Health Female Adda
1 year ago
How Living with Scoliosis Has Shaped My Body Image

I'll never forget the first day I wore a back brace to school. I was 8 years old and had recently been diagnosed with scoliosis, which was curving my spine into an S shape. The rigid plastic hardware imprisoned my torso from hip to underarm; my shirt couldn't hide its bulk. "Can I punch it?" curious classmates asked, fascinated that I couldn't feel their blows. My acceptance-seeking third-grade brain consented. They weren't trying to be cruel, but each strike chipped away at my innocence and confidence.

Rachel Rabkin Peachman as a child
Rachel Rabkin Peachman as a child. Photograph courtesy of Rachel Rabkin Peachman

As puberty approached, my upper spine, once at a barely perceptible 15-degree curve, warped even more, shoving my right shoulder blade out like a chicken wing. The wayward lower curve on my left side made my hips lopsided. I hid my body in extra layers; I skipped sleepovers to avoid changing in front of others; I planned dates with my first boyfriend for times I could remove my brace so he wouldn't feel it when he slipped his arm around my waist.

At 16, green-lighted by doctors, I left my brace behind. By then, my upper curve measured 45 degrees, which, in many cases, warrants surgery. Instead, I chose to live with my spine as it was, and time began to heal my damaged body image. In college, I even worked up the nerve to join a naked campus run, a tradition for seniors. That night, I found the confidence to bare all, regardless of whether people could see my misshapen back.

Rachel Rabkin Peachman in college
Rachel Rabkin Peachman during her junior year of college. Photograph courtesy of Rachel Rabkin Peachman

The liberation was short-lived. In my twenties, I developed back pain. By 33, I couldn't stand or walk for long stretches. My upper curve progressed to 55 degrees; the lower, to 33 degrees. Getting dressed one day, I realized one of my go-to tops no longer fit over my right shoulder blade. As I looked in the mirror at the stretched, distorted fabric, I felt an old, familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach: shame. Once again, I wanted to hide my body.

Since surgery would likely lead to reduced flexibility, early arthritis, and more pain, I researched other options. That's how I found Curvy Girls, an international scoliosis support group. Last year, at their national convention's fashion show, I watched girls with scoliosis proudly strut down the runway in strapless dresses, backs on display. Others wore braces over their clothes for all to see. I was in awe.

I'm 40 now, and I still don't view my body as "normal." Even if I opt for surgery, I know that a completely positive body image will remain out of reach; my formative feelings about my body are embedded too deep. Still, lately, when I see an unflattering picture of myself, or catch a glimpse of my back in the mirror, I think of those beautiful girls on the runway. And I remind myself how far my body has come: It gave birth to two daughters. And they deserve a role model who is proud of her body, and herself.

For more women celebrating the skin they're in, pick up the Jan/Feb 2016 issue of Women's Health, on newsstands now.

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