It’s only been two years since I started trying to break out of the whole mainstream fatphobic diet mentality thing, and I already have far, far more good days than bad. I learned to love my body and my self no matter what size or shape, I can recognise damaging talk when I hear it, I will never go on another diet as long as I live.
But earlier this week I made a mistake. I had a meeting after work, and traffic was bad so I only had a few minutes at home to change out of my work clothes. I threw on some jeans and a hoodie and ran out the door.
Fifteen minutes later, when I knew I would make the meeting on time and had calmed down enough to notice, I realised that my jeans didn’t fit. At all. What should have been boot cut was now super skinny, I couldn’t bend my knees fully, and even when I was standing the waistband dug into my stomach.
I was stuck in those jeans for 5 hours. Aside from the physical discomfort, I noticed some thoughts sneaking in as the night went on. Thoughts like
This is just because of the injury. Once I start exercising again I’ll get smaller.
If I use my kettlebells, that’ll have an effect faster.
These used to fit me, how did I let myself get so much bigger?
And hundreds of variations on that theme.
I had forgotten how ingrained fatphobia was. Here I was thinking I had beaten it, but less than an hour in some tight trousers was enough to push me a huge step backwards and get me planning and plotting to make myself smaller.
What’s even worse is that the effect didn’t go away when I took the jeans off. It’s days later now and I’ve got my first salsa class since before my injury; I know I’m bigger than last time most of the salsa scene saw me, and I’m afraid of what they will think of me. There’s a small part of me that is actually seriously considering not going.
All this because of ONE PAIR OF FREAKING JEANS!
Of course I’m going to salsa. That nasty voice in my head is still trying to stop me, but I’ve had two years practice at throwing my shoulders back, lifting my chin and doing it anyway. And then the second I have enough free time, I’m going through every item of clothing I own and getting rid of anything and everything that doesn’t fit me. If I then need to go and buy bigger clothes, so be it. Clothing sizes are just numbers and not one of them is better than another.
My body is perfectly fine exactly as it is. My body (and my mind) deserves clothes that fit well and that make me feel fabulous, not like a sausage about to burst its skin.
At the beginning of September I sprained my knee (did you know knees could be sprained? I didn’t. It was very educational). The nurse told me it would take at least 6 weeks to heal, which turned out to be seriously optimistic; 12 weeks later and I’m now counting the days since it last hurt, although not quite daring to call it healed.
Because I’ve been out of action for 3 months, my fitness level has pretty much reset to zero. Absolute zero. I can’t describe the feeling of looking at all my running medals while I gasp for breath after climbing one flight of stairs, but trust me when I say it’s not a good one.
I suspect my knee is only better now because I was forced to rest completely last week by the worst case of tonsillitis I’ve ever had. Swallowing hurt so much I couldn’t even take water, and solid food was so out of the question I was actually glad my appetite had vanished. The antibiotics are finished, but my throat is still sore and my glands are still swollen.
Then I woke up at 3am on Monday with a cracking headache, and ran to the bathroom to be sick. I’ve caught a bug that’s making the rounds at work.
And of course my knackered kidneys meant I couldn’t take ibuprofen for my knee, had to lower the dose of antibiotics for my tonsils, and tried to get rid of my headache by drinking a lot of water and leaving the lights off when I was at home. Is it bad that I sometimes daydream of taking nurofen?
It can be difficult to love your body when it feels like it’s broken.
I confess over the last few months I’ve cursed my body several times, for taking so long, for letting me down, for turning against me. As though ‘me’ and ‘my body’ are separate entities that can be at war. As though either one would be anything without the other.
That’s how I’m working at still loving my body, even though I’m so, so tired of being ill. I remind myself that it’s as much a part of me as the voice that moans about it. That it isn’t some malevolent thing that wantsto be ill; my tonsils didn’t get infected just to annoy me, my stomach didn’t decide to make me sick just to see how I would react, and I’m positive my kidneys would really rather be whole.
Rather than being against me, it is me. And one thing I’m getting better at is looking after myself. So I’m taking my sore throat to the doctor again, even though I don’t like going. I’m resisting the urge to jump back into running and salsa and ceroc and pole, even though my knee feels fine, because I know I need time to get well again. I’m even taking naps if I need them, much to the horror of my must-always-be-doing-something-useful brain.
