I don’t remember when I started to hate my body. I can’t pinpoint the time I developed an intense fear of this physical thing “I” call home. I was probably about 10. Wearing a leotard for gymnastics in year 6 and jiggling my fat thighs in the mirror, I declared “I have cellulite”. How the fuck did I know what cellulite was?
I remember feeling like my body wasn’t my own. Puberty has a weird way of doing that, making you feel out of control. I also remember feeling like I wanted to curl into a ball and die when the boys started to notice my chest. I was an early bloomer (not a particularly impressive one as chests go, honestly. Were it not for the fact I was one of the first to get lady lumps, they are really not noteworthy at all and would probably have caused minimal disruption. I can only sympathise with my big bosomed friends who are still dealing with the same unwanted attention I received from my 11 year old classmates. Except you know, from fully grown men.)
I don’t like look her.
Around the same time, I started reading magazines (I presume teenage girls now use Instagram as their unhealthy comparison point for the female “ideal”?). I remember seeing celebrities in bikinis on the front of magazines. Unlike mine, their hair was straight. Unlike me, they didn’t have cellulite. Oh yeah and they had boobs. I would never look like them.
Right next to their flawless pictures was their weight, in unmissable large print. If I couldn’t look like them, I could at least weigh the same. Right? And I remember weighing myself compulsively and shaming myself based on the number I saw. At 16, I didn’t recognise that boiling a person down to a number is fucked. I didn’t know my worth was about so much more than what I weighed.
I didn’t fail diets. Diets failed me.
I downloaded MyFitnessPal and used it to restrict my calories. I’d starve myself throughout the day if I was going out for a meal. And if I ate something I “shouldn’t have”, I would either put it into the app to punish myself and make myself see just how bad that food was (while staring into the mirror telling myself how useless I was and I would never eat that again) or I wouldn’t put it in (while staring into the mirror telling myself how useless I was and I would never eat that again). You get the idea. I was shit at dieting.
I was so shit at dieting that I needed to find a hack, a way I could get skinny without having to discipline myself. I’m betting a horrifying number of people reading this will have found the same hack. I found I could eat anything I wanted, as long as I made myself sick after.
You know what’s really scary? I’m not someone my friends would have thought of as insecure about my body. I would actually say that outwardly I was a lot more confident than most of my friends. As a teenager, I had a boyfriend who was super supportive and made me feel comfortable with my body. I, by no stretch of the imagination, had an extraordinary struggle compared to others. And yet I starved, binged, purged, abused myself on and off for around 8 years. That’s how horrifyingly normal it has been to have a disordered relationship with food.
People laugh at that bit in Mean Girls where the girls are comparing body parts they hate the most. But it’s 100% accurate. One day, it was my legs, the next it was my hips, the next my chicken wings. It’s only when I look back now can I see how ridiculous that was.
I didn’t look like me either.
I felt like I was trapped inside this thing that wasn’t me but that I was responsible for. Responsible for the way it looked and what it weighed and the size clothes it wore. I was locked in a constant battle to change it. My body wasn’t on my side. It wouldn’t lose weight even when I starved myself or threw up everything I ate. My hips wouldn’t budge. My boobs wouldn’t grow. My thighs wouldn’t stop jiggling. So I couldn’t be happy.
You see, happiness was something I could only have “when I fit into those jeans” or “when I lose 10lbs” or “when I weigh the same as [insert now totally irrelevant naughties reality tv star here].
And the really ironic part about feeling miserable because I couldn’t stick to my diet was that I then comforted myself with… you guessed it: food. And so, the cycle of starting again, inevitable failing and self-loathing continued. Again. And again. And again.
Women’s bodies need not be battlegrounds
My body was never good enough. And because I was responsible for the way I looked, I was never good enough. Totally fucked, I know. I also know there are strong, smart, beautiful, sexy, amazing women reading this who have felt the exact same way. And that’s why I’m sharing this.
Honestly, it wasn’t until a couple of years ago, I realised there was any other way to feel about your body, a way to end the battle. I saw a friend post about The Goddess Revolution by Mel Wells along with Radical Self-Love by Gala Darling. I read it in one go, curled up on a 7 hour bus journey sans WiFi. It was like every page was spoken directly at me. It reached deep into my soul and changed something in me.
My mum spent years hating her body and so did her Mum before her. It’s a tragic and pervasive problem but it doesn’t have to be. If I have a daughter, I don’t want her to do battle with the body I made. I want her to love it and treat it with care and respect. The only way to do that is to lead by example.
You are not your body. You are her guardian. And she is yours.
If I can leave you with one thought, it’s this:
I am not my body. I am their guardian and I choose to look after them with love and compassion.
And if I could tell my younger teenage self something (other than “don’t ever cut your hair short” and “your mum isn’t the enemy so stop being such a little bitch” (teenage me needed a good talking to), it would be,
“You’ll look back and wonder what the fuck you were worried about. You won’t see the flab on your arms or the muffin top you obsess over. You’ll see youth and energy and you’ll most likely be jealous. So love your body and listen to her, she’s on your side.”
I’m not sitting here telling you I don’t have days where I’m critical of myself because I most definitely do. But I now recognise that my body doesn’t need to be a battleground and food doesn’t need to be a weapon. If you’ve ever struggled with emotional eating or hated your body, I’m writing this for you.
I’m sharing this in the hope there are other people out there who have been through something similar that will takeaway from this that you don’t have to fight this battle with your beautiful body. Imagine all the cool shit could do in the time we spend worrying about our weight or our shape. Imagine how free we’d be. I have decided to study as a health coach to help as many as people as possible to learn to love and work with their bodies.
If you have read this and have been through, or are still going through this with your body, I promise you there is another way. It would be amazing to hear from you.