Monday, December 14, 2015

Me and My Body: Our Journey



I have been trying to write this post for almost a year. I have a notebook filled with ideas for posts that I want to write – little stubs of things that I never quite get round to doing. But top of that list has been to write a post about the journey my body and I have been on together. I am not the first person to do one of these posts. In fact most plus size bloggers will have written something along these lines at some point. What’s interesting about these stories is that although each one is different there are striking similarities between them all. There are themes. There are familiar situations, feelings, reactions repeated over and over again.


Before I start I just want to give this a TRIGGER WARNING as it talks a lot about some of the very negative thoughts I have had about my body of the years, and these may be triggering for many of you. (But it does have a happy ending!) I am posting this now because for the second year running my list of resolutions will not contain a desperate promise to lose weight. At the end of 2013 I threw out my old, well-worn list of resolutions, and wrote down one… Starting this blog, which is an exercise in body confidence. January will be filled with target marketing aiming to take advantage of your every insecurity, but nothing will come under quite so fierce attack as your body during this time. So in a bid to help us all fight the waves of shame that are about to come crashing our way I am writing about my body. And how I and others have related to it over the course of my life...

I’m six. I have been in Zimbabwe for the last six months, running around in the sunshine, swimming, cartwheeling, doing all the incredible things with your body that you take for granted as a child. I return to my school in South London, and find that the girls there have discovered the word ‘fat’. In the dinner room line they are all lifting their tops to squeeze at their little tummy rolls, a burgeoning sense of self-consciousness and discontent with their bodies already developing. I lift mine too, and decide that I too must be fat, being one of the bigger girls in the classroom.

I’m nine. We have moved to South Africa permanently and a swimming costume is the most worn piece of clothing in your wardrobe in the summer. Most of the little girls wear bikinis. My mum buys me an orange and black swimsuit which is essentially a two piece held together at the sides with plastic rings. My tummy is bare. Running around the pool at my dad’s house, he tells me to pull my  tummy in because I am getting porky. I wasn't. I was just unselfconsciously running around with my brother. And pulling in my tummy would have slowed me down.

I’m 11, and still in primary school. The school invites an ex pupil who is now a model to teach the girls about personal hygiene. She tells us about deodorant and training bras, and she also teaches us that if you push the flesh on your thighs together with both hands you can tell if you have cellulite. She also explains that cellulite equals fat. Every girl seems to find dimples in their thighs. A hundred diets are started that day. Many of them lifelong.

I’m 12. My dad has taken my brother and I to the States for a six week holiday. We eat at least two meals a day in restaurants. We drink soft drinks all day, there are few vegetables, loads of cheese and no portion control. At the same time from my girls body, a woman begins to emerge. My boobs start to grow, and my hips start to fill out. In a matter of weeks my body is covered in fierce, red marks. I don’t know that these are stretch marks, which are part and parcel of growing up for many women. I don’t know that eventually they will fade to a feint silvery patina that I am quite fond of. I don’t know what’s really happening to my body. By the end of the holiday most of my clothes don’t fit. My mum is shocked by my transformation when I get off the plane back in South Africa. The school uniform that was bought for me before I went away (I am about to enter High School) is now tight. It will remain so for the entire school year. From the moment I start at my high school I am "the fat girl". I now officially have a "weight problem".

I’m 14. I am a size 16. I am seeing a counselor mainly because of my weight. I loathe my body, and most of the time try not to look at it. I am totally disconnected from my body, and yet disciplining it, making it conform to beauty norms, takes up the majority of my thoughts. I start endless diets. I sneak eat. I am mocked at school. When particularly cruel boys walk behind me they call me wide load and tend to make beeping noises like that of a truck reversing (the endless wit of teenage boys). Lucky for me I go to a school where bullying isn’t really tolerated, and I am smarter than all these twats put together. My razor sharp wit and comments about small penises and premature ejaculation mean that I am not the target for long. Well, they don’t say it to my face any more anyway.

I’m 15. My dad died suddenly less than six months ago. I am in free fall. None of my friends know what this feels like or how to help, and I just want to be a silly teenaged girl consumed by silly teenaged girl things instead of trying to make sense of this. I long for control over my own life. I stop eating. When I do have to eat (for the sake of appearances) I throw up straight after. Everyone is so pleased. I get complemented all the time. Told how much better I look. Told I should keep it up. Inside I’m drowning. No one notices for months. I'm dress sizes smaller. A friend who had anorexia eventually notices all the signs and intervenes.

I’m 18. I take a gap year (feel free to mock me) in the UK. I seem to have settled into a comfortable size 18. I discover makeup, stop fighting with my hair, and begin to feel pretty for the first time since adolescence hit. I worry less about my weight because the cold weather means I can wear more layers, and my job requires me to wear black every day which I feel comfortable with, and for the first time in my life I am not wearing an ugly school uniform. I get flirted with in pubs, but can’t recognise it as such because my own undesirability has been etched into me, and so I usually run away from anyone showing genuine interest in me. I still feel disconnected from my body. I can’t name a single thing I like about myself from the neck down.

