You know when it feels like the universe is sending you messages at an alarming rate that it’s almost overwhelming? Like, boom, smack, wallop! wake up and listen!
Well, I get it. It all fell into place for me this morning, and I need to share this with you immediately.
The point is this – body positivity is about not talking about your body at all.
THE THINGS THAT HAVE HAPPENED
A few things have happened lately, let me share them with you here:
1. Changing body
My body has changed in the past 6-10 months. I have gone up a dress size (or maybe two depending on the inconsistencies of high street retailers). I carry more fat on my body now. My appearance is different.
This is something I have been really struggling with lately. My body is no longer the standard ‘slim’ figure that I have been used to my entire adult life, none of my clothes fit me anymore, and I don’t fit the ‘normal’ beauty standard we have all been fed (thanks to the media and beyond, slim = beautiful). So I’ve been feeling ugly, unattractive, my self-esteem about my appearance is hit an all-time low.
Recently we took photos of me in a swimsuit on some press trips and when I looked back at them I was shocked/surprised to see that I now have back fat. What was a fun moment I shared with my husband became tainted, I felt self-conscious of my body. The appearance of my body made me sad.
No make up, no filter, no touch-ups… this is me right now, raw and fragile. My self-esteem is at an all-time low, I feel super self-conscious about my appearance and I am so ashamed by the shallowness of how much it is affecting me. I’m smack bang in the middle of my thirties and it’s tough… so much about my body and appearance is changing and I still haven’t figured out how to come to terms with it. I am the podgiest I have ever been (and as someone who was pretty much the same dress size from ages 14 to 32 that is tricky to get used to), my wrinkles are coming along nicely, my face shows pigmentation, I have spots around my jawline and chin, my hair is frizzy from the hair dye designed to cover the gazillion grey hairs I know have… and overall I just feel sluggish physically. I’ve stood in front of the mirror and cried more times than I should publicly admit. It’s embarrassing. But, here I am sharing a raw, honest, natural photo with you… why? Because I need to figure out a way to accept my appearance. I am not my looks. But they are a part of me. The intellect in me knows that my appearance is not that important. And yet, I want to feel pretty, attractive and sexy for my husband (although he is wonderful with his love for me). I want to wear clothes and feel confident and strong. I want to love this body that gives me life and takes me on this crazy journey. This is me with the wrinkles that show the years of experiences, the pigmentation that reveals the years of adventures, the spots that highlight the indulgence of incredible foods I enjoy, the frizzy hair of somebody ageing dis(gracefully), and the extra layer of fat that shows the passage of time, love and frankly hard-earned cash that pays for the copious amounts of chocolate I enjoy every week. I am not an insta-babe and I never will be, but I can start a meaningful journey of figuring out how to love my flaws and this ever-changing body of mine. *** P.S. if anyone has any good tips on how to dress as an in-betweeny (as in, not plus-size, but not slim, but deffo with a tummy) hit me up! *** #bodyposi #bodyacceptance #selfloveclub #selfappreciation #positiveliving #selflovejourney
2. Sharing my story
Last week I shared a bare-faced natural selfie on my Instagram and in the caption shared my feelings and struggles with my changing body. I asked for help and advice for dressing for a different body shape, and the response was incredible. I didn’t do it for the compliments, but the advice was so good and I’ve taken it all on board.
However, after so many nice comments I looked at the photo again, and instead of seeing someone bare-faced and vulnerable I saw an attractive woman and realised that maybe I might have been out of line to publicly say I felt ugly. After all, I had taken a dozen selfies (who doesn’t??!) and chosen the one I thought I looked the most flattering. It was actually a nice photograph to demonstrate that I was feeling crappy about myself, it didn’t feel quite right.
3. The dress incident
I went out the other day wearing a new dress and I felt so good. I felt comfortable, and pretty, and happy. I had a good night out down the local pub. My well-meaning husband, knowing how self-conscious I’ve been about my belly recently, told me that I might not want to wear that dress in future as I kind of looked pregnant.
