Sunday, 3 April 2016

My Appearance Epiphany AKA How I Stopped Hating My Body

This blog post is going to be, firstly, very personal and probably embarrassing, and about something I’ve wanted to write about for a few weeks or months now. About the day that I decided to ditch hating my body and instead appreciate it and try to maybe, like, get on with it a little. Treat it a bit more like the bag of meat and bones I live in, and less like a housemate who’s always nicking your milk and never replacing it – with distaste and, at times, pure loathing.

I’ve had a weird relationship with my body, through the years. As a child I was confident and happy. My body was something handy, something to have fun with. It allowed me to climb trees, run around with my friends, sledge down hills in the snow, take a few scrapes and bruises and heal completely, and it even allowed me to wear outfits that were clearly inappropriate for public settings but it put up no fight regardless (nurses outfits and dressing up as Heidi the Hiker, to name a few). I liked the soft blond hairs that covered my legs that I never thought I’d have to remove. I liked the scar on my face from the chicken pox I had because I thought it made me cool. The bump in my nose was something to idly run my finger down, rather than be ashamed of.

In my teens, shit got real. From about 12 years old, my body was something weird and foreign and constantly changing. Growing pains were the bane of my life. At five foot five I thought, yup, this is me, I think I’ll stop growing now. NOPE! Five foot seven, five foot nine, eventually five foot ten/eleven was what my body decided on. My boobs followed suit and grew to the point where I didn’t really know what to do with these awkwardly in-the-way things on my chest. I started wearing clothes that I can now quite comfortably describe as utter shit. I thought throwing together into one outfit as many different colours as possible was a way to appear that I didn’t care. If people judged me, their looks wouldn't be aimed at my face or size fourteen body - but my wacky clothes. I thought the only way for my body not to be thought of as disgusting was to distract people from it. 


Later on, nearer to the time I’m at now, I switched from bright, happy colours to black. Black, grey, dark grey, light black; anything to fade into the background. I started drowning my body, more particularly my hips and belly, to disguise it. Men’s XL t-shirts, long vests, baggy jumpers, jeans, shirts, or alternatively only clothing that I thought would “flatter” my body. Let me explain. I was just about old enough to watch, not fully understand, but internalise everything early 2000’s programmes like What Not To Wear and How To Look Good Naked said. Hide the wobbly bits. Show off the good bits. Find out what “shape” you are – “Are you a teabag? A spatula? Two bananas sellotaped together?” all very strange edible or household products that I didn’t think I resembled at all. I didn’t like the idea of being categorised but I went along with their advice regardless, hoping it would help. (Spoiler: it didn’t.) Coincidentally I barely have any photos for this episode as a visual guide of How To Look Shit Dressed or What To Wear – If You Want To Look Not Only Gender Fluid But Species Fluid

Recently, as the title suggests, I had an epiphany. I was sick of always disliking my body. Every Sunday after a huge, gravy soaked dinner, I’d announce that tomorrow was the day I was going to start dieting and become the skinny me I always knew was inside this me. I was tired of online shopping and seeing underfed models. Because would that same tank top suit me, or would my boobs spill out too much? Would those high waisted jeans look good, or would they just accentuate my hips? Would that dress be just as stylish on me, or would I look like a badly wrapped Christmas present? One day, one random day that had literally no significance, I looked at my black, black, black clothes, and decided that 10 years of hating my body was more than enough. I was putting my foot down, with myself. Even if someone you loved died, you would not be allowed a ten year mourning period – so why had I spent a decade feeling sad about the body I had? The poor thing, if it had ears (oh, wait) we would not be friends, all the things I’ve called it over time.

To name just a few: fat, ugly, wobbly, disgusting, rank, minging, chubby, unsymmetrical, overweight, obese, covered in ugly scars, not like the women in the magazines, uneven, too big, not skinny enough...

