I used to live in a box
Not on the street like a box a homeless person might use for shelter.
I just lived in a box
It was an acceptable box.
I took care of it a little bit but it was so clunky and I didn’t like wearing it, so sometimes I just ignored it.
As I grew up I noticed that more and more people were looking at it and commenting on it.
I was sure everyone was looking at it. Talking about it. Whispering something to someone else about it.
I had to make it presentable and nice. Otherwise they might not like it, those other people.
I would decorate it and dress it up or down depending on the occasion. I made it look as good as I could.
Perhaps I was like one of those cardboard toy robots that kids can put together themselves. Little buttons down the front that if you pushed one, it’ll squawk or say a little sentence.
The eyes I felt staring at me, was like someone pushing one of those buttons.
Those eyes would encourage me to do stuff. Make me do stuff.
But the face always had a big wide smile across the front.
I realise now that I had lived in this box from about the age of 7. Not too sure where it had come from but I didn’t question it. It just was.
I also had a few friends living in boxes too so it wasn’t unusual. I wasn’t strange.
Day to day we lived in these boxes and every morning we made them look pretty and presentable.
And even though the box was painted brightly it always felt dark inside. Quite scary and unknown.
A little bit ugly and a little bit sad so I tried not to think about the inside too much.
Sometimes I didn’t feel in control of what it was doing. It did what it wanted. I had less and less say. That’s just the way it was.
As I grew older the box got a bit shabbier.
It was awkward living in it. When getting from A to B it would catch on things and the edges would fray.
But people were still talking about it. So I had to make sure it stayed presentable.
I reinforced it, made it thicker and endlessly taped over the cracks. Then painted over the tape.
Always making sure it looked good enough that they would stop staring.
By the time I was 33, I was so used to living in that box I didn’t even notice it anymore.
That is until the day I looked into a mirror and it wasn’t there.
Tears. So many tears.
Not because I’d lost it. Because I was seeing myself for the first time.
Those tears were pure shock.
I had been mistaken. That sad, worrying thing that I’d been scared of. That was hidden in the darkness inside that box.
It wasn’t ugly or scary.
It was beautiful. It was perfect. It was whole. And it was complete.
And now I realise. I had never needed to live in that box but I had no control of it forming around me at 7 years old. I was defenceless. It had just appeared one day.
I looked down around me on the floor to see if I could see it.
I spotted it. It was small and broken-apart and flimsy.
I couldn’t throw it away. I had to keep it. Keep it safe as a reminder of all those years I’d lived inside it.
Because now I know: I had to spend 26 years living in it.
I needed those years so that when I stepped out of the darkness I could really appreciate all the beauty.
Piece originally written for Real Talk Storytelling
Read more blogs about my journey to body confidence here and tips for how you can get there too.