Trigger warning: this post will discuss weight and distorted eating. If you are sensitive to these topics, please proceed with caution
I want to start this post by saying that I know that weight is a sensitive issue for a lot of people and that whilst this post will talk about weight, I will be talking about the way that we are made to believe we can only look a certain way to be beautiful. I personally do not think that there is one body type that is more beautiful than another or that I can comment on the experiences of anyone but myself. As discussions and influences about weight are something that every person experiences, I do think it’s important to discuss it.
When I was at school, I never really cared what I looked like. Most of the time whilst I was at school I felt like I was invisible so it didn’t matter what I looked like. I didn’t wear makeup, I didn’t style my hair and I wore trousers that my fiancé calls ‘frumpy mum pants’ when we talk about when we were younger. This photo was taken at a house party and as you can see I pushed the boat out and wore mascara and foundation. That felt like a really bold move for me at the time.
It was around this age that I discovered magazines properly. I’d buy them every week and consume them blindly. Who was dating who, who wore what, what did she weigh, how did she look at the beach, who looked better than who, who had had surgery, who had acne, who looked terrible without makeup. These magazines would compare how people looked in bikinis, would slate people who gained weight, would point out every flaw, stretch mark and pimple. Language like ‘ballooning’ and ‘wobbling’ became words I was taught to fear.
Slowly, I started looking at myself and comparing myself to these people. I wasn’t like them, not even a little bit. First of all I had a birthmark on my forehead, but it went deeper than that. I didn’t have abs or toned thighs. I had never fake tanned in my life. I thought a highlighter was just a piece of stationery. My thighs wobbled when I walked. I didn’t know how much I weighed. I didn’t know the difference between matte and dewy foundations. I think at that time the only lipgloss I’d worn was one I borrowed from my mum. I didn’t exercise. The more I read these magazines, the more I questioned myself – Could I be pretty if I didn’t look like that?
I left school at sixteen and went to college in Leeds. This was one of the best things I ever did because it pushed me out of my shell and made me meet new people. It also allowed me to shop on a break time and be more in control of the way that I looked.
I became more interested in clothes and makeup. I started attending a boot camp with my mum. We were asked to keep a food diary and the woman who ran it told me every week that I needed to eat more, but when she took my measurements and told me I had lost inches, I felt proud. I didn’t eat more.
I would get off the bus 3 stops early so I had to walk a longer way to get to college. I would sometimes skip breakfast because I wasn’t hungry then have a fast food lunch. My first part time job was a cleaner at a primary school so I was active for 2 hours every day, so whatever I had eaten that day just burned away. I noticed that I got more attention from boys and started to feel like maybe I was pretty, but when I’d look in the mirror all I could still see was the invisible girl from school. I’d read magazines and see how these women lost weight then landed the role of their dreams, broke up with their ex and lost weight to get a ‘revenge body’ that made everyone want to be them. Again and again I was told that to be beautiful is to be small, to be successful is to be thin.
I complied the best I could.
I’ve never really been one for weighing myself, but I know from a trip to the doctor that around this time I weighed 50kg. I was in the healthy BMI range, but I was at the smaller end of it. I would say to myself that I was ‘fat’ like it was an insult, not really knowing why I was saying it like it was something terrible. I wore a size 6 and I knew people who wore size 14, 16, 18, 20, 22 and onwards and I always thought they were beautiful. I would have and actually have argued with anyone who tried to tell them otherwise. Yet I seemed to think that the only way that I myself could be beautiful was to shrink myself. If I could fit into a size 4 I would feel like I’d accomplished something. I never knew what that something was, but it felt like it was an achievement.
I always ate and could always eat a lot, but I wouldn’t call my relationship with food a healthy one. I didn’t look at food as a tool to nourish and look after my body. I looked at it sometimes as a means to and end, something I could skip if I wanted to or equally I could gorge on if I wanted. I would have a huge tea and little else in the day. As a vegetarian, my diet was one that was (relatively) healthy. I would happily order a takeaway pizza and eat the whole thing, but I’d also have a ‘punishment lunch’ of dry crackers the next day. But why did I feel I need to punish myself for enjoying myself?
Simple – because everything around me told me to.
I followed pages of Victoria’s Secret models, of impossibly thin celebrities, of people who posted sponsored links to diet teas and skinny shakes. I read interviews with people who had abs but said they never went to the gym and ate what they wanted. I consumed lie after lie, each one telling me that this was the only way that pretty could be, that this was what was normal, that this was what I was supposed to be like.
