Mirror, mirror on the wall....

Trawling through the chaos that is my desk this morning I found a blog post I wrote over a year ago, which I thought deserved another airing. It has been tweaked and reposted for your enjoyment…

At 18 had a wardrobe of (somewhat dubious) tightly fitting, short, ripped clothing, all of which I had bought from regular shops, on normal shopping trips with my friends, who all looked exactly like I did. And then I became ill with crippling chronic migraines.

My stomach was hugely distended, my face and feet were swollen and I was essentially bed-bound for days at a time due to the sheer exhaustion of whatever was wrong with me. I spent days under the covers, avoiding college, avoiding socialising and avoiding the mirror. I had to replace my wardrobe with elasticated clothing that allowed my stomach to swell without it being cut in half, I bought them on shopping trips that left me feeling humiliated and distraught, desperately praying not to bump into people I knew, with only my mum allowed to come with me because she was the only person who would understand. Does this mean that if you gain weight you should feel this way? Absolutely not. But I did, and it wasn’t because I felt ashamed of my body, it was that suddenly my body became everybody else’s problem. I was suddenly on the receiving end of this form of accepted prejudice and left with no self-esteem, no self-belief and a horribly distorted body image.

As my illness rapidly worsened my body changed in a way it never had before. I went from never giving it a second-glance to being preoccupied with it every time I caught a glimpse of it in a shop window. It didn’t matter how much I was reassured by my family or closest friends that the change was unimportant, because the world had decided it was important, and that it was important to let me know. For every person who told me I looked fine, there was somebody waiting to undermine them. I have included just a few of the countless examples:

  • When taking a size 8 dress into a Topshop changing room for a friend, the assistant made a point of showing me the label size in case I hadn’t noticed. When I assured her I knew the size and continued to walk in, she smirked and turned away saying “Alright then…”
  • When I cried at the sight of myself on holiday in a bikini I had owned years previously, I was helpfully told (by a now ex-boyfriend) “it’s not your fault you are fat, but maybe things would be better if you went to the gym”
  • When I asked for something extra to eat at a friend’s house, I was asked “if I was sure”. They then proceeded to get themselves a bowl of cereal. I didn’t eat anything else and went to bed hungry.
  • When I put on more weight (a mere 0.5lb for that matter) I was told to “stop reaching for the biscuits”.
  • When serving a customer at a shop I worked in “You look a bit like Lily Cole, except obviously she is thin”
  • When pointing out that weight is not the sole determinant of a person’s health to a Nutrition student at university I was told that the overweight woman in question had made “too many mistakes”. I was then subsequently labelled “a fat dietitian defending another fat dietitian”.

Suddenly the world had a right to comment on my appearance and offer me endless advice about how I could “improve myself”. Some of these people had no idea the amount of physical pain I was often in, how sick my medication was making me, how often I was fainting, how desperate I was to change my appearance and how impossible it was for me to do that. What’s even worse, is that most of them did.  

In reality, it was not my weight that left me emotionally hurt, but everybody else’s reaction to it. You have no right to comment on my body, it does not belong to you. People’s reaction to my appearance did untold damage to the way I view myself to this day. Personally, I have learnt that recovery has to take priority over weight loss. I am only just beginning to improve my health with the help of more medication and generally being easier on myself in the meantime. This doesn’t mean I have come to terms with what happened to my body, but it does mean I am learning to make my health and not my thigh-gap the priority.

This isn’t easy in a culture that stigmatises every variant of the female form, a society that insists that women take up as little physical space as possible, a world that demands us to shrink until we cannot be seen. If we measure every woman by the width of her abdomen and not the depth of her character then Fitzgerald was right; “The best thing a girl can be in this world is a beautiful little fool”

 

Everybody is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be Kind. Always.