When I first got the idea for an interview section on this blog, I knew I wanted to interview strong characters with compelling stories, voices they weren’t afraid to use and passions that they lived by. The first person that came to my mind to interview was Ellie. We’d been friends when we were younger and even though life had moved us in different directions she was someone I had always admired. Ellie has worked, lived and volunteered abroad and uses her social media to celebrate plus size beauty and fashion as well as to document her struggle with chronic illnesses like cluster headaches and mental health issues with searing honesty and a dash of humour. Her sense of identity is strong – she calls herself a ’25 year old queer, clumsy, fat woman from a council estate in Leeds’ – and her sense of community just as strong. Ellie is the kind of girl that cheers other girls on, that calls people out on their bullshit, that stands up for the rights and beliefs of other people that are usually ignored or marginalised – in short, she’s the kind of girl you want to hang around with.
Without a doubt, in fact there’s still days I still struggle with my identity – I mean I’m queer, fat and didn’t follow the “normal” path in life. I spent years trying to change myself to fit the mould I thought I was “supposed” to fit in, I dieted, adjusted my personality, slept with anyone that showed me any attention, attempted to prove my intelligence by starting courses I wasn’t even interested in, anything to be this person I thought people expected or wanted. I manipulated, lied and adjusted myself so much that I wasn’t even sure who I was as an individual. The result of all of this? A cycle of depression, multiple failed suicide attempts (most of which no one knows about to this day) borderline alcoholism, toxic relationships and friendships and isolation due to the fact I was a toxic person in other people’s lives.At this point I should point out I’ve worked on myself and I’m no longer that negative toxic person I could be, I’ve cut out the people that encouraged or influenced that behaviour and I constantly strive towards being a more open, honest and positive person in life.
What do you do on a daily basis to make sure you keep working on yourself and keep away from those negative behaviours?
I try to assess why I’m feeling this way, is it my own thoughts or others thoughts projected onto me, then I make counter arguments to the doubting thoughts and negativity. If that doesn’t work I try and get out of my head, that can be anything from chatting with a friend, having a long soak in a bath or a long brisk walk. I’ve also found being around animals is a great way to uplift your mood, especially dogs.
You describe your struggles with cluster headaches openly. Can you describe how they affect your life?
They affect my life in so many different ways. I have to take preventive medication 3 times a day, I have to watch what I put in my body, one cup of coffee is okay but two could trigger a migraine. I’m constantly exhausted. I’m lucky my medication makes it so I only have one/two attacks a day, at the worst I was having between 4-8 a day. These attacks are a very intense, horrific pain that comes on suddenly with zero warning and can last 3 hours so as you can imagine without medication or treatment that works it drains your whole body. I have to carry my relief medication with me wherever I go, just in case, and the medication itself is in the form of an injection which was a huge adjustment to my life as I’m actually terrified of needles! I have also used oxygen therapy to assist in relieving the attacks, however this does not work as well for me as the injection. Having a condition like cluster headaches is very difficult because you “don’t look sick” so I often have to change or cancel plans because I just don’t have the energy to follow through with them. I’ve had to have time off work due to them which is obviously not ideal and mentally it’s a lot to deal with, not just the pain but the constant exhaustion and stigma.
The most awkward experience with my Cluster headaches was having to pull my tights down mid take off of a flight to inject my leg with my relief medication… Much to the horror of the old Dutch man seated next to me!
You are one of the most body positive people I know, celebrating people of all shapes and sizes. Can you describe your view on fat shaming and skinny shaming?
Body shaming anyone is not acceptable in any way shape or form, however I don’t think fat shaming and skinny shaming are the same. While of course thin women (and men) may experience bullying and discrimination, it’s is not comparable to the structural far reaching bias that fat bodies experience. While someone may tease a thin person, thin people are not disproportionately misdiagnosed as a result of medical fatphobia. Collectively, people are not paid less, hired less, or systemically harmed and discriminated against for being thin. And as much as I want both kinds of shaming to end I believe that throwing the “skinny shaming” argument out there during discussions on fatphobia is actually damaging to the progress that could be made.
The example that springs to mind is when I was 15 I was diagnosed with polycystic ovaries and the doctor that gave me this diagnosis decided that the best way to explain this to me was to go from “you’re very unlikely to ever have children naturally” to “I see you’re BMI is in the obese category, did you know there’s a new program we could put you on to help with that?” I understand that weight can affect this condition, however the fact the doctor went from giving a 15 year old life changing news to discussing how unhealthy her weight was was, in my opinion, inappropriate and wouldn’t of happened if I had been an unhealthy thin weight.
When you think of the vast range of people on the planet, it seems crazy to think of how few people we actually see represented on television or in magazines. Why do you think it’s important for a range of people to be celebrated in the media?
I think it’s important because people, especially young people, need to see themselves represented in the media because it helps us realise that there are others out there similar to ourselves, and in turn that helps us understand and accept ourselves on a deeper level. Research has proven that the media we consume affects how we live our lives, how we see other people and how we think about ourselves. Representation opens dialogue and makes people feel seen.
One of the reasons why I couldn’t wait to interview you was because you are part of an online movement that makes it so a wider range of people see them self portrayed on social media in a way that is incredibly positive. Have you ever received any negativity online for the content you share and how do you deal with it?
Yes! A lot, I received messages about being openly queer, about being fat, about my political views. I used to fight back, try argue with them and try to educate where possible, but this takes a lot of energy, especially when the comments come from people close to you. Now on occasion I still fight, but I pick my battles carefully, I don’t engage in situations that I feel would negatively affect my day or my mental health. If I choose not to engage I usually delete and block the person concerned, if that’s not possible I take a break from whatever social media the comment was made. I also find some of the negativity hilarious and screenshot the comments to share with friends.
Your screenshots are pretty legendary! From an outsider, it always seems to me that you use your social media to uplift and support other people. Why do you think it is important for people to use their voices to uplift other people?
I think in today’s society it’s necessary to uplift others, especially those less visible in the mainstream. It’s easy to go on social media and see the mainstream and suddenly feel very inadequate, I believe that by supporting and uplifting women and people it encourages similar patterns and then social media becomes a more diverse, encouraging, positive place. When you post on social media it has an effect on the people that see that post, so why not use that platform to encourage positive change and expose people to people, experiences and views that they may not see otherwise?
If you could give people advice on how to accept who they are and feel more confident in them self, what would you say?
I would say one of the first and most important steps is to remove people that negatively impact your life, whether that’s unfollowing social media accounts that make you feel bad about yourself or you get a negative feeling from, or completely removing yourself from a real life relationship or friendship group that you know or feel is toxic (that’s easier said than done I know, but trust me it makes a world of difference). Then just explore who you are, find the things that make you smile and follow them, grow with them and find a community that you feel supported in. If you have real deep routed self confidence issues I would suggest accessing therapy if possible, if it’s not possible finding someone your trust to confide in. Don’t do things because you think they’ll make others happy, trust your instincts if you feel it’s not the right path for you then don’t do it. Don’t be afraid to follow your own path. Trust yourself and know that you are always worthy of love and acceptance.
I think those words are something a lot of people could really do with hearing and are the start of having a great way at looking at life. If you could sum up your outlook on life in one statement, what would it be?
If it doesn’t negatively impact another living being and it makes you happy then go for it. In other words my outlook on life is just “fuck it!”