When I think about how many stupid things are said about a person’s body and physical appearance every single day – whether they know it or not – it quite honestly overwhelms me. When I think about the things that have been said to me personally over the years, I’m reminded of so much trauma that I’m probably still harbouring in one form or another.
I ran a poll on my instagram stories recently about body image. The question was – ‘would you say that your body/weight is your biggest insecurity?’. 75% of people said yes and 25% said no. I honestly wasn’t surprised. The fact that our most common criticism of ourselves concerns our bodies more than anything else is the saddest truth. I’ve been through my fair share of personal battles with body image. The truth is that I’ve never been skinny nor would I ever be considered truly plus size. I’ve fluctuated for a while now but currently sit anywhere between a size 12/14/16. It’s been ups and downs but more recently – a steadier level of acceptance. As a perfectionist, I’m continually trying to improve myself. Whether that be my relationships with family, my inner strength or motviation – I’d much rather work on my insecurities about my personality than my physical appearance. My weight/body isn’t my biggest insecurity. But I know that hasn’t always been the case.
‘Come back when you’ve lost some weight’
‘Yeah you’re fat but you’re not as fat as some girls so don’t worry about it’
‘Thank god you have boobs or you’d be totally out of proportion’
Flash back ten years ago (wow) when I was ten and in primary school. I hadn’t thought once about my body in a negative way. Sure – I wanted to be blonde so that I could play an angel in the school play instead of always having to be Mary but I had no other reason to find flaws in myself. I was a child. I didn’t know that people felt any less than happy or a bit sad at times. I look at pictures of myself in primary school and wonder how my legs were ever that thin. How I was so unaware of the fact people would even comment on my stomach in the future. As a kid I was always medically ‘overweight’ but I don’t think it ever really showed. I played hockey and netball, I’d chase boys on the playground, I was generally active. And even if I was obviously overweight nobody would have commented on it. My village primary school had no more than 200 kids and we all got on. Being chair of the School Council was my personal dream and nobody mocked me for achieving it. The way I looked never stood in the way of my goals. I never felt the need to compare myself to anyone else. Simply, nobody cared how I looked. So long as we took turns on the computer playing badger trails and logging into SuperClubs Plus (if you know, you know) – we were all equal.
How could the way I looked ever be a problem? How could it ever stop me doing everything I’d ever wanted to? I didn’t know that in the future my body would be culturally wrong. I had to idea that the width of my thighs would make me feel sick in years to come. I had no idea that I’d struggle wearing a bikini on future holidays almost ten years later.
‘Maybe if you lost some weight your anxiety would go away’
‘I’ve been with fatter girls, don’t worry’
‘Maybe if you lost a few pounds someone would have sex with you’
Flash forward a couple of years to the dreadful age of twelve or thirteen. Suddenly I had all these raging hormones, a low metabolism and probably the beginning stages of hypothyroidism. The root of my sudden body image issues makes a lot more sense. Having just transitioned into a much more stressful schooling environment surrounded by 2,500 other kids – everyone was different. We were suddenly aware of boys, having to look good all the time and the size of our clothing. That’s when I piled on weight – quickly but almost unnoticeably. Trying to hide my body in pyjamas at a sleepover was a lot to process. Saturday trips to New Look bought on a painful fear that I could later categorise as anxiety. Trying to find the perfect dress for a party made me decide not to go instead.
Like so many others then and now, I was faced with the usual struggles of secondary school multiplied by an anxious and self-critical personality. But I also think that part of the reason I spent a majority of my teen years and beyond hating myself, struggling to see past my weight, was in part built up from other people’s comments. Comments that I never realised would impact my self-perception at the time. Comments that whilst hurtful weren’t always intended to be. Comments that I’d never experienced before, coming from people I barely knew. Comments that drew attention to the fact that there was something wrong about me for the first time.
‘Surely you wouldn’t have those stretch marks if you’d tried to stay thin after primary school’
‘You look thinner in the face than usual – good job’
There is a particular day that will always stand out to me and breaks my heart to think about. It was a Friday lunch time at school and I was probably around the age of 15 or 16. I’d been eating as little as possible that week so that I could finally be seen doing something about my weight like I was supposed to. At the time, I wanted people to see that I was at least trying to be thin like everyone else. That I was done being the jolly fat friend. One of the girls turned to me and told me I looked thinner in the face than usual and that it was good. I was so happy that I ran to the toilet in floods of tears. My friends at the time laughed and I completely understand why but to me – that was everything. It was as if the word ‘thinner’ was the most amazing word I’d ever heard. Surely neglecting my body in the way I’d been trying to for the past week, ignoring the hunger pangs, was worth it just to hear that word instead of something negative?
I never developed an eating disorder and would never disrespect those who do suffer with them by claiming that I did. My attempts of food refusal didn’t last long and I’m so thankful for that. If anything – I struggled with emotional eating and bingeing more. For me and so many other girls in secondary school – food was a huge part of my life every single day and all because people would constantly talk about my body.