I was a bit gutted. Up until that point I hadn’t even thought about my fat, my belly, my appearance… I just felt good and was having a wonderful evening, in that moment I didn’t care whether my belly was sticking out or not.
And whilst he was trying to help, I thought about it for a while decided that I don’t actually care if I look pregnant/fat. I felt good and loved wearing that dress.
4. The fat conversation
Yesterday, I think it was, there was some chat on Twitter about the use of the word fat by somebody who is slim. I noticed the conversations more and more throughout the evening and listened to the perspectives being shared.
I don’t want to name anybody, but the gist of the matter was a slim woman stated that she looked fat in a photo and didn’t want to be fat.
Some members of the community said these comments were fat-phobic and insensitive. Their perspective is that by using the word fat to describe feeling disgusting is offensive to the people who are actually fat, it’s essentially saying you don’t want to look like them because they are disgusting.
Whereas, the other perspective were saying that you are entitled to want you body to look a certain way if you want.
I get where both sides were coming from, and I have definitely said the same thing to myself about my own body. However…
5. Laura’s article
I then read Laura’s article on Red. I had been meaning to read it for a week or so and finally remembered to look it up. Laura talks about how thin and thin-passing women need to stop talking about weight, size, body image. Laura’s point is that it is not body positive to talk about your body because discussing it objectifies our bodies, making them something to talk about. We need to stop dissecting and analysing our bodies, even if we are trying to do it in a positive way.
Laura says that thin-passing women don’t know what it’s like to exist as a fat woman in society, they don’t suffer the abuse and hate in public every single day. So in order for us to see an actual body positivity revolution we need to remove our body scrutiny from discussion.
That means, for me, being anywhere between a UK size 12 and 16, I really do not need to be flagging up my insecurities or ‘so-called’ flaws. All that does is play into this socially-constructed idea of a certain type of body being the only type that is ‘beautiful’ or ‘acceptable’. Furthermore, it continues to frame my body as something that exists to be objectified, rather than lived in.
6. Online shopping in large
Today I was browsing the sales page of a lovely high street retailer (and I really do love their clothes) when I found a dress that I liked. As I went to add it to my virtual basket I paused at the sizing options. Rather than the numbering system, they use XS, S, M, L. Unsure what size I would be (as I said, my body has changed a lot so still getting used to shopping for a different size) I clicked on the size guide. Sure enough my size 14 body is labelled as a L. It did make me stop in my tracks.
My body is labelled a Large? Seriously.
This store didn’t even stock an XL, which they class as equivalent to a UK 16, the average clothing size of a British woman. How does that make the majority of customers feel?
It was then I realised the language used around clothing is reinforcing these outdated notions of what a ‘standard’ woman ‘should’ look like. We shouldn’t be telling any woman that that they are a ‘large’ size, especially when they really aren’t in terms of averages. If I am wearing a size large and I’m not actually large, what is that saying to women who are large, who are fat (note: this term used as an adjective, not a derogatory statement)?
7. My baby sister
The final straw for me was a conversation with my youngest sister. She is 10 years old. (I know, big age gap).
We were chatting away on DMs about what she might like for her upcoming birthday. I know she loves fashion so I asked what size she wears so I can send her some clothes. Now, she’s an athletic little girl and has always been quite narrow (think sprinter shape), and as most girls clothes are done in age groups I asked her to measure her hips for me so I could get the right size.
After much dithering we finally managed to figure out a way to measure her hips without a tape measure (she used toilet roll then measured with a ruler), and after sharing her hip measurement what does she say to me?
“Am I fat?”
Followed by, “what’s the average hip size for 10 year old girl?” and “Is ?cm bad?”
It totally floored me. Floored.
In what universe does a 10 year old need to ask if they are fat and if their size is ok? In what world does a healthy, strong, athletic little girl need to question if she is fat? In fact, why does any 10 year old need to use the word fat?
