So, there it is. My body. My frame. My physique. My home.
I’ve had newspaper and magazine articles, TV and radio interviews, all discussing the story of my condition - Poland Syndrome. They tell the story of how I persevered with it into a career as a professional cricketer with a physical disability. This will be the first time I have written about my condition; some of the experiences I had growing up, and the insights that living with Poland Syndrome has brought with it.
Why am I openly talking about this now? The truth is, I have reached a point where I am no longer concerned with the opinions of others and what they may think when they look at me. It’s my body and I’m finally confident to show what I had been hiding for so long.
At 27 years old, I cannot sit here and write that I have always loved my body. I most certainly have not. Only now am I comfortable and confident enough to openly share about my experiences in this body. I used to be so frustrated by the appearance that my condition gave me, questioning, “Why do I have to have this condition”, “If only I didn’t have it”, “Why do I look like this?” and “What can I do to change this?”. But mostly feeling disappointed that I didn’t have the same physical appearance as everyone around me.
The insecurities that I once had, I did not start off with. Shame and embarrassment aren’t feelings that we are born knowing, we learn them. As a child, I went about everything with the blissful naivety that most children do. I played as much sport as I could fit into my days, heeding the odd bit of advice from my parents to avoid contact sports. During my adolescence, I became more attracted to the opposite sex, and started looking for clues as to what they like. Hearing their admiring comments when looking at guys with the “perfect body,” I became more and more aware that we are force fed the ‘ideal’ physical specimen everywhere we turn. We are taught this by the internet, newspapers, magazines, TV and now social media - the biggest influence of all.
In professional sport, there’s a stereotypical image of the perfect professional athlete. Opponents will also look to exploit any weaknesses to gain an advantage, especially at the top level. Therefore, to succeed there’s an element of ‘don’t show weakness.’ In my case I didn’t want to show my ‘weakness’ (my condition) to anyone who could use it against me. I went to great lengths to cover up my condition, rushing to put a shirt on, not having pictures taken with a shirt off in public, putting a towel over my shoulder to hide it at the pool or beach, or folding my arms to cover it. Hiding it wherever I could.
Recently, however, I’ve experienced huge changes in my life and shifts in my thinking. My professional career ended abruptly due to injury, which gave me a period of reflection. I decided to come out and speak publicly about my story which helped with me to reflect on the image I had of myself.
I had become incredibly proud of what I had achieved thus far, and all with my condition, but I was still going to great lengths to hide it. Why couldn’t I accept it? I had done everything I physically could and more, in order to use my body for high performance. Yet I did not accept it because I didn’t ‘look’ right? This just wasn’t fair.
My biggest realisation came when I recently took up swimming. Being at a pool five days a week means I have quite literally thrown myself in at the deep end – it’s an area that I found incredibly challenging and a place where I’m exposed and very conscious of the eyes looking at me, staring. Though, more than anything, I became conscious of what I was still doing to hide it so I asked myself, “why?! To what end?!”
My condition wasn’t (and isn’t) going anywhere, so I knew I had to accept what I couldn’t change.
Each body has its differences, its quirks and its unique style. It also has the ability to change, grow and adapt. LOVE it for what it is. And accept it for what it’s not.
We need to stop comparing our bodies to others, it’s not just futile in the sense that comparison achieves nothing, it’s detrimental to our minds and spirits! Comparison is the thief of joy, (Theodore Roosevelt).
Besides, when your time comes to leave this life, what would you prefer? That people remember and define you by your physical attributes or by the person that you are? Make the most out of what you have, keep your body functioning for as long as possible and love it along the way.