Sunday, 22 February 2015


For Christmas, I received a pair of socks. So far, so standard to the point of boring. However,  these weren’t just socks to hide away in boots or to put on when I need an extra layer – but ones with a very specific, personal pattern curving up the length of them: a softly swiveled set of (what looks like) vertebrae, white on black, x-ray style. I’d asked for a pair with books on them – but instead of the spines of hardbacks, I got some proper spines instead.

To accompany the images of these beauties, I wanted to use a piece I wrote last year, when I was going through a tricky-ish patch body confidence-wise (more on that at some point soon). It was an article commissioned for a zine put together by both the excellent photographer Eleanor Hardwick, who I've modelled for a few times, and all round amazingly lovely human being Olivia Aylmer - who I miss quite a lot now she’s moved back to America. The zine was called Shapeshifting – with all contributions on that theme (you can read a feature about it on Dazed Digital). I contributed a personal essay called ‘Metamorphosis’ - paying particular attention to the rhythm and balance of my sentences.  

I hesitated before putting it up here though, my internal critic going, “Oh god, not another bloody piece about your back? You’ve posted so much on that previously. Booooring.” But you know what? I live with my two thirds surgically fused spine day in and day out. Most of the time I'm not directly thinking about it, but that central column is always there, holding me up. It's what makes long days in the library uncomfortable, standing up for several hours at gigs a tough(ish) task, and heavy bags more of an aching burden. It's also what made me, to a certain extent, in that it's informed both my life and my work pretty significantly.  

Besides, this is still a piece of writing I’m damn proud of, and words are my primary way of unpeeling and reviewing various experiences. Thus it's also a subject I’ll probably continue to return to in years to come, seeing it through other lenses as I grow. In fact, there are already elements of what I said in this essay that I’d now approach differently, feelings I captured then that no longer apply in the same way. 

So here it is. Another set of reflections, another angle, another view…


If I define myself through my body, what am I? Arms, legs, a head, a heart, a set of cells renewing themselves? A shin often covered in bruises, cheeks that pink up after a single glass of wine, a height placing me taller than many others, curly hair that frizzes in rain? A muddle of desires and hungers and functions and sensitivities, just like everyone else?

Above all these details, there’s something else that comes first though – my spine. I’ve got a more intimate relationship with mine than most. It’s usually a component taken for granted, the hidden scaffolding holding up the rest of the skeleton. Like many other internal parts of the body, it’s often only dwelt on when it goes wrong. That’s what happened with me. I’ve seen multiple x-rays of mine, spent months unable to ignore its morse code message of aches and pains, eventually let a surgeon cut through my skin and nerves to manually set it straighter before stitching me back up.

The reason? Scoliosis. One year my spine decided to stop growing upward and began curving out to the side instead. Diagnosis came at fourteen. This process of twisting was labeled ‘idiopathic’ - no known cause. Just happens. That’s the way it is. Being female and teenage, I was among those most likely to be affected. Part of a statistic. That was little consolation though. I knew no-one else who had been through what I was experiencing. My friends were concerned about their boobs and newfound curves as their hips grew and their heights shot up. I was distraught as my rib cage shifted, my hips became uneven and my right shoulder blade stuck out into a lopsided wing. Others around me fretted over weight, I curled up in bed and cried at the hurt, the seeming injustice of being physically set apart.

I didn’t want to accommodate my shape. At school I was hyper-aware of how it looked in my uniform, my shoulder bulging beneath my horrible acrylic school sweatshirt. At home I hid it beneath silk shirts and big belts, hoping it might be invisible behind folds of fabric. I say ‘it’ for a reason – I wanted to separate myself off from it, not have to be responsible for my own physicality. I became increasingly envious of anyone with a straight back and symmetrical set of shoulders. They represented an ideal of normality that I couldn’t access.

It took roughly nine months between discovery and surgery. It’s a quicker trajectory than usual, but by the time of the operation my spine had bent into an S-shape measuring 80 degrees (think of straight as being 0). The solution involved two titanium rods screwed into my spine to keep it straight-ish for the next six months as artificial bone graft grew over the vertebrae, forming a solid mass. I was in intensive care for a night, hospital for a week and off school for two months. I relied on others to look after me, feed me, help me to learn to walk again. It was an odd experience full of intense trauma and pain, a small pocket of time where ‘usual’ life was suspended and left to hang. I experienced great kindness from some, bemusement or awkwardness from others.

Now, several years on, the middle of my back is a fused line of bone. I have a scar that runs its length, a pearlescent souvenir. The remnants of my metamorphosis can still be seen. My back remains uneven, my rib cage prominent, my waistline undefined. It is easier to deal with the skin, the scar, than it is with the structures that remain beneath.