I had never encountered this before. It wasn’t bullying as such – but be it clear and obviously negative or more of a backhanded compliment – suddenly it seemed as if my body was all people commented on when they spoke of me. A boy would call me fat at break time. A friend would tell me my jeans were too baggy. Some girl told me that I’d be the last picked for the PE team because I had big boobs. Another girl said that the boy I had a crush on liked me back and also didn’t care that I was fat. Soon, without realising, I too could only think about my body. My crappy, disgusting body with fat rolls and stretch marks and lumps and bumps that other girls just didn’t seem to have. And I truly believe that before I started to hear these comments – I was blissfully unaware of anything negative about my physical appearance.
And it’s not even solely about being fat. No matter your body type, shape or size – everyone has received unwanted comments about their body. If I know you personally and you are considered ‘thin’ by society no matter whether you would categorise yourself as thin or not – I have probably envied you at some point. As someone who strived to be thin for so long, I may have even made a comment about your body intended as a compliment. Maybe that impacted your body image – maybe comments like those made you more aware of the way you looked than you were before. Have a think about all the things that have been said about your body. Positive or negative it still impacts the way you see yourself. Now think about all the things you’ve said about someone else’s.
‘Talking about body positivity all the time is just you making an excuse to be fat’
‘Maybe wait until you lose some weight then get a tattoo’
‘Boys only like boobs that are the perfect handful – yours are too big’
What shocks me most on reflection is how much of a role other people played in my self-esteem growing up. I’ve only now realised that maybe, just maybe, the comments other people made about my body created more of a problem than actually being fat did. That one girl telling me it was good that I looked thinner in the face after a week of mistreating my body – genuinely meant it as a compliment. And I took it as one because thinness was my goal for a very long time. Gone were the days of school council campaigns, talent show performances and hockey trophies to be won – all I wanted was to be thin.
There are differences between then and now. When I said that at age ten I had no idea that I should be feeling a certain way about how I looked or my waist size – today’s ten year olds are already developing body issues and don’t even know about it. Blame social media, blame diet culture, blame advertising, blame photoshop, blame glossy magazines – the fact is that children are being robbed of this perfect ignorance about their appearance which I once had. At the age of ten the brain is still developing and shaping into something that will influence the future adult’s outlook on life. These issues and experiences will stay with that person forever, shaping the way they perceive themselves. If I’d heard all the damaging, negative comments from an even earlier age I’m sure I’d be even more negative about my body now.
It didn’t help that when I was an early teen, there was so much association between being overweight and that automatically making you unhealthy. That somehow because you carried a few extra pounds you were incapable of things – unable to do this and that. Despite my thyroid issues and mental health struggles – I’d say I am healthy. I have a good doctor who trusts me – he disregards my weight as always being the first thing to blame my current problems on. I eat well a majority of the time, workout three times a week minimum and my weight has never negatively impacted my overall health. It’s only now that there is so much more understanding, so much more room for acceptance and continual challenging of ‘diet culture’ that I’ve fully managed to accept myself as a size 12/14/16 girl who thinks more of inner herself than her weight. Basically, I’m 100% okay with being fat. I have no fear of the word anymore or of anything somebody may have to say about my body. I have no problem with using the word fat to describe myself either – the stigma has always been there but at the end of the day it’s just a description.
‘Overweight people don’t exercise because they wouldn’t be fat if they did’
‘You’re so lucky you’re not thin because at least you have boobs’
‘You’ve got an alright face, shame about the body’
Maybe I’m becoming an optimist (gasp) but it does make me happy to think that perhaps the 12 year olds of today are growing up with more awareness at least. They know the damage that bullying can do. They’re definitely much stronger – less likely to take crap from people who talk about them in a negative way. But then again… I’m not 12 anymore. I am in touch with society but I genuinely have no idea what today’s teens are dealing with and if it’s anything like I went through, it’s probably not great. We need to teach the next generation to be kind – to say things that can be changed within seconds rather than months. To compliment each other more on personalities and traits than physical appearance. If there’s one thing you take away from today’s post I’d like it to be the importance of your words towards others. In my personal opinion, I’d much rather have someone call me intelligent, loyal or kind than sexy, pretty or attractive. Think about that next time you give a compliment.
Body positivity is a massive part of my life now. It’s something I’m so passionate about and love to talk about. If you answered my poll on instagram with a YES or would have, I’d like you to remember that being fat or thin does not effect your decency as a person or your ability to live life to it’s fullest and to be in control. So many incredible people I envy and have admired are insecure and it breaks my heart. Just remember that how you feel about your weight and body is up to you. Comments that people have made in the past may have contributed to your insecurity. Good or bad – don’t give those words more power than they deserve. If you’re healthy and happy – stay that way. Always remember that society has unrealistic standards and other people’s words only have value if you let them. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, ‘nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent’. Trust yourself and your own opinions on your body above everything.
Photography by Holly – @holly.andrewsphotography_