The story of a 31 year old female who just wants to fucking love herself, godamnit.
Warning: I use a lot of CAPS.
And the word ‘fuck’, I like the word ‘fuck’.
I’m fat. I always have been. I also have depression, I always have had. Since I can remember, those two things have gone hand in hand. Sure, there are outside factors like bereavement and relationships that can spark the lows, but the root of it has always been that I’ve hated my body, and therefore myself. Now, I want to change that. I want to be body-positive. As so many have said before, loving yourself can be the hardest challenge there is. I FUCKING HEAR YOU.
Memories of my childhood are filled with the feelings I had of being too large. At 7 or 8, I used one of my mother’s silk scarves to fashion some kind of corset to hold in my fat belly. At school there was the usual low-level bullying and name calling, and I was always the one who’s really important job was to keep lookout while the other kids practised kissing. In my adult life I’ve been lucky enough to live in Bristol where wonderful friends who really don’t care how I look are often telling me that I’m beautiful, and I’ve not faced much of any targeting or insults that I’ve heard other fat women speaking of when I listen to their stories on the radio or podcasts. But I do a damn fine job of insulting myself, thank you, so I’ve never needed others’ opinions to feel bad. All I need to do is look at myself in the mirror or in a photo and there might as well be a stranger standing over my shoulder saying, “You know you’re fat and fucking ugly, right?”
Although, I’ve been unable to forget one or two instances, both from men who misguidedly thought they were being complimentary but were actually doing a huge amount of damage. One man told me when we were in bed, “Are you worried because you don’t have a nice body? Its ok, I don’t mind.” And the other, a very close friend, “Can I be honest with you? I think you could be very attractive if you were just a bit…slimmer.” Yeah, THANKS. But mostly torment has come from the worst source: myself. Just how do you erase 30 years of telling yourself you are horrible?
When it came to men, until the age of 28 I’d never had a relationship. Of the few men who did take an interest, I managed to convince myself that they were mad for liking me, and once they were clearly bat-shit crazy, hey presto, I was no longer attracted to them. Its like Woody-Allen says (quoting Groucho Marx I think) “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.”
I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to change my body in order to attain happiness. I’ve tried low-calorie diets, going to the gym, Weight Watchers, Hypnotherapy, full-on fitness training, and plain and simple “healthy eating.” Nothing has stuck. In my teens and early twenties, my focus was on being slim, not on being healthy. Diets and periods of exercise came and went. In my later twenties, I reached the stage of getting nutritional help. I went to a lady called Claire Stone who is amazing, a totally realistic sort of nutritionist who told me what was good for my body whilst telling me not to beat myself up about eating the unhealthy stuff, and to try and strike a good balance. I coupled this with the full-on core strength fitness training, mentored by a wonderful woman called Wendy who just understood me. She pushed me, with love and encouragement. It was bloody hard work. In the first winter I started my new regime, I’d work a full day, go to a completely exhausting training session, and then cycle for 45 minutes home in the freezing cold and snow, sometimes crying from tiredness. But by the next spring…wow…it seemed to be working. I dropped 3 stone, I could fit into size 16 jeans…OHMYFUCKINGGOD…JEANS. And I was happy. This was it, I’d found the secret – DUH?! Its just healthy eating and exercise, who knew??? Healthy body = healthy mind, (mens sana in corpore sano oh those clever Romans, they had it right all along). For the first time, I embarked on a relationship. It was easy, it was fun, I was FINALLY doing the thing I’d witnessed everybody else do my whole life whilst I’d watched longingly from the sidelines. And then, one month in, he died.
It’s taken me the 3 years since then to realise that “health and fitness” is not the key to my happiness. I’d done all the hard work (and believe me, it was FUCKING hard work) and got the result, and what had happened? It had been cruelly snatched away from me in a single instant. Up until this year, I’d still not realised the full implications. In 2015, I’d lost my way and put on weight, but intermittently been trying to get back on track with the fitness. I went back to Wendy, the fittest and healthiest person I knew, to get advice on running. It had taken two years but I was ready to start over, do the hard work AGAIN and start on the road that I knew had led to happiness last time. And then…Wendy died. Like me, she had serious depression and she killed herself. She was a wonderful woman and I miss her terribly.