All she needs to know is she is healthy and strong and happy. That’s it. Her size is irrelevant. Although in this case she is much narrower for her age, which makes it all the more confusing.
The only reason a child would ask these questions is because they’ve seen it asked elsewhere. They’ve asked because they’ve picked up on this notion that a fat body = bad. They’ve developed premature self-esteem issues from constant conditioning that some bodies are good and some are bad.
A child shouldn’t ever be thinking of their body in that way. In fact, a child’s body, weight, size or shape is not up for discussion. I want my sisters to grow up concentrating on fun and learning. The percentage of body weight they have is not important. They need to be actively discovering the world, and allowing their body to grow in its own unique way.
Then it hit me. My sisters see every single thing I post on Instagram. They watch every story I post. Read every word I write. Like every picture I post. What does it say to my sisters when I’m telling the world I feel sad about my body being bigger than before? I am literally telling my sisters that a body is something that has the potential to be ashamed of.
I have been part of the problem.
I have self-esteem issues because the society I have grown up in has taught me from a young age that only being slim is an acceptable way to have a body (unfortunately I was a avid women’s magazine reader from an unsuitably young age – I remember the first time I read Cosmopolitan magazine. I was 10 years old, it belonged to my Mum. I read it every month after that.). My body has changed a little bit and I’m freaking out. This is not a healthy state of mind.
Maybe I’m not being kind to myself right now, but I sure as hell am not being kind to my little sisters (there’s three of them, all 18 and under). I need to be setting an example. I need to be showing them that living a good life is the most important part of living. I need to demonstrate how to live a life that is full, and kind, and loving, and giving, and making the world a better place. I need to show them that a woman’s body constantly changes throughout her life and it really is not something we need to focus on. I need to show them that good health is not about appearance.
I remember being 16 years old and seeing a photo of myself in a bikini on holiday. I clearly remember thinking to myself how embarrassed I was of my tummy because I thought it stuck out and that meant it was ugly.
I dug out that photo recently, and guess what? I was tiny. I was a size 8 teenager who had a crease at my belly because I was sitting down and THAT’S HOW BODIES WORK.
I’m so annoyed at myself. But I’m more annoyed at the world I grew up in that made me believe that anything other than thin, no-sticky-outy-bits, smooth-skinned, and photogenic from all angles, was unacceptable. I honestly believed that only the shapes and sizes of models and celebrities were beautiful.
In that sense, I am grateful for social media. Because when you move beyond the ‘aspirational’ content you find all kinds of people living their best lives. Yes, I agree with Laura that we may need to stop talking about our bodies, but I also think it’s so useful to see women of all shapes and sizes in beautiful clothes, and living a good life. We need these visuals to help us untangle that toxic conditioning we have of what beauty is. We need to be able to see someone who looks like us. Representation matters because that leads to acceptance. I may not be ‘plus-sized’ (jeez, I hate that term), but I do benefit from seeing women in the media who are all sizes.
I need to see size 12, 14, 16 sized women rocking their bikinis with their sticky-out-y bellies. I need to see it in a context where it’s just normal life. Where the size isn’t talked about. Where women are just living their lives, wearing nice clothes, doing interesting things.
I need to see women who look like me. And I need to see women who don’t look like me. We need that diversity. We need to find ways to accept ourselves and move on (and we’re definitely nowhere near that stage yet), and we need to find ways to change our language about bodies. And we need to cut the fat-phobic crap.
It’s a journey, and I don’t think I’ve got it all figured out yet. But from now on I am going to stop hiding body, I am going to enjoy living in it, I am going to share photos of it because I like the dress I’m in, or the location I’m visiting, or because I just want to capture a moment.
I am going to start removing the word fat (in a pejorative sense) and ugly from my vocabulary. I am going to look at my body in the mirror and thank it for giving me life. And I am going to encourage others to do the same.
Will you join me?