I’m 19. I have started university back in South Africa. I am a size 20. I live in halls. We hear that the boys that share our dining hall have a bet going about which girl will get the worst ‘first year spread’ (I think here it is called fresher’s 15?). I am sure I am top of the list. But I don’t really care, I have dealt with stupid boys before. By halfway through my first year I have a new approach to food. I still eat, but I start feeding my body what it needs. It is probably the healthiest approach I have ever had to a diet. The weight melts off me. I am pleased that the wankers probably lost a lot of money on me. By midway through my second year I am a size 14 – 16.   I feel a burgeoning confidence from the increased amounts of compliments, but strangely I resent them too. I take every complement as an implied insult about my former body. And I fear I won’t keep this body forever, and then I will have to live with how people feel about my bigger shape. My body and I are still strangers. I still freak out every time someone new has to see me naked. I don’t wear bathing suits in front of anyone other than my best friends. And having always had a feminine, bohemian dress sense, I start dressing like a skater girl. I wear t-shirts and jeans to hide my body, my shape, my sexuality. Despite being the smallest dress size I will ever be, I am no more at peace with my body than I was before.

I’m 21. I am in my final year of university. I have put all the weight back on. Six months previously I lost a cousin under very traumatic circumstances, and the rest of my family are on the other side of the world. It is tempting to follow my previous grieving pattern and stop eating to gain some sense of control, but I don’t. My mental health is taking a pounding and I am withdrawing from everyone and everything. My best friend confronts me about my weight. She says her and my other friends are worrying about how much weight I have put on and that this is what is making me unhappy. This one action makes me feel more isolated, alone and ugly than before. It’s years before I am able to forgive this, or talk to any of those friends about my body. No one confronts me about my withdrawal and obvious depression, or tries to intervene on that front.
I’m 23. The depression that has fogged everything for the past two years begins to lift. I'm told exercise will be good for my mental health so I join I gym. Against all odds I manage to get into a routine. Moving my body every day, building strength and fitness, means communicating with my body. We are building a relationship for the first time in years. I see my body as able to do things and it makes the loathing lessen. It quietens my mind, my shape begins to reflect my labours as I tone and tighten and a bit of an uneasy peace is struck for the first time. I then got a really bad cold, and in 2 weeks undid months of work. I stopped going and couldn't get back into it. The peace was broken, and once more my body and I parted company.

I’m 24. I’ve just immigrated back to the UK. I am living with family, and I feel like what I am eating is being watched, and is quite often commented upon. This results in a lot of sneak eating. Sunday nights of promises to diet, followed by a week of feeling like a failure. I don’t know where to shop for clothes, and I earn so little money that Primark is really my only option and they stop at a size 18. (I am now a 20). I lose my sense of style, which has so often been the bedrock of my identity. I feel like the only option is to lose weight, but I can’t seem to manage to.

I’m 25. I start reading plus size fashion blogs and discover the multitude of places there are to shop in the UK for plus size fashion. So much more choice than South Africa, once you know where to look. And these women actually accentuate their shapes, and don’t try endlessly to “flatter” their bodies by making them look smaller. This is a total revelation for me. I am not sure I could do it, but I admire their courage, and think they look great.

I’m 27. My heart is freshly broken and I am having what I will later realise is a nervous breakdown. I can’t eat, and when I do I usually end up being sick. It’s a physical symptom of a serious mental health crisis. I receive complements everywhere ago about how well I am looking. Even those who know why I am losing all this weight say, well at least there is a plus side. On holiday I wear a bathing suit in public for the first time since I was 12. I am still much bigger than all the other girls, but I feel more socially acceptable. However, when walking to and from the water I still wedge myself into an inner tube so no-one has to be subjected to my thighs.

I’m 28. I start online dating. All my pictures are “flattering” angles and head shots. I won’t put any full body photos on my profile, but at the same time I am terrified to meet someone and find they are disappointed by what they see, that I have misled them. I go on one date (where I am the one disappointed) and then give up.

