I can pinpoint the exact moment I realised that my problem with body image was all in my head. It was a few years back, sitting in the dark in a pub garden, and feeling myself race towards the line that teeters between tipsy and drunk. To explain, we must go back even further. My teenage self was in love (read: infatuated) with a guy who picked me up when he could be bothered and ignored me when someone prettier or (sorry for being judgy but I was 15) easier came along. Anyway, after years of excuses as to why he couldn’t return my love – you know the sort, all “it’s just not the right time” or “I’m a terrible person and I don’t want to hurt you” – we drifted apart.
So, back to the pub. As the same feelings I had felt as a teenager rushed back, and I firmly crossed the threshold to drunkenness, he told me I looked amazing. Then he said I looked slim. By this point I was 2 dress sizes bigger than I was when I was younger and certainly a lot heavier. I’ve never been tiny (I’m almost 5’10 and, as Shakira would say, these hips don’t lie) but this warped view somebody else had about how I looked made me realise that, if someone else doesn’t see my body accurately, maybe it’s possible I don’t either.
From there it wasn’t easy but at least I was aware of the issue I had. Then the memories started to stack up. At school, taller than everyone in my year and growing higher and higher without filling out at all, I was called “lanky” every single day. Throughout my teens I hid myself under GAP fleeces and huge wide-legged jeans, despite being slim underneath. My Mum and sister are beautiful and I’ve always thought I was the ugly one of the three. It was my friends that the boys chased, not me – they’re beautiful after all.
If only I’d known boyfriends wouldn’t help. At 13 years of age (thirteen!), a guy told me that I shouldn’t wear skinny jeans as I had a big bum and skinny legs. I still do, but you won’t see me in any bootcuts. Aged 17, an ex-boyfriend poked my bony hips and commented on how they stuck out. At university, I put on weight thanks to a diet of snakebites and kebabs and someone who said they loved me said I was only allowed to eat raw mushrooms, tuna, cottage cheese and leaves until I got skinnier. That’s a true story.
My obsession with reality TV and celebrities meant I was viewing warped, modified bodies every day, with shiny white teeth and the sort of abs you’ll only get from 3 hours with a personal trainer each day. The women in the music industry I admired were generally very skinny and my peers were – in my eyes – perfectly preened (bless their Instagram filters). I read magazines with photoshopped images, spent hours scrolling through the social media profiles looking at pictures of those I wish I looked like, and gazed enviously at those described as “curvy” whose proportions were still those of an hourglass – not the mushy shape my body had become. Shopping on the high street is a bloody nightmare as well. Shops don’t make clothes for tall, chubby ladies.
At 26, it’s taken almost 16 years to feel okay with how I look. It’s hard sometimes – not because I care, but because someone throws a flippant comment at me, or I’ve been watching too much TOWIE, or I ate too much food at the local tapas joint and am sure I’ll never be able to move again. That said, I feel prettier and sexier than I ever have and the most confident in myself I’ve ever been. Part of that’s down to life plagued with health issues and priorities changing, and another part is finally being in a long-term relationship with a man that makes me feel how everyone – seriously, everyone – should make their partner feel.
I still think of that evening in the pub garden, that boy and what he said. You can comment on how I look as much as you like but the one person who will no longer say anything negative about me, is me.