It has been bewildering to inhabit so many shapes – my body changing form, without time to accommodate or acclimatize. I had a double metamorphosis – first from straight to curved, then from curved to mildly skewed. Sometimes I can look back on my pre-surgery body with a kind of unsettled awe, seeing the beauty in the twisted flaws. There is something compelling in the few snaps I have of my back, taken on self-timer in our bathroom just before surgery. All the usual lines have been disrupted, re-drawn with odd shadows and highlights. At other points the recollections hurt too much. It took me an incredibly long time to reach a sense of peace with my body’s appearance – and it’s a peace that can still disappear now.

Occasionally I think of the scar as a zip. I imagine unzipping that silver line of flesh to find the hunchback still hiding beneath. Because it stays, even after fusion. Physically it’s much reduced, but the emotional resonance lingers: the vulnerability, the feeling of being out of control, of not quite having ownership over one’s own body as it alters. I can be proud and strong and grateful, yet I carry these elements too - walking my own personal crooked mile.

With the socks - a present from my mum - I'm wearing a vintage sixties LBD, necklaces that belonged to one of my great grandmas (can't remember which one!) and a vintage hat bought from a market stall. The heels were from a charity shop. The matching curve of mossy grass in the lane behind: fortuitous.


Ivana Split said...

Those socks are anything but boring...and so well paired with that LBD and heels. There is something so fun about this outfit.

I really like the piece you wrote...both for how it's written and for the content. Recently, while my old room was redecorated into my nephew's room, an old X ray of mine came out. My sister in law asked me is it really possible that my back is so severely deformed?

Scoliosis is something that never really completely goes away or is heeled. Thinking about when I was diagnosed with it (about the same time as you I think, maybe a year earlier), I don't remember feeling very self conscious because of the way my back looks because of it. I did feel self conscious about wearing that damn brace that didn't do me any good because as one of my doctors explained later on, I stopped growing at age 11.

However, I do occasionally feel self conscious about it now. It will never go away and the best I can hope is that it doesn't get worse. It is not that I feel uncomfortable in my own skin, but it can't always be comfortable. As you say- it is something that will always be a part of me whether I like it or not, and that by itself means pain. Not an unmanageable amount of pain, but pain nevertheless.

Hannah McManus said...

Great outfit, I love the postures you've posed in! Also really interesting piece, I don't know a lot about scoliosis so this was enlightening to read, it must be tough to live with.
Hannah x

Closet Fashionista said...

Those socks are so perfect for you! They represent your journey :)
And that piece is beautiful!
I suffer from back pain as well from my days as a gymnast. But nothing compared to yours. But it does make walking/standing/sleeping too long hard because of pain, ha annoying!

mariafelicia magno said...

amazing pics dear..

lily said...

Your blog is always such an interesting one to read Rosalind! Aside from the cool socks (and cool poses,might I add) I love how yours words flit between the relatable and the sophisticated so seamlessly.
I'm part of the statistic you mentioned - the teenage girls, the tall ones especially, with scoliosis. 'Mild idiopathic adolescent scoliosis', I was diagnosed with. I'm fortunate enough to have a relatively shallow curve that doesn't require surgery or a brace, however I do know the back pain from standing that you speak of. I can only sit curled one way on a chair, and my left shoulder is completely hyperextendible whilst my right isn't flexible at all. My back and shoulders also crack, lots, loudly. Freaks people out! I know a girl very well who's been through the same procedure as you, and I really do admire the strength it must've taken to accept your body and relearn everything we take for granted. Way to go girl :)
lily x

Helen Le Caplain said...

What a crackin' pair of socks! Definitely ones NOT to hide away under boots.

Gosh you've been through a lot back-wise haven't you? (Lovely well-written piece) xx

Vix said...

Those socks are incredible, just like you!
Don't think you're ever boring us with the story of your spine. Your scoliosis, the operation, your suffering and subsequent recovery make you who you are, an amazing and inspirational woman.
It often takes me by surprise when i catch sight of my scar in a mirror. Its strange how something that was once so painful and awkward can be almost forgotten. The good old NHS are the best! xxx

Melanie said...

Never boring. I saw the socks and immediately thought of your sketches of your spine. And your last photo is cool because it looks like you are sprinting with your spine socks and platforms. How can you not write through and art-your-way-through such painful moments in your life?


I cannot fathom you boring anyone ... it was so interesting to hear the symbolism between the socks and your life experiences, regarding your spine. The complete journey (the good, bad, and everything in-between) that we all go through is what helps shape us into who we are. Nobody else can tell "our" story. These socks are a perfect wardrobe companion and representation of that.

At wednesdays I wear pink said...

Great look ♥

Sofie Marie said...

A damn lovely piece of writing.


Minale Me said...

Love your outfit! Those socks are awesome! X Minale

Anova said...

Very cool outfit! I really like the shoes as well as the necklace!