I’m 30. The previous year I bought my first prom style dress that came in at the waist. It’s a revolution. Discovering 50s reproduction swing dresses means for the first time in my life I feel sexy. I start wearing things that accentuate my boobs, and give me the illusion of an hour glass figure. I realise, for the first time in my life, that there are somethings that look better with some curves in them. It seems silly, but I always just thought the thinner the better. Now I can appreciate the way I can fill a dress. My cousin has always had an enviably slender frame. I am wearing a Dolores Doll dress on Christmas day and she says, “I wish I could wear dresses like that”, and it’s the first time it’s ever occurred to me that all people and bodies feel they have restrictions. On my thirtieth birthday I decide I am going to wear what I love and be a more authentic version of myself. This is a wanky way of saying that I am going to dye my hair bright red and pink and buy loads of pin up dresses. My confidence is higher than it has ever been before. I have also decided to stop believing that I will only be allowed to be happy when I am thinner. That I will only deserve happiness if the number on the scale reduces. I stop searching for the answer. I stop starting diets, and restricting myself and feeling guilty. I decide to live in my body as it is now, and try to find peace with it. I stop looking at fashion magazines.  I follow multitudes of body positive pages on Facebook, and my timeline is awash with confident, glowing, gorgeous women of every shape, size and hue.

I’m still 30. It’s the week before Christmas and I feel this urge to start this blog. I want to share the journey I have been on. I am not sure anyone is going to read it or care. I am not sure that I will have anything to say past week two. But I want to give it a try. This year, instead of promising to lose weight I make a kind of promise to myself that I will befriend my body. I am not sure how that will work, but I am going to try. I do my first post on New Year’s Day.

I’m 31. This year has been fast and furious. I’ve become part of a gloriously supportive community of body positive warriors who have helped me a long my way. I have modelled for photoshoots, I have walked a catwalk, I have posted pictures of myself in a bikini, lingerie, with no makeup on. I get my arms and legs out. I have spent time with my body. I feel more connected to it than I ever have before. I’ve realised that my tummy and my thighs are not unsightly. They’re mine. They’re part of me. And they may even be beautiful. I have stopped apologising for my body, and I have started gently reprimanding others for body shaming themselves and other people. When I have the energy to online date, my profile is mainly full body photos. I have nothing to hide. I’ve come to the realisation that people are attracted to me. I have helped people with their own journeys and I have been counselled through my own moments of crisis. Documenting my journey, and talking so openly about issues around body shaming, beauty standards.

I am still on a journey. I have days when my confidence takes a knock, or I feel that sparky voice creeping back in to whisper nasties about me. I know that my confidence is fragile, and I'm learning what triggers self loathing. I've gotten better at removing negative influences, and telling those who bring me down to cut that crap around me. But no woman is an island, so as well as you do at bringing the positive vibes in, a few yucky ones will creep through and so I try to remember that's normal, it's a hiccup and this is something you have to work at.

Part of that is accepting I can want to make changes to my body without that meaning I'm not accepting of it as it is now. I want to make my body stronger and more fit, and next year I really hope to start going to the gym regularly. Not because my body is a bad body, or because it needs to be changed. Not because without change I won’t love my body. But because I know that when I am active my mental health is better, and because I would like to be able to do more things with my body. Because I would like my shape to be firmer and more toned. Wanting to see change, or what you perceive as improvements, in your body doesn’t mean you don’t love yourself. It can very much be part of a healthy relationship with your body.

So that's the story so far. It's not a fun read. It was hard to write. And I'm sure for a lot of you it was worryingly (and perhaps upsettingly) familiar. But it's got a pretty happy ending. And things will continue to get better if I keep immersing myself in body positive spaces.

Thank you for staying with me to the end if you have managed to! I am going to be writing up some body positive tips in the near future, but until then if you need a little help or feel this resonated for you or have tips of your own please get in touch, or comment below.

SHARE:

20 comments

  1. Sending lots of love to you, and I'm glad you have a happy ending. You really should be proud of yourself!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Fuck yes! I love this post and it's SO well written too. I'm glad you love you. <3 xxx
    Just Me Leah

    ReplyDelete
  3. Beautifully written by a beautiful woman! Great post!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Personal acceptance is such an important but hard thing to do. Thanks so much for sharing! :) x

    ReplyDelete
  5. This is absolutely beautifully written <3 that someone came into your school and at that age told you about cellulite just breaks my heart. Sending all my love xxx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much lovely lady. And I know! I still look back on it and am shocked and appalled that that could happen. Ridiculous!

      Delete
  6. I have so many feels for you right now, Sending you great big hugs hun <3
    So many things in this post were the same for me and I have so much respect for you for putting them into words on a post. x

    Lucie xx | LucieLovesIt.com

    ReplyDelete
  7. Well done Hayles, so proud of you! Only positive vibes for the rest of your journey!
    B xxx

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thank you for sharing xx there's so much here to relate too xx You should be so proud of all you've done - hope our paths cross in the coming year!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thank you so much for sharing x x x

    ReplyDelete
  10. Good on you, missy:). Reach for the stars:)

    ReplyDelete
  11. I've recently just (as in yesterday) discovered the wonderful sites for pin-up/vintage dresses and fuller figure bloggers and it has been eye-opening. And this has led me here so:

    This is a wonderful post. thank you for sharing.

    ReplyDelete

© Curves & Curls. All rights reserved.
Blogger Designs by pipdig