Of course I’m more than just my body, but it is a part of me, and I’m working on giving it the love and care that every bit of me deserves.
I came across this article by Jes Baker and, as happens so often when I read her writing, I had a lightbulb moment.
Ohhh that’s what I’ve been feeling!
See, I’ve also gained weight over the last year as my body figures out where it wants to be without me messing with it. I’ve no idea how much because I don’t weigh myself anymore, but I can tell by the fit (or rather not-fit) of my clothes.
I thought I was fine, as my reaction to this has been to alter the clothes or just buy new ones that do fit me, rather than having a hate-fest about how terrible my body is. I have not felt the urge to diet/restrict/make a ‘lifestyle change’/double my exercise in order to force my body into eating itself smaller and messing up my metabolism even more. I know full well that my worth has nothing to do with my size.
But there was this niggling little undercurrent that I didn’t even notice, until I read this:
“I had just become comfortable with my body (thanks to an arduous amount of body love work over the years) — now, that body shape I learned to love was no more. Now I needed to re-learn how to love my body with all its new features.
IT WAS HARD ENOUGH THE FIRST TIME. I DON’T WANT TO DO THIS AGAIN.”
I had learned to love the shape of my arms, but now they’re not that shape or size any more. I loved my muscly legs, but now the muscle is beneath a bit more fat. I loved my pear shape, but I fill in from the middle so now I’m a little closer to straight up and down. Basically I learned to love a particular way of having a body, which is now gone, possibly forever, and I have to start all over again. Geezo. I need to sit down a minute.
Thankfully, Jes didn’t just hit me with that and then walk away from the rubble. She figured some stuff out and I’m super glad she shared it because I don’t know how long it would have taken me to get there for myself.
“My body is going to keep changing for the rest of my life. If it’s not weight gain, it will be aging. If not aging, it could be an illness. If not an illness, it could be any number of things that will cause inevitable change, which will require me to to learn to love the change.”
First of all, I’m accepting that my body is definitely going to change, because I’m a living thing and that’s what we do. Of course I knew that, but I didn’t know know it. If you know what I mean.
“Change is nothing if not constant, and this is where body acceptance comes in. It’s taken me a while to learn that body acceptance isn’t necessarily just about learning to love your body right now — though this is a great first step! It extends far beyond that, and also includes deconstructing the actual reasons behind body hatred: learning why we’ve decided that we’re not OK in general.”
I’d taken that first step, which is a great start, go me! But now it’s time to take the next step and move on. Yes, I can love my body right now, but right now will never ever happen again. I have to learn to love it now, tomorrow, next week/month/year/decade, as it is, as it will be, as it ever could be. I have to figure out why loving it needs so much effort in the first place.
It was hard enough the first time. I don’t want to have to do this again. But I’m going to.
The alternative is sliding back into being miserable with everything because my body doesn’t look the way I think it ‘should’, hating the one thing I can never get away from as long as I live, and putting limits back on my life because of the way I look.
I’ve been there, it sucks, and I’m never going back again.
I’m on the list of life models for a regular life drawing event.
I have far more good body days than bad, and have developed tactics to deal with the bad ones.
I’ve cut from my life any people who (deliberately or not) push the wrong buttons, and I’ve made my introvert timenon-negotiable.
I’ve learned to answer back and argue my point instead of being a good, quiet little lady and letting people walk all over me.
And so much more.
Honestly, I kind of expected all that to happen. Maybe not quite so well or so quickly, but I was ready for ‘fake it til you make it’ to work out as it has in the past.
I was not expecting my eyes and ideology to be thrown wide open.
This blog started off for me. I was going to do things I was afraid of so I could change. But over the last year I’ve realised that there’s a good deal more in the world needs changing, and if I can help, in even the tiniest way, I just have to.
My first year has been a learning year. My next year will be one of action. Watch this space.
Oh man, have I got this one covered. Or rather this one has got me covered.
You know that trick in high school when someone said, “the first sign of insanity is hairy palms,” and then laughed at you for checking, because it’s insane to think there would be hair on your palms?