One day I had to sit down with myself and decide that I loved myself no matter what my body looked like and what other people thought about my body. I got tired of hating myself - Gabourey Sidibe:

I knew something had to change, and after so long of pretending I really was going to try dieting this time, I knew that thing was not going to be my body.  My mentality had to change. I wondered for what reason I hated my body, or more precisely, for who? If I hadn’t hated my body as a child when it had worked for and with me, and for me alone, why did I hate it now? The only logical reason was because I didn’t want other people seeing my body as anything other than perfect. But I did not believe random people on the street cared enough to wish I’d stayed at home so their eyes could have remained unoffended. No one but me gives as much of a shit about how I look as I do. For example, that spot I think looks like an exploding volcano of disgusting, is barely noticeable to anyone else. Nothing was making sense.

“Fuck it!” I thought, that amazing, fateful day. “I refuse to hate myself anymore. I eat what I want and my body consistently stays the same size; this must be the shape I am supposed to be. Not the size the media or other people tell me I should be. From now on, no more diets. No more weird clothes I don’t like to try and make my body look different and skinnier. No more hating my nose and teeth and chin and hair and wishing for a face transplant. I need to accept my flaws, not deny them, and own them. Power to meeeeeeeee!”

I think realising that, though my weight might fluctuate slightly, this is the size I am and have been since I was about 18, was a game changer. I’m just not supposed to be a size 8. The rest went along with this basic logic. I was born with this head, this hair, this face, this nose. I didn’t choose my looks and they’re certainly nowhere near perfect but if, at this point, I was offered free vouchers for surgery to make my nose smaller, my teeth straighter, or whatever, I’d say, “Thank you, but fuck you, for suggesting I need to change my face to be happy, or for society to be happy with me. I do not want your vouchers. Unless they can be traded for money to buy copious amounts of McDonalds XXL meals. In which case, I rescind my previous statement.” I like food too much to give it up, or even want to. So I stopped giving a shit. I’ve started wearing clothes that a few years ago I wouldn't have touched because they weren’t “flattering”. I hate that word. But I feel better than I have probably ever. Because if I’m happy then who cares what others think? They don’t have to be me, I do. Generally if you’re happy and confident, it is contagious or noticeable, like chickenpox. Everyone should aspire for metaphorical chickenpox!

As long as you aren’t harming your body too much with what you’re eating, keep doing it! Fuck being skinnier or fatter, or anything other than exactly what you are naturally! Wear clothes that you love and need and want, not the clothes you think will hide your stomach or not accentuate the rolls. Love your rolls. Goddamnit, you ate some good shit to get those rolls, you own them. Repeat it with me; food is not the enemy, the media is! Stop worrying about scars or stretch marks or anything that is a reminder you are an adult and you have grown because you have earned each and every one of them, and they all have a memory or a lesson or a reminder that you have managed to survive more than twelve years on this Earth! Stop worrying about your facial features that don’t match up to stereotypical beauty standards. Do you want to be stereotypical? Stereotypes lack imagination. Stop worrying about being too tall, too short, too old, too curvy, too flat-chested; you were literally born that way (thanks, Gaga). Don’t mess with surgery or botox or any of that weird chemical stuff, because you’re better than that. If you had a child born with the feature you dislike, would you tell them it’s ugly? Would you encourage them to pay thousands of pounds to get surgery and change it? Nope, didn’t think so. 

I listened to an amazing video posted by Caitlin Moran about body image, self-perception and the issues involved with generally being a woman, and it was inspiring. She says:

“Pretend you are your own baby. You would never cut that baby, or starve it, or overfeed it until it cried in pain, or tell it it was worthless. Sometimes, girls have to be mothers to themselves. Your body wants to live – that’s all and everything it was born to do. Let it do that, in the safety you provide it. Protect it. That is your biggest job. To protect your skin, and heart.”
And who can put it better than that?

Pictures: Beach Body, Revolution & Gabrielle Quote, Contrary to the Media, Venn Diagram, Mirror Cartoon