For the purpose of this post, I looked back at old photos of myself and honestly there were photos that shocked me. I know I wasn’t the thinnest person ever and I know that my weight fell into a healthy category medically, but to look at myself in these photos makes me feel a little uncomfortable. To me, I look too thin. I look at these photos and wonder where the hell are my organs stored?! I have little, twiggy limbs and the boniest jawline ever. My waist looks ludicrous. I look back and wonder how I couldn’t see how tiny I looked, how I thought I could possibly need to make myself shrink even more.
Just under a year ago, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovaries. I was initially put on a pill that made me gain just over a stone in 4 weeks. I wasn’t warned about the potential weight gain and at first I was horrified, simply because I couldn’t wear 90% of the clothes in my wardrobe.
I tried to lose the weight, but I really struggled. With leaving for Australia, I was so busy socialising. I was going out for tea at least twice a week, going for drinks on a weekend and in a happy relationship. My weight gain had gone up again and this time it was because of me, not a pill. I bought bigger clothes, ditching the size 6 clothes that I had worn since I was 17 for new ones. Sometimes I’d panic that I was getting bigger, ‘ballooning’ like I’d been told to fear, but when I went to the doctor for checkups they would tell me I was now in the middle of my BMI range, that I was healthier. I did feel healthy and if anything I got more compliments about how happy and beautiful I looked than before, but in the back of my mind I was always aware that I was bigger than I was like it was a bad thing. Everything I’d ever seen had told me that if I was bigger then I couldn’t be happy or pretty or desirable. Even when everyone around me was telling me the opposite, it was hard not to let those deeply ingrained thoughts creep in.
When I left England, I was still a little insecure about my weight gain. I was a size 8 to 10 and dreading being seen in a bikini. I wobbled, I had cellulite. If someone took my picture and compared me to a celebrity, no one would pick me.
I wanted to ‘be good’ whilst I was travelling, but I didn’t know what ‘be good’ truly meant. The reality was that aside from a few cocktails or glasses of Coca Cola, I was being ‘good’. I was having food I enjoyed, trying new flavours, going for all three courses. I was enjoying food, enjoying life.
It’s only been recently after changing my social media feed and the content that I allow myself to consume that I really feel like I have noticed a difference in my mindset. I have always celebrated people of all shapes, sizes, skin colours, races, religions and beliefs, but when I looked at myself I believed I could only ever be a certain way. I reduced myself down both physically and figuratively. It is such an incredibly damaging mindset to have and I sometimes feel angry that I let myself treat my body in this way.
I probably weigh more now than I ever have. I am also the happiest now than I ever have been. I have clothes in my wardrobe that I wore in Rome in July last year that I know won’t fit me now. I have clothes in my wardrobe that I wore in Rome in July last year that do fit me now, too. I know people who are bigger than me and people who are smaller than me and I think they’re all just as beautiful.
A size 6 is no better or no more beautiful than a size 26. I’m mad at myself that I’ve spent so much of my time celebrating everyone else’s beauty whilst narrowing mine down to a dress size. I hate that I blindly consumed these magazines that made me think to look one way was the only way that I could be beautiful. I was beautiful all along, even with no makeup, no hair style and my frumpy mum pants.
The point of this post isn’t to start a debate on the perfect size or to pit people of different sizes against each other. I know some people won’t read this at all but will say ‘she can’t talk about weight’ without even hearing what I have to say. The point is that there is a dangerous and damaging use of language around weight and it impacts how to see others and ourselves. We are made to believe that we can only be one size, one shape, one standard of beauty when in reality there is a whole range of people just as beautiful as each other. We use the word ‘fat’ as an insult when it’s not. If we don’t change this discourse, then we are going to end up with groups of people shrinking away into nothing, groups of people judging one another blindly.
I don’t want to be the girl who celebrates squeezing herself into clothes. I don’t want to be the girl who sees her value as a numerical value on a scale. I don’t want to be the girl who can say that a plus size model looks incredible but can’t say that about herself. I don’t want to pass on stupid insecurities like I read about to any future children I may have. I want to be part of a conversation, a time of acceptance, a change in mindset. I’m on a journey to changing the way I talk to myself and about myself and it feels good. Perhaps you should join me.