Of course I checked. I still sometimes check. My body excels at producing hair and I would not be the slightest bit surprised to find it on my palms. Which used to be yet another reason I believed I ‘failed’ at being a woman. Because everyone knows the perfect woman is bald below the eyebrows.
Embarrassing secret of the day: I used to shave my arms. Not just armpits; my whole arms. I bought into that idea entirely.
But then I got into this whole body pos/feminism/fat acceptance world, and read a whole lot of articles like this one.The main part that stood out to me:
Patriarchy and capitalism worked (and continue to work) together in order to foster insecurities in women and thus encourage them to buy more products. And because the idealised image of a hairless woman is impossible to maintain, women are encouraged not only to perpetually spend money on depilatory practices but also to participate in a never-ending, time-consuming cycle of hair removal.
So we should all kick the patriarchy where it hurts and just let out hair grow wild and free! We could even dye it.
Now, I know what you’re thinking (because I’m just that good). ‘But Hannah, I prefer non-hairy legs. They just look better!’. Or whichever body part you’re particularly narky about keeping hair-free.
To which I shall answer; I know.
I absolutely expect people to take me just as I am if they want to stay in my life. I am a feminist. I do know that the whole hairless thing is yet another form of oppression, and I probably only think hairless is better because ‘everyone knows’ it is. But yes, I do shave my legs. Even in the depths of winter when nobody is going to see them. And on some particularly bad body days I even cover up my hairy arms.
Turns out I’m only human, and a work-in-progress too. I stopped shaving my arms years ago, when I realised that if someone is going to stop associating with me because I have hair on my arms, like pretty much every human being EVER, then they are not worth one second of my time. But I’m just not there yet with my legs.
Which is pretty darn weird considering that at least 10 people see my arms every day but I can’t remember the last time someone saw my legs. But that’s a different matter.
So, I think you’ll find I can have body hair. Check out these arms.
As I sat at my desk, basking in the sunlight flooding through the wall of windows, looking onto the view of George Sqare, I realised I have been with Babcock for a year today.
It’s strange to think a whole year has passed already. I remember the terror of my very first day, the few seconds of panic every day of the first week when I thought I wouldn’t find my desk after my break, and the weeks of collapsing in an exhausted heap as soon as I got home.
But now there have been no more incidents, I have a fixed desk with my name on, and I get to practise my sarcasm on a daily basis. Somehow I fit right in.
Obviously I have to work, and today I’m smiling because I’ve never yet found a better place to do so.
And suddenly we’re a whole month into 2016. Time flies when…stuff happens.
Anyway here’s the round up of body love for the second half of January:
Day 17: I love that my body can dance, and that I can see myself getting better at it.
I’ve tried to write about salsa and how it makes me feel, but it’s not the kind of thing that can be pinned down by words.If the music is right and the leader is good, for a few minutes I know what joy is.
Day 18: I looooove swinging my kettlebells around. It’s so much fun and makes me feel super strong that my arms and legs can swing 20kg of iron around. Can’t wait til I can afford some 15kg bells!
Day 19: I love my ears.
I love that I can wear earrings in them. I love that through them I can hear music and songs. I specially love the dinky little elf point on my right ear.
Day 20: I love my one double-jointed thumb. Because it’s a little bit weird.
Day 21: Today I love my tongue (I’ll spare you the photo) and my sense of taste. I love that it can adapt and change and learn to love things I thought I didn’t like. Except tomatoes. They’re just nasty.
Day 22: I love my grey hairs (which apparently don’t show up very well on camera), simply because not everyone lives long enough to GET grey hairs. If I’m lucky, I shall live until I go completely grey.
Day 23: While we’re up here, I love my Thorley hairline.
We have this wee triangle either side of our forehead, just to make sure we know which clan we are
Day 24: Today I love my shoulders. Just because.
Day 25: I love my lips. I can speak and play flute and eat and hold things when my hands are full.
Day 26: I love my super fast reading skills. There are SO many books in the world, I need to get through them asap!
Day 27: I love that I can use my body to help other people.
Plus I still find it completely amazing that I can lose a bag of blood and my body will just make more of it.
