It may be surprising to some that I have had a negative and fluctuating perception of my body image for most of my life; and to others, it will sound like a broken record.
Of course, with estimations that body image issues affect 7 out of 10 young women, it is a common problem that pervades almost every friendship circle. Perhaps we naturally perceive that, due to the supermodel stick-thin era of the 90s, this statistic affected women who felt that they weighed too much rather than weighed too little. Whilst this may be the case, it could be the latter that was also causing a range of body confidence issues, and in actual fact, it was at the start of mine.
For those who knew me in primary and secondary school, I was naturally very thin, which ended up me receiving a lot of stick (if you pardon the pun), as I was physically weaker than other people in my year. As illustrated in the photo below of when I was around 13/14.
I was always underweight, as my mum would say, I was in the 2% of babies in the population because of my lack of weight. Whilst some would say that this was the ‘dream body’, and I did have this directed my way, it massively affected my confidence. For those that were an average weight, they developed breasts and hips and bums far quicker than I did. And, of course, because everything was about boys at that tender part of pre-teen life, I felt like I wasn’t ‘sexy’, and that no boy would ever fancy me. It felt like my awkwardly gawky and lanky form was all that people would see. This all hit a low when I started receiving an influx of cyberbullying messages at aged 15 from a made-up account on facebook calling me ugly, an anorexic c*nt and that I would be punched in the face because I would break.
Though this never developed into a full-blown mental health issue at the time (of which I am thankful), my self-esteem was hugely damaged and it’s something that I still hold with me today.
I feel like the sweet spot of me being happy with my body was when I was 16. At this point, my braces were taken off, and I had actually started putting on some weight, even though I was still a size 6. Also at this time was the start of my first relationship, which, as many people know of their first love, made my confidence blossom because I suddenly felt like I was ‘attractive’ and also ‘lovable’. This is not to say that my self-esteem issues didn’t affect the relationship at the time, but I actually for the first time felt okay with my body. Infact, I wanted to be a model but I was still so shy so I never put myself out there, as well as a fear of rejection of course.
But, once the weight started coming on, I could feel myself getting obsessive about this. When I was 17 and 18, for the first time, I acquired a bum, my face became fuller, my thighs touched, and I got stretch marks all down my legs. Oh, and I also was no longer a size 6, I became a size 8, which again is still below average but in my mind, it was just the worst. I remember googling how much the average Victoria Secret Model weighed which was 125lbs, and I became determined that was my goal weight to achieve. Though I didn’t adopt any unhealthy eating or exercising habits because of this, it was more that I had such a lack of self-worth that was the most damaging.
During university, my weight yo’ yo’d significantly, as I went through the stress of my first relationship falling apart, then I lost lots of weight whilst travelling and then I also drank loads and ate loads too because of uni culture.
The photos below shows me before I went to university at my sister’s graduation. The photo after that was taken a year later when I was in Thailand.
I understand that feeling insecure about lack of weight does pale in significance to girls who feel insecure that they are ‘too big’. Simply because, as far as I am aware, it doesn’t lead to as serious and debilitating eating disorders. However, it could and most likely does, culminate in disordered eating which is tied in with other mental health problems like depression and anxiety.
What’s more, just because I had this view of myself being ‘big’ even though I was a size 8, this didn’t reflect in my view of others. If my friends who were sizes 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 and 20 had said to me they were insecure of their weight – then I would have quickly have rebutted them because it wasn’t something that I saw in others, only in myself. This is why body issues are so complex, as they are so insular and different to every person.
So now, as I am out of university, you think I would have sort of come to a middle ground acceptance with my weight, well – no. I scrutinise myself and every picture that is taken of me, which is a hard pill to swallow when your boyfriend is a photographer. I am drawn towards how I think my thighs look big, and my stomach looks flubby, my cheeks are chubby and my back fat when I wear a sports bra. I obsess over that I don’t go in enough at the waist, and I see that my lips are slanted on one side, and one eyelid is bigger than another. I hated the way that I smiled, so much so that my official graduation photo made me cry. I ‘feel better’ and more ‘body confident’ when I feel thinner which can change significantly depending on my hormone levels, my IBS and other things.
This eventually got to a head when during this summer, I was so desperate to lose weight that I did a diet (nothing extreme), but I was exercising intensely 4 to 5 times a week, monitoring my carb intake and feeling guilty for eating anything big or deemed ‘unhealthy’. The sad thing was, was that I ate a healthy balanced, nutrient-rich diet before (though I did have some cheesy chips every now and again). It just consumed my every waking thought. All I could think about was losing weight and getting a summer body.
This all rolled into one day, when I just started crying at work. Because I was unhappy with the pictures of me from Paris- I felt like I was unattractive, ugly, and that I had let myself go. Luckily for me, this was a wake-up call that I needed. For someone that loves the richness and tastiness of high carb and high-fat food, and as food has so often for me been a source of happiness, I needed to have a better relationship with it.
And so, here is me now (I may look moody but I promise I am happy inside):
A few months later, and I think I am slowly developing a better relationship with my body. I’m eating carbs and fats all over the place, whilst also adopting a low-meat diet due to environmental and ethical concerns. Though I still exercise 3 to 4 times a week, I’m trying to focus on improving my physical strength and flexibility rather than it’s appearance. This includes doing exercise that I enjoy like pilates, legs bums and tums classes, yoga, HIT workouts and the cross-trainer. I also plan to start ballet again too, so I can get back into my dance again.
This last weekend, my university friend Vicky showed me this quote from the novelist Louis de Berniéres that I absolutely love and want to share with you all.
“Did you ever see a tree or a mountain that was symmetrical? It’s fine for buildings, but if you ever see a symmetrical human face, you will have the impression that you ought to think it beautiful, but that in fact, you find it cold. The human heart likes a little disorder in its geometry, Kyria Pelagia. Look at your face in a mirror, Signorina, and you will see that one eyebrow is a little higher than the other, that the set of the lid of your left eye is such that the eye is a fraction more open than the other. It is these things that make you both attractive and beautiful, whereas…otherwise, you would be a statue. Symmetry is for God, not for us.”
― Louis de Bernières, Corelli’s Mandolin
A new beginning
No body can stay the same shape, size and weight throughout our lives, that is completely biologically impossible. Our bodies will climb hills and mountains, grow and hold children, it will gain scars, bruises, stretch marks, and wrinkles. Unless you have lived an entire life on celery juice, then your body will become peppered with cellulite, dimples of love from delicious food.
The reason why I haven’t shared my story is that I don’t want people to think I am playing the victim. Plus, I don’t want people to think that because I was unhappy about being thin, then unhappy about being slightly bigger, that it meant that I thought in a horribly destructive way that any size above a size 8 is bad – because that is not my thinking at all. In fact, being told that people would ‘kill’ for my body has almost felt like my feelings were negated and not valid.
In truth, we are all working through something, whether that’s body image, family issues, or insomnia; but sharing stories can, I think, help others to let them know that their body in every quirk and increment is beautiful in its own way. Plus, it’s bloody cathartic to write about I will tell you that much.
Until next time,