I have always been thin. Thin enough, at least. Sometimes I’ve been chunky. Like when I was travelling in Australia and drank heavy, red wine whilst battling a binge eating problem. I was depressed and my weight seemed to be the devil on my shoulder telling me I was worthless and ugly. How much I weighed became an insidious obsession. It kept me up at night and had me dressing in baggy clothes. I’d stare at myself in the mirror, willing something else to look back at me. I felt so uncomfortable in my own skin.
My entire life revolved around food. I had a love/hate relationship with it and would restrict myself so much that I’d end up binging on entire chocolate cakes and huge bags of sweets until I felt sick. I’d feel hopeless, teary, and immensely depressed for the rest of the day. I’d exercise to try and get the calories out and considered sticking two chocolate stained fingers down my throat. The only thing that stopped me was knowing the frightening cycle of bulimia and vowing I’d never get myself lost in an eating disorder. Little did I know my relationship to food was entirely unhealthy and that I was suffering greatly with body dysmorphia. I teetered dangerously on the cusp between diet culture and eating disorder.
That was when I was the heaviest I’ve ever been, at ten stone – I feel I should add that I am small in stature. Isn’t that funny? When I was punishing myself with rigorous diets, is when I saw the highest number on the scale. What does that tell you? Diets do not work. They make you fail and bring about psychological distress. I was depressed for years over my weight. And all along, I looked okay. I was never overweight, just chunkier than I had been. Just not flat-stomached, the way the models are in the magazines. But even that is a lie. No-one looks like that. Even the models don’t actually look like that. I have a burning desire to go back and tell that lost young woman that she was fabulous all along.
Following the binging problems, I found calorie counting. I thought I was being healthy, but when I look back, I can see how destructive and controlling that became. I moved to New Zealand and pretty much ate the same three meals a day for about a year. For years I ate the same salad with fish and eggs as my main meal, as well as smoothies and thirty percent carbs throughout every day. I would sit alone in my room googling my weight and height to see what other people of my stature and density looked like. The view I had of myself was entirely distorted, and I could see people becoming exasperated with me because all I talked about was my weight and how to shrink it. I wouldn’t have a glass of wine unless I’d been to the gym after work and earned the two-hundred calories to fit into my daily plan. I couldn’t go out for dinner often as I wouldn’t know how many calories were in a meal that I didn’t meticulously put together. If I did go for a meal, I’d feel guilty and panicked throughout. But I didn’t have an eating disorder. This is just how women live, is it not?
All of these things sound normal, right? Is this familiar to you? This is just the world we live in, isn’t it? Yes, but it shouldn’t be. It is so unhealthy. The entire female nation appears to have an unknown eating disorder.
I finally made peace with my body a couple of years ago. I stopped being quite so controlled with everything I ate. I found yoga, a practise I enjoyed for its mental health benefits. I never used it to keep in shape. I walked everywhere and worked hard at my job, so naturally I stayed fairly slim. But I never restricted my eating. And that was when I was the happiest I’ve ever been with my body. I ordered full fat cokes in restaurants and ate cake for pudding, but always cooked from scratch at home and ate a lot of fruits and vegetables because I enjoyed healthy food. I was a steady nine-and-a-half stone during this time.
Then in 2018 I quit alcohol. Some weight dropped off. And then I went vegan and even more weight dropped off. I started working in a nursery, two miles from my house, and walked there and back every day. I also ran around like a headless chicken with screaming babies in my arms for most of the day. I did yoga in the evenings for my head and felt all round fantastic. I was suddenly enviably tiny. I hadn’t meant to be. But I was. I dropped to a size six and weighed a teeny eight stone twelve pounds. Even then, I couldn’t see how small I was. Even then I had fat days. Even then, I’d look in the mirror and be unhappy with a tummy I thought was protruding too far. But I was very small. People mentioned it a lot. Everyone said how tiny I’d become. Everyone complimented me on my twenty-six inch waist and I went home glowing at the end of a day where I’d been referred to as ‘the skinny one’. I bought a size ten wedding dress and felt smug that I’d have to have it taken in by two dress sizes. I felt overwhelmingly lucky that with no effort, I’d lost so much weight, that I seemed to be staying so small.
Then 2020 hit, and with it came the lockdown. I stopped walking to work every day and my vegan diet became vegetarian. I ate lots of cheese and chocolate whilst I sat writing in bed every day. I no longer walked to university, instead I slouched around doing lectures in my lounge whilst eating chocolate cake and whipped cream. We all did what we could to survive lockdown, and for me the only thing to look forward to was my weekly Tesco shop. When I ventured back to work in June after spending three months sat at home stuffing my face, I was no longer ‘the skinny one’. My first day back I couldn’t zip up my trousers all the way and had a chunk of my thigh visible when I lifted up my t-shirt. We all laughed at it and I genuinely found it funny. I’d known that lockdown would bring me a few extra pounds. I was back to my nine-and-a-half-stone. The weight I’d always been. The weight I’d been perfectly happy with a year-and-a-half earlier.
Then I tried my wedding dress on to find it fits me properly now. Two dress sizes I’d put on. I felt a little dismayed to begin with. But now I feel sad and uncomfortable again in my skin. I know deep down that I am not fat. I am a wonderful weight and I know I look good. But damn, Instagram is the devil. To not compare your body to those on Instagram would be to sprout wings and sail through the sky. I even scroll through my own pictures and become envious of my past self. And now I know that to have been that skinny for all those months, was not the blessing I’d originally thought it, but a curse. If I’d never been so small, I’d feel incredible about my weight now. I’d be happy and content with the small bulge when I sit down and would never despair about there being no gap when I place my thighs together.
I suppose what I’m trying to tell you is, stop fretting about your weight. Stop letting it consume every thought you have. Stop letting it control how you live your life. For no-one is ever happy with their weight. Even the smallest of women still have body hang-ups and a distorted view of how they look. I’d hate to come across as complacent or ungrateful for the body I have. I am very aware that I am lucky to be thin. But when someone tells me ‘you don’t need to worry about you weight’, I already know that. But it doesn’t mean I won’t. And each of us has no idea the inner turmoil someone else’s body might have caused them. I’m sure it is the same for every woman out there. We are brought up in a society that has taught us to hate our bodies. And it’s a genius money-making scheme for them. The perfect body doesn’t exist and those models in the magazines don’t even look like that. We need fat around our tummies to protect our reproductive organs. We need fat on our bodies to be healthy and we need food in our stomachs to feel happy. Take off those glasses that tell you you’re worthless and start seeing the beautiful human being you are. Diet culture has held us captive for too long, let’s vow to be happy.