Day 28: I love that my body is so vocal, although I still need to work on listening to it. It tells me when I need sleep, food, alone time, exercise, whatever I need to function well. Right now it’s shouting “humans were not meant to run on pizza and noodles!”.
Message received, body.
Day 29: I love my confidence. It takes pretty much constant work, but it’s growing all the time.
Day 30: I love my honesty. And honestly, today I’m struggling.
But never mind. Lemsip, early night, and I’ll be right back to full tilt self-love tomorrow.
And finally Day 31: I love my lovely dark eyelashes.
We’re halfway through January already, how mad is that?!
The Body Love Conference is running a challenge this year called the Body Love Challenge 2016 (#BodyLoveChallenge2016) and, as I’m still fairly new to all this, I jumped right in!
They’re kicking off with “31 Things I Love About My Body”- one thing for every day in January. As we’re now past the halfway point, I figured I’d do a round up.
Day 1: My body ran today, up a hill in Kelvingrove Park that I have never managed to run up before
Day 2: Even when I hated every other part of me, I loved my eyes.
They’re pretty, they only need glasses on rare occasions, and they let me see everything around me. You go, eyes.
Day 3: My fingernails! I didn’t realise ‘good’ fingernails were a thing, but since I stopped biting them years ago I’ve had loads of compliments. I love that I can decorate them, they help me pick stickers off stuff and get into little cracks to open things, plus my hands would look pretty darn weird without them.
Day 4: My shape. I love curves, and I have plenty to go around! I wouldn’t change my pear-shape for anything.
Day 5: Today I love my skin.
I love the colour of it (no, we don’t have any Spanish/Italian/Greek/Indian ancestors that we know of), I love that it keeps the outside out and my insides in, that it’s not sensitive or allergic to anything I have come across so far, and that I can doodle and paint on it whenever I want.
Day 6: I love my hands, for the millionty different things they can do.
Like typing this, holding weights so I can lift them, baking, writing my blog, crocheting, card-making, washing, trying to control my hair, painting my face, wrapping gifts, handing those gifts to people I love, turning book pages. The list is endless!
I’m also a super tactile person, and I love being able to use my hands to ‘see’ how things feel.
Day 7: After years of hating, fighting, crying, and wishing it away, now I can honestly say I love my bum.
Sure it knocks things off low tables sometimes, but that’s a small price to pay for so much fabulousness! It’s mine, it’s curvy, and I love it.
Everybody now – my milkshake brings all the boys to the yard…
Day 8: My hair is really rather shiny, I love the colour (although I wouldn’t say no if someone found a way to dye it blue without making it look like straw), and it will sometimes do as it’s told when I style it!
Short or long, it looks pretty good.
Day 9: I can’t even express how much I love singing. If I were only allowed to keep one hobby, I wouldn’t even have to think about it – singing always wins.
I love that my body can produce these sounds (usually in tune!) and that no matter how I feel, singing can enhance it.
Day 10: I love my muscles. It makes me feel super strong to see them popping up when I move, and working on them is so much fun.
Plus I get to be contrary when someone says women shouldn’t be muscly!
Day 11: I love the random freckles I have all over my body, even on my little finger. I specially love the one on my nose. It’s like a marker, ‘boop here’.
Day 12: Today I love my heart. My physical heart (obviously), which has so far managed to keep me alive for nearly 28 years.
But also the part of me that cries when someone is upset, that finds joy in helping and sharing, that can still be disappointed by the world when bad things happen, because I still believe in its goodness.
I have a big heart, it’s right out there on my sleeve, and I’m not ashamed of it.
Day 13: Since being given the label ‘chronic kidney disease’, I’ve had a messy, angry relationship with my kidneys. It felt like my own body was betraying me, and letting me down in the worst way.
But it’s not their fault nobody had apparently heard of reflux when I was little. If that had been treated they could have bounced right back, and even now they’re damaged, they still try their best.
I wouldn’t last very long without them, and so I choose to be grateful that they haven’t failed completely.
I love my kidneys – scars, stone, and all.
Day 14: I love my imagination. It comes up with pictures, patterns and ideas pretty much constantly. It makes for a noisy head and some weird dreams, but it’s also the root of all my creativity.
