I spend hours looking in the mirror, usually concentrating on different parts of my body in turn. I have a full length one in my room, which is best for inspecting my legs. The one in the hall is best for my face. I might try standing at various different angles, trying to make them look the way I want, or sit down and wonder why my thighs are so disproportionately, unfairly big. This wonder is nothing new: from the age of 4 or so my body has been the closest physical feat of natural engineering that I have had at my fingertips. It is my first lesson in engineering, the traction, then crack, of my knuckle bones, realising my knee caps are small, hard islands that can move around when my legs are straightened, pressing my thumb against my pulse.
But now it is something else as well, the balance is tipped from wonder to dissatisfaction. I can’t help but note this body’s faults; for example my thighs meet in the middle and my knees are like a squashed, fat face. There are excess fleshy flaps at the insides of my knees and my calves won’t squeeze into knee-length boots. I have a long, thin neck that lends me a haughtiness like the women in Modigliani paintings or like a peacock. I am shaped like a pear, small on the top and big on the bottom. Or a vase, a mother goose, a swan. I sneak home when my Mum’s gone to work and watch daytime TV, where members of the public are given makeovers and they are told what body shape they are: pear, apple or hourglass.
I spend hours on my hair, trying, unsuccessfully, to frame my face in the right way. Whilst I have a name for my body shape, and at least a hope of finding something to flatter it, my face doesn’t have a name. I try curlers, clips, hats, layers, red, black, short, long to make the face look better. I see photos, that self-conscious grin and sallow cheeks. I look in the mirror and say shame, shame on you for not being prettier, shame on you for your long, sad, face.