I was a pretty skinny kid growing up. I’m talking knobbly knees, chicken legs, and the kind of body that made adults say things like “we need to get a few pies in you”.
I had never really thought about what my body looked like until I went to secondary school. All the girls around me started growing boobs and bragging about their bra sizes in the PE changing rooms, and I had… nothing. I got my first double A bra from Asda just so that I wouldn’t be the only girl without anything on, but there was absolutely nothing for it to hold. I was nothing but ribs and skin.
Then, when I was about 13, the boy who sat in front of me in music lessons turned around and asked me if I was anorexic. I didn’t even know what to say. I was shocked. As far I was concerned, I ate like a pig. But that question suddenly made me self conscious; did people actually look at me like that? Was there something wrong with my body? I thought about all the times adults had commented on how they needed to feed me up, and how my friends had gripped my wrists to see how small they were. Did I need to change something? I started to make a point of overeating in front of people, bragging about how much I could eat in one sitting, and avoiding the charity fast days at school out of fear that everyone thought I had an eating disorder. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to put on any weight. Curves were nowhere to be seen. I was still living in my outfits from Tammy and the kids sections of shops, but trying to hunt down size 4 clothes in Miss Selfridge so that I could look as grown up as the other girls with their C cup bras and bigger hips. Girls expressed their envy over my bony body and six stone weight, but I would have done anything to swap with them.
It wasn’t until I got to sixth form that I started to put on more weight (probably thanks to the meatball subs that I consumed literally every single lunchtime without fail – the people who worked at Subway knew my order without even having to ask me), but I was still really slim. I started to develop a few curves though – not enough to dance around my bedroom to My Humps, but enough to get comments like “Olivia, when did you get an arse?” and other slightly creepy remarks.
When I moved to uni, my lifestyle completely changed. Alcohol, takeaways, and a rejection of any physical activity whatsoever meant that after years of trying to pad myself out, I rapidly gained rather a lot of weight. In some ways, I was ridiculously happy. Boobs! A bum! Curves! Finally! But then something new crept in. I was self conscious about the new, dark purple stretch marks that had flowered on my thighs, bum, and boobs, the way my face seemed to have turned into the moon, and how none of my clothes fit me anymore. When I came home for Christmas, an old friend of mine said I had “gotten a bit podgy”. Someone suggested I go on a five mile run. My sister, six years older than me, weighed me and found that I was two stone heavier than she was. I felt a strange sense of shame. I had got what I always wanted, but I was unhappy with it. I couldn’t win, no matter what my weight was.
The following year, I dropped a lot of weight after I turned veggie, and I drank very rarely. Then, a few months ago, a horrible bout of stress and anxiety caused me to shrink once more. I think I’ve reached some kind of middle ground now, but this Christmas a family member asked me if I was anorexic, and when I replied no, they asked if I was bulimic. These things still linger, and people regularly question and point out my weight. I am less concerned with that now though. I’m more concerned about doing and eating the things I enjoy, without letting my body go to some kind of unhealthy ruin. Sure, sometimes I’ll eat healthily and go to the gym, but other times all I want is to demolish an entire pack of biscuits and laze around in bed for a couple of days. My weight fluctuates, but it’s just a matter of how I feel at the time, and I don’t make much of a conscious effort to make myself look a certain way anymore.
The comments we make about people’s bodies stay with them for a long time. I was never self conscious about a lot of things about myself until other people commented on them, and they’re things I’ll never forget. I will always remember being told I had tiny pig eyes in year 8 while I queued for my lunch, and people making fun of my eyebrows (too bushy when I left them, too thin when I plucked them), my teeth, my voice, my body hair, and a million other tiny things. For a long time, whenever I looked in the mirror, all I saw were the mean comments that people at school had made about my physical appearance. Sometimes I still do. But I have learned to accept the way that I look and love myself for what I am.
Things are rarely all they’re cut out to be. When it comes to weight, we walk on a fine line. When I was more slender, people asked me if I had an eating disorder, I craved curves and padding, and was desperate for a “womanly figure”. When I put on a bit of weight, I was “podgy” and needed to shed some pounds, became self conscious about stretch marks, and couldn’t stand to look at my layers of chins. You’re never going to please everyone, and there are always going to be people who question you. As long as you’re happy within yourself, none of that matters. My face is still a bit like the moon, I’ve still got stretch marks galore on my thighs, and my boobs still aren’t as big as 13 year old me wanted them to be, but I’m happy with myself for the most part and I don’t let people’s passing comments impact upon the way I see myself anymore. That’s what matters, no matter what my weight might be.
Treat your body, and other people’s bodies, with care. Look after them, and be kind to them, because they’re all we have.