Day 15: I love my legs. Awesome shape, they can walk for miiiiiles, and squat like a boss.
And Day 16: My memory is pretty amazing.
Sure, I once made it all the way to work before remembering I needed my pass to get in, and I’m frequently greeted by people who know me when I have absolutely no idea who they are.
But I can tell you what songs we learned the first time I ever went to Voicebeat two years ago, I can even tell you what order we did them in, and I sang all 18 songs in our summer concert without any lyrics in front of me.
There’s a poem I learned in high school that I can still recite, and another from my Masters.
I remember the first time I spoke to my first boyfriend, which was at least 10 years ago, perfectly.
I may forget little things, but my memory keeps the important things, the beautiful things, the life-changing things, and holds onto them for good.
“Well it’s easy for you to be confident when you look like that.”
I’ve heard variations of this sentence from several different people recently. Mostly from friends, so it’s probably meant as a compliment. But if you look closer there are some not so good things about it.
Firstly, I want to look at what these people didn’t actually say out loud. The unspoken second sentence, which sounds a little like “But what hope have I got?”.
Of course I used to do this. I used to hand out compliments like “your hair is so much better than mine” and “I wish I had your legs” all the time. Every possible variation of ‘you are worthy and I am not’.
I was so entrenched in society’s belief that I was not good enough, so afraid of being seen as cocky or arrogant, that I could even repurpose compliments as fuel for my own self-loathing. This is what we are trained to do, from so early an age that I didn’t even realise I was doing it.
Until I did.
And then I stopped. Because there are more than enough things in the world trying to tell me how unworthy I am; they really don’t need my help. Because there is nothing arrogant about not hating your own body. But mostly because what’s the point of making one person feel good just to bring another person down?
If you’re going to compliment me, thanks! We should absolutely build each other up every chance we get! But only if it builds you up as well, or at the very least doesn’t attack you. If I had to choose between a compliment that put somebody else down and no compliment at all, I would choose no compliment. Every time. You deserve so much better.
Secondly, the suggestion that body confidence is easy for anybody, especially women, in our culture is quite frankly ridiculous.
Billions and billions of pounds are spent on telling us that those with straight hair must want it to curl and the curly-haired must want it straight. Dark skin must want to be lighter, and lighter skin darker. Fat must strive to be thin, and thin must do everything in their power to stay that way. Every woman must aspire to walk that line, as thin as a razor blade, of being both slim and curvy. No matter what we do our bodies will never, never be enough.
All so that we will buy things. Products to control our hair, plastic surgery, diet books, gym membership, pills, weird vibrating belt things, ANYTHING that could possibly help us become what we are not. It’s a lucrative, well-honed business, and it’s everywhere.
So no, it was not easy to become this confident. It’s taken years and years of fighting the unceasing negative thoughts about myself, learning to walk away from harmful body image conversations, ignoring adverts telling me how I could be ‘better’, telling myself that I’m worthy and enough even when it seemed the least believable thing in the world.
I’ve worn tight or revealing clothes that I loved, while believing it would make people explode through sheer disgust. I’ve shouted that my body is beautiful while crying because I can’t stand the sight of it. I’ve spent hours smacking down snipey comments about my appearance, trying to ignore the voice in my head that whispers “they’re right”.
How dare you tell me it was easy.
In this society, just deciding to not hate your body (especially if it’s fat) is a radical, divisive, and difficult decision. But it is so entirely worth it.
I wish everyone could experience that amazing moment when I realised I am enough. I wish everyone could know how it feels to look in the mirror and not start listing the things they would change if only they could. To actually like what they see. To feel self-love, which is a love like nothing else I’ve ever felt.
It’s a long, hard process, but you could begin right now by deciding to pay positive-only compliments.
Replace “your hair is better than mine” with “I love your hair today”. Say “your legs are so toned” instead of “I wish I had your legs”. See what a difference it makes just removing some negativity from your life.
Or you could jump straight to the master level and try to positive-only compliment people on anything other than their physical appearance. Because we are all so much more than just the way we look.
It’s not easy, but you won’t be disappointed. Give it a try : )