I’ve struggled with my body image for a long time, mainly because I never felt like I truly inhabited it. When people would comment on my physical appearance I wouldn’t understand – it felt like something detached from myself. Especially when I was 15-19, I really struggled to actually SEE my body, I didn’t have a relationship with it.
I’ve always been very slim but during my A-Levels, I went through personal trauma and I was essentially detached from reality. During this time I shrunk from a size UK6/8 to a size UK 4. I had a 25-inch waist. I lost an incredible amount of weight just because of stress. My relationship with my body was exactly the same as before, I had continued eating a healthy balanced diet but I lost a lot of weight regardless.
When I was this slim, I had a LOT of compliments about my physique. Women in my family wouldn’t allow me to say ANYTHING about my appearance: good or bad, it was met with scorn. How could I complain about my appearance when I was so slim? How dare I say that I felt good in my clothes?
I did a lot of work and research into ‘skinny privilege’ and I really believe in it. I worked hard to understand that being slim IS a privilege – no one was ‘concerned’ about my health, I never struggled to find clothes that fit me in a shop, I was complimented for my looks regularly. The downside to this was that I felt that no one saw me for who I was. No one saw the pain and struggle I was going through when I so clearly wore it on my skin. No one intervened to check if I was ok, the most I got was older family members telling me I should eat more. I didn’t even realise how slim I was, I was a ghost.
I became fairly paranoid that no one treated me as a PERSON and just saw me for my appearance. I had people at school want to take pictures with me to post on social media but they never wanted to get to know me. I had the same conversation OVER and OVER again with young men, who would be shocked that I was intelligent. I had young men tell me about myself – one conversation still stands out to me. A boy I vaguely knew told me what my ‘problem’ was, and my ‘problem’ was that I was ‘too introverted’. I had just finished an audition at a theatre school, I don’t think a person can get more extroverted.
People assumed things about me solely based on my appearance. A woman running a theatre company once looked me dead in the eyes and said ‘you won’t be able to get into drama school based on your looks alone. You’ll have to work for it’. She constantly berated me for being lazy and privileged. She treated me like the enemy until I took her aside and essentially had a panic attack and explained all the trauma I was dealing with. Her tone changed somewhat but I was still treated as a silly, stupid, little girl.
Fast forward to the present day. I’m a size 12/14 (not that those numbers mean ANYTHING). I’ve put on a considerable amount of weight in the past 2 years due to health problems. I am 70% certain that I have polycystic ovaries which have been a large contributor to my weight gain and a particularly nasty flare-up of acne last year. I have the body of a woman now. I am vegetarian and eat well, I don’t drink as much as I did when I was size 4, I’ve come to terms with my mental health and I manage it well with counselling and medication. I have been working 2 jobs alongside a full-time degree in Ancient History – and I’m consistently achieving high grades.
Despite all this, friends and family are incredibly worried about me and my health solely because of my physical appearance. Many members of my family think it’s completely ok to comment on what I eat, how I live my life and give me unsolicited advice on how to lose weight. This is fairly subtle but it’s gotten to the point where I have just retreated from them. My self-confidence has plummeted since gaining weight, and again I feel like this body isn’t mine. It is so important to note that I still benefit from skinny privilege – I can still find my size in any clothes shop and I’m still not considered to be ‘fat’.
I still maintain that I am so much healthier than I was when I was a size 4. My mental health was in shambles, I was drunk every evening and hungover every day at school. Now, I have a stressful life but I am so much more aware of myself and so much happier because of it. The significant change I’ve noticed is that I am taken seriously and no-one doubts my intellect anymore. I am able to work in high-pressure environments and take on a great deal of responsibility, and no one belittles me because of my looks. No one has tried to tell me about myself, they trust my word.
I have always had a distant relationship with my appearance. It has never been the thing that defines me in my eyes. I’ve noticed how the world around me have reacted and changed to my changing appearance, and I constantly strive to look after myself regardless of how I look. I would advocate for body neutrality – the obsession with a womxn’s physique is toxic and difficult to navigate. My body gets me from A to B, it is the house for my personality and my sense of being. I do not love my body, I never have, but I am kind to it. I celebrate body neutrality – it is JUST a body.