Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Vein hopes

If this blog is to be honest I have to deal with the issue of body image, which at different times, depending on how I'm 'travelling', dominates my life.

When I take a step back from my body image 'issues', what I find fascinating is how the horror I sometimes feel at some aspect of my body is mobile, choosing different elements to focus on -- suggesting of course that the feeling has less to do with the realities of my body and more to do with my psyche. You would think an awareness of this would help to avoid the sometimes obsessive focus on what's 'wrong' but unfortunately it doesn't work like that.

Ageing is the enemy of those with body image problems. This is because with age the body continues to change and there are always new, heart-sinking discoveries to make as the skin continues to thin, sag, collect 'liver spots' and grow ugly new growths with obscure Latin names and no discernible raison d'etre.

So one week it will be my pointy nose, growing ever-longer as I age, that is ruining my life and I'll be convinced that the only solution is to submit eventually to rhinoplasty. Then for about a day my nose will seem suddenly quite manageable. But a short while later I'll discover with a sickening lurch that the veins on my legs seem to be becoming more visible by the day. And then as I inspect myself it will become horrifyingly clear that the veins are now crisscrossing my entire body, their paths and connections there for the world to see, their blu-ish tinge destroying my fantasy of ever having a body I could happily display to the most casual lover.

The veins are an interesting example because they have become more prominent since I started exercising. This is ironic as I began my exercise regime partly to help manage my body image problems! But when you take part in regular exercise the veins become healthier and larger and if you happen to have increasingly thin skin, as I do, they are even more visible. From the forums I visited on the internet it seems that veins also become more prominent in pregnancy, particularly over the breasts.

The celebrity mags love to focus on the ugly hand veins of middle-aged, mostly female celebrities and in the course of coming to terms with mine I found on the internet numerous close-ups of the tortured, stringy networks on the hands of Madonna, Angelina and Sarah Jessica Parker. If they could put up with veins like that in the interests of good health and nice biceps, perhaps I could put up with my less prominent versions?

In fact, discovering these glaring imperfections on the bodies of those whose career it is to maintain bodily perfection was incredibly therapeutic. I figured that these women could not have helped noticing their veins, perhaps hated them, but were obviously not going to give up exercising.

And there is no way of hiding veins like this -- you can cover them with fake tan but the outlines are still apparent (there is a plastic surgeon in New York who apparently removes hand veins, but what horrific consequences to the venous system might this extreme course of action lead to?) So the likes of Angelina were choosing to live with a conventionally ugly physical attribute fully on display for the merciless cameras of the papparazzi.

And conventionally may be the operative word here. The Elizabethans apparently considered skin with visible blue veins a sign of refinement. I am both literally and figuratively thin-skinned and it's tempting to think there is a link between them, but this seems absurd. Regardless, I'm stuck with having an outlet for my neurotic feelings always handy should I look down at any visible body part.

The trick is to distract oneself as one would a child: 'look over there!' Self-obsession and rumination lead nowhere. The world and its objects can provide a safe landing place for the attention.

Mindfulness helps too, developing an awareness of thought processes without judging them, but without mistaking them for the truth. Mind noting is one useful mindfulness technique, ie saying something like 'thinking about veins' when obsession strikes.

Another technique -- which I dislike because it relies on others' misfortune -- is to compare my body image problems with those who have serious skin problems or disfigurements.

I can't pretend that my prominent veins are a positive thing or that I would not be without them because they have made me humble. I still dream of a thick, firm skin that covers up the constant flow of blood through my body and leaves me less exposed. But for this day only, for this hour, for this minute, I can put up with my veins.


  1. Hi,
    I just dropped by after noticing you'd begun following my blog - and I'm always intrigued as to who reads me and what might bring them there. So I've browsed through yours so far and thought I'd leave comment on this post since it chimes alot with my own experience and body-image concerns. I'm a similar age - 39 - and the ageing process seems to be resurfacing all the insecurities I had about my appearance when I was in my teens and early 20s. I'm not sure that I was ever entirely at ease in my own skin but lately it has become such an obsession I sometimes struggle to leave the house.For me at the moment it's the skin around my eyes that I'm fixating on. My eyes were always my 'best' feature and to see them sagging and creasing causes immense anxiety and panic. Of course they tend also to be the place to which another's gaze is initially drawn. I'm glad you could blog about this. I've always struggled to get it out. I guess I feel that others will just find it morbid and vain. I feel a little ashamed for having these issues at a 'mature' age when everyone expects you to have grown out of them.
    I have to say, however, that I have very 'used', gnarled, scarred and veiny hands and I'm actually rather proud of them! My life has been divided between artistic pursuits and working the land therefore my hands have always been busy, deft and strong. They can draw, weave, sculpt, lift rock and build walls. I am generally suspiscious of women with smooth, unblemished hands and perfect nails. It makes me question whether they've ever done any 'proper work'!!
    I much prefer flawed beauty to the bland, youthful 'perfection' that is flaunted as the ideal in our society. Lines, scars and other idiosyncracies tell life's stories, reveal character and distinguish us as unique. Perhaps it is because of my inability to come to terms with some of my own life experiences and my not entirely liking who I am that I project these anxieties onto my flesh. I'm not sure. It's a daily battle whatever it's about.

    I haven't read much from your other blog but I intend to at some point. I might find some handy tips since shopping is another phobia-zone for me. This is mostly connected to my social anxieties and since I have to hold myself back when internet shopping, it would be wrong to claim I have a dislike of consumption. Infact, I studied anthropolgy and my specialism was in consumption so I have a time old interest in the exchange relationship and the meaning of goods!
    Well I think that's enough of me for now. I'll drop back and read you again.

  2. Hi Kate,

    thanks heaps for your comments - they are very much appreciated as this blog is new and sometimes feels as if I am talking to myself, so it is great to get some feedback.

    I find body image quite scary because of that mobility factor -- one minute I feel fine about something, the next it is just impossible to deal with. So I agree with you about projection -- for me it's a sense that there is 'something wrong' with me. So there is a sense of horror sometimes -- and then it goes.

    Your comments about your liking your hands were really interesting. I never used to worry about my hands (they've always looked older than the rest of me) but someone recently commented on how prominent my hand and arm veins are and that set me off. As it slowly dawned on me that it was a sign of my exercising I became kind of 'okay' with it again -- and a bit more accepting of the leg veins.

    I'm sorry to hear you have a problem with eye wrinkles. I sometimes get painfully self-conscious when out and about and had a hard time when I developed mild rosacea, so I can emphathise.

    But I agree about the character thing and remember vividly a friend of mine with a then new partner telling me he had said he found her facial lines sexy, for that reason.

    This might sound bizarre but when I was in the worst of the vein fixation I would sneak looks at other people's leg veins (it's summer here so that wasn't hard!) I actually found that helped, as many people had prominent veins but seemed unselfconscious about it. I'm not giving advice as I think we're all different but would checking out others' wrinkles help you see yours as normal?

    I think we are much harder on ourselves than others are, partly because we see ourselves up close.

    I've also noted that I take refuge in finding cheap nice things for my flat and I wonder if that's something to do with getting older -- investing that aesthetic sense in the world instead of the self? I think that is happening with me!

    It's given me a buzz to think you might get something out of the shopping blog.

    Cheers and thanks for dropping by. I'll keep up with your blog too -- which is always a great read.

    Catherine x