A few weeks ago I wrote about body positivity. Since then I have been making a concentrated effort to filter out the negative messages about size, weight, and shape that we are bombarded with on a daily basis. I’ve been trying to pick clothes to wear based on what I feel like wearing, not on what I think I look like in them, or whether they show parts of me I’ve historically been unhappy with. I have been making an attempt, when looking in the mirror, to look at *all* of me. To not just look at my stomach or legs, to not just look at parts, but to look at my whole body. To look myself in the eye in the mirror and say “do you feel good? Ok. Let’s leave the house”.
It’s been really hard work. But something weird has been happening. Emboldened by my leotard experience, and after failing to be talked out of the purchase by my friends, who are a bunch of total enablers (that’s what friends are for, right?) I bought something for an upcoming club night that I wouldn’t even have looked twice at a couple of months ago. Well, ok, I would have looked twice because the material is covered with UNICORNS, but I wouldn’t have even thought *once* about buying it. It’s tight. Really tight. It’s short. Really short. It’s entirely figure revealing. There is no way to hide thighs. No way to hide a stomach. You can see it all in glorious unicorn technicolour.
I tried it on yesterday morning. I looked at myself in the mirror from every angle. I tried some experimental dance moves. I tried a comedy twerk. I tried some Tyra Banks style ridiculous poses. I did that thing where you try to slump and breathe all the way out and then try to stand normally and then try to catch a glance at yourself sideways so you know you aren’t cheating yourself by secretly breathing in. And I found myself confused. Because I was happy with what I saw.
The same weird phenomenon happened later that same evening, when getting ready to go to a gig at a pub. I put on a top and a skirt I hadn’t worn for ages because they were so tight. I say ‘a skirt’ so casually. It’s better than a skirt. It’s a fucking BATMAN SKIRT. It’s awesome. I bought it because BATMAN SKIRT. But then felt totally unable to wear it, ever. After my experience of the morning looking in the mirror and not hating every thing I could see, I figured I’d give it a go. And once again, despite them being tight, and my body being there, in the mirror, all of it, I was still happy with what I saw.
How could this be? There are all the parts I’ve spent my whole self-aware lifetime hating, and trying to exercise and diet out of existence. They are all still there. I’ve lost a bit of weight recently, what with the no sugar and the no alcohol and the swimming, sure, but not *that* much. I am still ‘technically’ overweight. But despite all this, I was perfectly happy with what was in the mirror. What was this aberration? Am I delirious because I haven’t had breakfast yet? Maybe there’s something wrong with my eyes. Perhaps I am not actually seeing what’s really there. Perhaps my eyes have some weird issue where they are warping my body shape.
Or perhaps that’s what’s happened in the past, and now I am finally able to see what’s really in front of me, now that I have worked really hard on crowding out those voices that are telling me to slim down, take up less space, diet to be a size 10, don’t wear that because you’re too big, you’re not ‘the right shape’. Maybe, now that I’ve stopped looking at the tiny range of body shapes shown to us by the mass media and accepting them as ‘the norm’, and started to deliberately seek out representations of bodies of all sizes and shapes, I am no longer comparing myself to some random idea of the ‘ideal’ body, and just accepting that what is in the mirror is me, and that me is perfectly ok.
The really crazy thing is, I am not even that fat. I am ‘technically’ overweight, and have a decent about of body fat, but I have to acknowledge that in terms of ‘size privilege‘ I totally pass. I have a slim face, narrow shoulders, a small rib cage and a defined waist. If I wear something flared under the bust, no one would ever even think of me as large. In any conversation about weight, most people are shocked at how much I weigh. At health appointments even the doctors are usually surprised at my weight and rarely make more than a cursory poke at the idea that my BMI makes me obese, because I just don’t look it. Unless I wear something revealing, or tight, and you can see my larger bottom half. But even then, I rarely get abuse in the street for being fat. If I do, it’s usually a guy that has “oi darlinged” me, been rejected, and then said something along the lines of “I am not interested in you anyway you fat bitch.” But in the past in those situations I’ve also been called “frigid cow”, “ugly crack whore”, “dirty slut”; so they are hardly giving me an honest critique.
I am, and have been for most of my life apart from about 6 months where I got lots of compliments but fainted on a nearly daily basis, an ‘in between’ sized person. Slightly too large for your average high street clothing store, slightly too small for plus size places. But I have always accepted the label ‘overweight’ and ‘fat’ and applied it to myself and beat myself up about it. Perhaps more so, being in-betweeny and thus feeling that somehow it would be easy to be thin if only I could just stop eating so much damn cake. It’s kind of screwed up that as someone with what is actually a perfectly average sized body that I should have spent so much of my adult life beating myself up for being ‘fat’ – as if ‘fat’ is some kind of horrific thing that no one in their right mind wants to be.
So what weird phenomenon has happened to me in the last few weeks? I am pretty sure I haven’t suddenly dropped four dress sizes. For one thing, my clothes all still fit. For another, I am not fainting all the time. I am eating less cake, it is true, but I do still treat myself. I’ve not been to the gym in months (swimming in ponds, it turns out, is cheaper and significantly more fun.)
I think what has happened is that the layers built up over the years of messages from every conceivable corner telling me that women should and must be as tiny as possible no longer penetrate my confidence. The concept of ‘fat’ as something bad and wrong has dissolved away, leaving me with a greater appreciation for bodies of all sizes and shapes. I now care more about whether I am healthy, and being kind to my body. The idea that my body is somehow separate to me, and is made up of different parts which are wrong or unacceptable has been firmly rejected in favour of me seeing myself as a composite whole, with beautiful flaws which tell the story of me.
I’ve not changed the skin I am in. I have changed how I think about the skin I am in. I accept the skin I am in. And that one change is more revolutionary than any diet could ever be.