I can almost exactly put a finger on when I started to hate my body. In fact I’ve got a picture of it.
When it stopped being an occasional thing, and became ingrained into who I was.
I was in my last year of junior school. We’d packed up and moved house twice, and finally landed in Manchester, Davyhulme to be exact, to a semi detached house on a quiet street. It had been a long time coming, we’d already left our home in Derby, I’d left my best friend behind, my school, my wendy house, our big garden, we’d spent time at my Nan’s in Yorkshire, living there and going to school for a few months in an unfamiliar place. I missed out on a whole chunk of popular music because we lived with my Nan and watching Top of the Pops wasn’t really her first priority.
Arriving in Manchester should have been great. Admittedly not so fun starting a new school again, but there were good things to come. Or so I thought.
My first issue was that because we’d moved around a bit, I didn’t really have an accent. Sometimes even now, a little Yorkshire will make it’s way through, maybe a little Midlands, even a touch of Manc. But I still don’t really have any clear accent. This marked me as ‘posh’ and was reason one to be picked on.
The second was being a bit smart. Anyone who has a touch of geek about them has been through this. It’s a little envy, a little frustration, and a little derision all rolled into one. Oh and my moving around meant I had different handwriting, and I hadn’t done my 11plus. I was separated for all these, and had to do my exam separately.
Then of course, I was fat. Tick, tick, tick. Add to that a boy who picked on me with such ferocity I didn’t really want to play at the park, or go anywhere except our back garden in case he was both verbally and physically abusive… I’ve since learned some of the reasons behind his abuse, not that it excuses it, or the fact that his sister and I got on well, but both he and his brother absolutely vehemently hated me. Not just disliked. Hated.
I was already going through that pudgy stage before a growth spurt (of sorts, I’m not tall by any means), and it was the first time it had really been pointed out to me, that this was bad. This was wrong. I was wrong. I was unattractive, ugly. I felt that shame that every fat kid knows.
I’d almost say thank god for high school. Almost. I went to an all girls school, so it was better, but there were still pockets of bullying. I mean, I was still clever, and still fat. And then when I was 12 came the icing on the cake, I got glasses. Kick a girl while she’s down.
As other girls did, you find your tribe. It was a problematic tribe (their stories are not mine to tell), but it was what I’d got. And you make your way through it, and through the exams and grades, and in my case into the real world, as an office junior at 15.
All the way through my teens and twenties (and even now), I’d get complimented on how confident I was, despite my size. Let me be clear. I was confident in myself, in who I was, who I am. But my self esteem was… Horrific. I was stuck in a cycle of binge eating and restriction. An issue that still colours my life now.
Fatphobia is EVERYWHERE. It’s endemic. Along with diet culture (‘you’re not thin enough, you should be ashamed’), there’s also this assumption that if you’re fat, you’re dirty, you’re smelly, you’re lazy, you don’t exercise, you eat too much, all of these messages are mixed in together and so part and parcel of our society, I’m surprised anyone gets out alive sometimes. All reinforced by the use of the word fat as a feeling. As a fat woman you feel you have to step up the glamour, the fashion, to show that you’re none of these. You’re a good, societally acceptable fat person.
Alongside all of these, run the ideas that every woman encounters. Along with not being thin enough, you don’t have curves, or they’re not in the right places, or you’re too pale, or too dark, or too hairy, or you don’t have long hair, or the right hair, or the right colour hair, or you’re too young, or too old, too wrinkled.
And to reinforce it all, we have social media. Ah the joys. Not any of the above things? We can fix that with editing software, Photoshop, apps for your phone, filters to soften lines, blur edges. The modern day equivalent of Vaseline on a camera lens. We’re again seeing the unattainable being showcased as what we should be, but now instead of it just being from the famous, or the Hollywood machine, it’s from our peers. People like us.
I’m pleased to say that now I’m out the other side. I’ve found me, and comfort in my existence, acceptance that I will never suddenly morph into Christina Hendricks, or that one day I’ll wake up and my wobbly bits will have suddenly firmed up out of nowhere. I’m not sure if it’s an age thing, or what, but I’m far too interested in what my body, my brain, what I am capable of.
It’s one of the reasons that I don’t edit my photos. All pictures of me, are in fact just pictures of me. There may be a filter on some (trying to get my ‘grid’ to look similar on Instagram) but these are not filters to edit lines, or soften edges. I’ll add a little light if it’s too dark, or darken something if it’s too light, but I am me. You see me, in all of my soon to be 40 years. Lines, freckles, stretch marks, all of it.
Which is why joining in with the project launched by the Be Real Campaign, is such a no brainer for me.
I will post the good stuff and the bad (as usual!), I will not edit images of my face or body (save for lighting, or resizing etc), and will post the perfectly angled and the not so perfect. I will be an ally of diversity in size, shape, ability, race, and sexuality. I will talk about the capability of my body and celebrate it, whilst also recognising that health is a privilege. I am lucky to have good health, and be able to do what I can, and recognise that whatever other people’s abilities, physical or mental, they should be celebrated. And, I will promote the project, alongside my role as a Body Image Movement Global Ambassador, I want us to all stop wasting energy on trying to fit societies standards of what ‘they’ think we should be, and use that energy for just about anything else.
You’ll see my sweaty post training face, and my glam mode, and me in my pyjamas. Make up, no make up, bare arms and legs, half naked, fully clothed, all of it. Because I need other fat women, fat people, to see the bits of their body that they recognise. To normalise it. To try and combat these perfect images posted out there.
Let’s have a little reality.