When I was a teenager, I had a very unhealthy relationship with food, it took me until about 19/20 before I could eat healthily and give my body the energy it needed. I hated my body and I wanted it change, I was taller than all the girls my age and I was bigger. I had the body of a woman when I was a teenager and I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb. Every time someone made a comment about me being “such a tall girl, for my age”, I thought it was their way of saying “you’re fat”. I went through a whole host of phases with my clothes, hair and makeup and was constantly trying to mimic what I had seen in media. I wanted to be anyone but myself and when size 0 was the new craze, I felt like I could never fit in.
Things started to change when I went away to uni and I was surrounded by a more diverse community than my middle-class, white, area. I started to come into my own, started to take care of and embrace myself. I was also learning more about feminism and analysing media, so I started making conscious decisions to surround myself with body positive media, through Instagram and Tumblr. I loved myself and it started to show. I didn’t care about my weight or what dress size I wore, I wore what fitted and looked good, no matter what was on the label. Sure, I had moments where it wasn’t great and my insecurities showed but I felt more aware of how these insecurities were influenced by outside voices, not my own.
Then, about a year ago I went through a break-up which hit me hard. I was deep into my dissertation at the time, I became stressed and my depression started to get worse. Towards the end of my dissertation, I became aware of how bad my mental health was becoming and that I had started to neglect myself and my needs. I wasn’t eating as much, or as regularly, as I normally would and I started to lose weight; I hardly noticed at first, my jeans just felt less snug! But as I started to lose more, people started to openly comment on my appearance; phrases such as ‘have you lost weight? you look great’, ‘You’re looking so skinny’ and ‘it looks good on you’. They all looked at me like they were expecting me to blurt out my diet and exercise secrets, when really it was because I was in the midst of a mental breakdown. I tried to explain it to a few people but I’m not sure they really understood why it upset me to get those comments. I didn’t work hard to lose weight because I needed or wanted to. I felt like a stranger in my own body because this change felt involuntary, as a sign of my weakness and my struggles. I did not see it as something to be congratulated or seen as success, because it was a failure to me.
I liked my previous size and I had fought to love and embrace my body. But my body was rapidly changing as I lost weight and suddenly I didn’t recognise myself. I didn’t feel, how I looked, I still felt like the fat girl at school and I had learnt to love her! I’m still 5 foot 10, built with big hips, I still have my curves, my little tummy and my jiggly thighs, I’m nowhere near underweight but the body I once had, I long for. I miss my fuller breasts, my bigger bum, my fuller face and my squishier torso; once symbols of hate but what I had grown to adore.
I’m slowly getting used to my body, I’m doing small things to reclaim it and make it mine again. I started to grow out my underarm hair and not feel ashamed for being a dark haired woman! I got a couple more tattoos, as a celebration of my body and it being a canvas for art. I started to buy ethical and natural, skin and hair care products, to take care and pamper my body. But I still find it hard and I still don’t feel fully myself, it also doesn’t help that the media is going through a big butt and boob phase, curves are in! I look at Amber Rose, Rihanna, Ashley Graham and so many more and I’m so happy we can celebrate bodies like theirs, but I get so jealous and miss my larger size. But even these women can’t win because there’s a catch, you also have to be toned to a inch of your life and muscly too, but not too muscly, because that’s too masculine. In 10 years we’ve gone from size 0 to embracing plus sizes models (yay!) to promoting an unrealistic body, without plastic surgery!
Lastly… I’m trying not to think about it. My body is doing its thing and right now I’m taking care of my mind, so it can take care of my body. If I gain or lose weight in the process, it is not a success or failure, its life and its my body. I’m trying to not wish I was anyone but myself and I’m avoiding the conversations around body image and weight. We need to stop commenting on weight, especially women’s weight which is constantly under scrutiny in the media. We need to embrace bodies of all sizes and not see one type of body as right or normal!
Weight loss isn’t always the sign of a happy or healthy person, let’s stop seeing it as a goal or success and start to see it as a bodily change, that can happen because of all sorts of reasons, bad and good.