen. She sent a 'prescription' to her kitchen and various herbal drinks returned on a tray for me to drink. While I drank my murky looking beverages I sat like a dog on the edge of a campfire, just listening to the conversations of the other woman present having their body readings done. A few Americans, a Canadian, someone from London, and someone from Melbourne, Sydney, and me from Perth. All there for a reason; all seeking help.
We were ushered upstairs to a room where our healing would start. The energetic chatter from the restaurant below had seen us all grow quiet as we stripped to just a sarong and sat side by side.
Wayan's assistants helped her cleanse our bodies, massage, apply healing leaves and scrubs, while she prayed over us with ancient prayers and incense. Wayan’s adjustment of our bones and joints was done with tender care.
As I lay on my back and my sarong arranged over my waist, my breasts bared. I momentarily opened my eyes and looked around the room. My body looked huge compared to most of the others. Some pale, others tanned, most skinny with bones poking through taught skin. One lady had no hair on her head, her wig removed.
I then looked down at my body and saw it in a new light, I had an epiphany if you will. My sagging breasts weren't always like this, they were full of shape and filled with milk, they had worked so beautifully, feeding my sons and keeping them alive. My now round and stretched stomach had been a warm haven for my growing babies, from two pregnancies, two healthy and perfectly formed babies grew here. My wider hips moved well to allow my babies to be born naturally. My thicker thighs, able to cope with the growing weight of my internal babies, to hold me steady in my changing gate the closer their birth became.
When time came to be dressed again, I checked my reflection in the mirror. The lines on my face showing my age; the smile and laugh lines from adoring my children; the worry lines from the stress and anxiety that comes with having them too. I saw it all in perspective.
My companions that day wanted the body that I had. Perhaps not so much in the exact form, but the worn out breasts, the stretch marks and fuller tummy. You see most of these woman had come for a cure to their anguish of being infertile; they came wanting to soon be pregnant and grow a child.
A few of these ladies had been sick, one with cancer. Some for no reason known could conceive, others miscarried over and over, this became apparent in our conversation over our meal concluding our seven hour cleansing session.
How could I not love this body that had worked so well, had been the perfect home to our babies and then continue to nurture them after they were born? That had showed me the highs and lows of life through tired and wrinkled eyes? This was a body that had lived and given life. How could I not have seen this before and been thankful?
When my turn came at our meal to tell the group what I had been seeking, I told them it was my birthday today and I had come seeking peace with myself.
Wayan asked if I had found it. With all my heart I could tell her yes.
I made my early goodbyes to join my husband and dress for my birthday dinner. For the first time in many years I did not cast such a critical eye in the mirror before we left, or count calories, worry about what to or not to eat. I just had a wonderful time, happy in my own skin - all of it.