I’m about to write about my own personal body image and relationship with my body. I have been exceptionally lucky – and I know it – to have been born into a white middle class family, have a good relationship with food and have an incredibly robust health. I mean to offend no one for their choices, decisions or opinions about health, diet, exercise or any of it. Conversation around these topics is so very weighted that I have avoided writing about this for years and am careful about talking about this In Real Life. Oh, there’s nothing salacious or even remotely revealing coming next. I’m not harbouring an eating disorder or anything.
I used to be skinny. If you know me now, I’m not fat* or even plump yet, but I’m not as skinny as I used to be. I hate it. I don’t hate it enough to stop eating cake or do regular consistent exercise, but I do hate it and, by extension, the meat sack body that carries ME around in it.
My mother very smartly refused to have bathroom scales in the house when I was growing up. Somewhere along the line, a set appeared in my sister’s bathroom – purple and with the name of a drug company emblazoned across the top – and I began to weigh myself. I was six stone for what seemed to be decades, but can really only have been until I left school.
At school, I was always in the top 5 tallest girls. I was tall with straight hair and no curves of which to speak. My uniform was always bought “to grow in to” as though my mother hoped I would become either a size 18 school girl or pregnant at 17. I never ever grew into that uniform and resented how scruffy I looked with my uniform hanging off me.
With no curves boys jeans were the only ones that would fit. I think the pink tax might also have made them cheaper back then too, so I feel that was a bonus now, but it certainly wasn’t then. My mother and I had a simmering resentment about The Bra issue, wherein I was desperate for one and she would declare that I definitively did not require one. A friend gave me a cop top for a birthday gift and I wore it like femininity would rub off on me if I would it often enough.
It did not. I wore it out.
The first bra fitting I had was – as is legally required in the UK – in Marks and Spencer’s and the older lady, with a tone indicating I had wasted her time, directed me to “padded bras on the left” where I began a long relationship with dull-but-practical 36AAs. Not for me the lacy fripperies of La Senza (RIP) or even Primark.
So there I was. Straight up and down. Glow-in-the-dark pale skin. A lot of dark hair.
And so I remained for years and years and years. Nothing much to speak of either with pride or disgust. Yes, I longed for better hair, less body hair, more boobs (any boobs at all, really), skin that didn’t rebel and nails that didn’t flake away. But I was thin, so there was that.
And I was thin. I wasn’t rake-skinny, but I was thin. Most of my friends were. We didn’t do sports at school, we didn’t not-eat (although it transpires that one of us was bulimic, but she wasn’t the thinnest of us at all) and, on reflection, we didn’t actually talk about our bodies at all. We talked about boys and tattoos and gossip and the usual thing, but I don’t actually remember talking to my friends about our bodies.
Adults, or other girls at school, were something different. I was forever being accused of being anorexic and having relative DEMAND that I eat something in front of them. My own mother would tell me that clothes made me look “hungry looking” and it took me a long time to work out that meant that they were clinging to me sadly where some other girl would have curves. I had sandwiches and cakes and biscuits pushed on me at though this would fatten me up.
They did not fatten me up.
For the record, as anyone who has gone to a coffee house with me knows, I eat. I eat a LOT. I will suggest splitting a cake in Starbucks with the hope that you will suggest gong MAD and having one each. I don’t WANT to split something, but I also don’t want to go through the rigmarole of eating something in front of you and the conversation that goes with it about how you “can’t”. Nonsense. I “shouldn’t” but I really just like sugar.
At home we always had the same seats at the dinner table. I sat next to my dad and, when he’d finished his plate, he would move on to the next available one. He hated to see food wasted. This did mean that if I didn’t finish before him, my dinner was toast. Not literally. So I developed the ability to inhale food whilst also maintaining a conversation which I have to this day. I eat fast, I talk fast. I’m a spectacle to watch.
To recap: I was a naturally thin girl with a hearty appetite. My metabolism was very high. I ate a lot of sugar. I survived off boxes of French Fancies and could eat chocolate by the kilo with no adverse effects.
When I hit thirty, I went through a very odd period where none of my trousers fit. It was genuinely very distressing. They would hang off me. I hadn’t lost weight. It had just…redistributed itself. I seemed to have a waist which I did not know how to dress and very small boobs appeared. I still looked flat-chested when I put clothes on, but naked… definitely breasts! A revelation.
I’ve always said that when my metabolism slows down, I’m in trouble. I’ve spent 33 years inhaling biscuits and “getting away with it” and at some point it would catch up with me.
Reader, it’s catching up with me.
*ooh, difficult word that.