Content Warning: This article discusses body image and eating disorders. The Peak urges you to take care of yourself by reading what will best serve you at this time.
With September being Gynecologic Cancer and Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month, I’ve taken some time to reflect on my first diagnosis: ovarian cancer.
I was so young when I was diagnosed; I hadn’t even gotten my period yet. Going through such a life-changing experience as a prepubescent child was really difficult for me. I was 11 years old and in sixth grade when we found my tumor and I was in seventh grade when I started chemo.
I gained a lot of weight due to the chemo and steroids and it was really hard on me when it felt like the media, magazines and TV shows all showed me a specific standard of beauty: skinny, tall, white, blonde, blue eyed, flat toned tummies. Basically everything I wasn’t.
When I saw myself in the mirror or in photographs, I couldn’t help but notice everything that was “wrong” with me. I didn’t have hair, my cheeks were swollen, my belly was bloated and sticking out. I couldn't help but think that because I wasn't the type of beautiful I saw in the media, I was unworthy.
The Journey to Accepting My Body As It Is
During treatment I met a girl who was hospitalized due to anorexia and malnutrition.
She was so skinny and I thought she was beautiful. It sparked something in my mind: “Oh, maybe this could be my path so I can be beautiful too.”
I was equating beauty to thinness.
I’ve known my whole life that I wanted to be a musician and I wholeheartedly believed that if I didn’t look like the singers that were featured and celebrated on TV and in the media, then I would never be able to succeed.
I started eating less, but my mom noticed and immediately nipped it in the bud. She told me that I wouldn’t get better if I didn’t eat my food and so I started eating again because of course I wanted to get better and go home. My mom reminded me that I was beautiful, even with my swollen cheeks and lack of hair. She tried to reassure me and told me it was only temporary and that my body would go back to normal after I finished treatment.
But, fast forward to finishing chemo, I was still swollen without eyebrows and I still felt insecure about my appearance. I felt so different from everyone else and all I wanted to do was fit in, so I became bulimic to try to lose weight faster.
It had only been going on for a few weeks before my mom caught me and told me that I would hurt my voice if I continued, knowing that there was nothing more important to me than music and I would never risk hurting my voice.
But I still I wanted a flat stomach like they showed in all the magazines because that is what I was led to believe was beautiful, even though that will never be my reality, with a scar and dent on my stomach from my first major abdominal surgery, no matter how many ab workouts I did or what types of diets I tried.
Embracing My Beauty As I Am
You know what the craziest part of all of this is?
I hated my body for 11 years until I was forced to face it all when I was diagnosed for the second time with breast cancer.
I spent 11 years hating myself. Hating my body for what? Saving me?
Hating the scars on my tummy that removed the tumor? The surgery that saved my life?
I hated my cute little swollen cheeks and tummy from the medicine that was killing the thing that had been killing me?
How backwards is that?! All because of the images of standards of beauty I internalized from the images I saw. All because I wasn’t exposed to a variety of bodies, bodies that are normal: bodies with scars, bigger bodies, strong bodies, different colored skin, bodies without hair and eyebrows - all beautiful bodies.
It took me having my chest amputated, my skin being ravished with acne, me losing my hair all over again to truly learn how to love myself.
After my double mastectomy, I wanted to get to know my body again. I went up to my bedroom, put on some lingerie and took photos of myself on my phone with my expanders in. I feel like it was the first time I ever really saw myself, and it was so, so beautiful.
The vulnerability in those photos, the strength, the determination of never wanting to hate myself ever again.
I decided that my body was beautiful in every phase of my life. Whether or not I had breasts, one or two ovaries, tummy scars, hair, swollen face, eyebrows...all of it is beautiful. All of me is beautiful. As I am.
I’m so sad it took me so long to realize this, but I forgive myself. I forgive the younger version of me that so desperately wanted to be normal. I forgive the little girl that didn’t want pictures taken of her because she felt ugly. I forgive the preteen version of myself that became anorexic and bulimic because she so badly wanted to fit in.
I forgive the high school and college versions of myself that tried to erase that part of my life because she was ashamed and thought that if people knew she had had cancer, then they would think she was broken.
I am beautiful and loved, scars and all.
This is my first time showing my stomach scars publicly.
The only one that is still visible is that from my first major incision, but what you don’t see are the five tinier ones from my laparoscopic surgeries.
I hated every single one of them
I love them. I love my stomach. I love my body and I apologize to myself and to my body for not treating myself kindly for so long.
And you know what? I will no longer be ashamed of the fact that I had been so unkind to myself.
I used to feel embarrassed and didn’t want anyone to know that I had struggled with eating disorders and body dysmorphia when I was younger, but it’s a part of my journey and it’s okay.
I forgive myself.
If I could go back in time, I’d tell little 11-year-old Bianca that she’s beautiful in every way.
She may not believe me, but I’d tell her that in the future that she shows off her scars publicly because she learned to love them.
I’d tell her that she wears bikinis in public and models lingerie loud and proud.
I’d tell her to not spend so long hating herself and to instead thank her body for carrying her through this terrifying experience.
If you resonate with anything I’ve shared here, just know you’re not alone, and you are beautiful.