So now what? Healthy body clearly does NOT = healthy mind, my whole philosophy had been pulled out from under me (cue the image of myself shaking my fist in the air and shouting “Those pesky Romans!” a la Scooby Doo). But seriously, when your health and fitness mentor opts out of life…what can you hold on to? Sadly this spiralled me into one of my worse periods of depression. I spent most of summer and autumn 2015 locked in my attic room trying to decide when the moment would be right to do the same as Wendy. I thought about death all day every day. I couldn’t see any other way out.
I’ve pulled myself back from the brink, not for the first time in my life, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time either. It never gets any easier, but this time I am trying to be proud of the fact that I am, for now, out the other side and I am…strong. Because I am strong. For all of the times when I have felt like the weakest person in the world, I’m still here. And when I think about some of the darkest places that my mind has been to, that’s quite an achievement.
Right now, I’m at the beginning of a journey. I want to learn to live with my body, not try and change it. I don’t want to hate it. I’d like to love it, but it’s a step-by-step thing, and the first step is just being comfortable with what I’ve got. But its like playing this never-ending game of catch-up. I’m ageing, it seems like every few weeks there’s a new part of my body degrading…oh, another stretch mark? I have hair THERE now too? These boobs definitely used to be perkier. I look back at old photos of myself, knowing that I hated my body then too, and I want to shout “YOU FOOL…YOU WERE FINE THEN. YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW GOOD YOU HAD IT.” If I were still like in those photos now, I’d be fine, right? So whilst I’m playing catch up trying to love my body, behind the scenes it’s working against me, throwing up an entirely new challenge whenever it wants to. I not only have to work to love my body now, but as it changes too. MORE HARD WORK. My homework for now is based on the advice of Ru Paul (yep, I’m a complete drag-race nerd) to try and not let the negative thoughts win. It’s unrealistic to believe that they can go away entirely; you just have to scream the positive ones louder.
Of all things, social media has helped me. Following the brilliant Celeste Barber who recreates celebrity Instagrams has not only made me cry with laughter but made me realise even more that the images of women that are projected in the media are just completely unrealistic and totally… laughable.
And there’s amazing fat women all over the internet posting pictures of themselves to show that all shapes and sizes are beautiful. I’ve studied each picture avidly, so grateful that there are people out there doing the hard work to show others that we should love what we’ve got. Now I want to be part of this revolution, stand up for it, stand up for myself and others and say, “I’m fat. SO FUCKING WHAT?”
For the record, I’m not saying that I’ve renounced the idea of health altogether and will be in the future found only knee deep in Chinese takeaway, Doritos and Dairy Milk (Its definitely a place I’ve been to in the past, and I’m not in a hurry to rate it on Trip Advisor as a top destination), its just that I can’t shake the feeling that watching everything you eat, reading the ingredients of every fucking packet in the shop, worrying about my weight and when I’m going to do something about it is just as unhealthy if not more so than just living my fucking life without stressing so much about changing it.
So here’s my classic “Before and After photo”, but not as you might know it:
I feel nervous to share this story. Because its only just started, I’m not “body-positive” yet, I’m right at the starting gates. I still look in the mirror and cringe, and compare myself to other women daily, but I’m working on it, okay? Its one of the hardest things I think I’ll ever do and it is a daily struggle. Wish me luck.
Brilliant and fucking funny things that have inspired me:
- Celeste Barber
- The Guilty Feminist Podcast
- Lindy West and specifically THIS EPISODE of This American Life: “Call me fat”
- The Week in Sexist News
- #wewearwhatwewant and #effyourbeautystandards