At a time when we have some women willingly mutilating their feet so that they can fit into the latest shoe fashion, whilst at the same time there is a growing movement that seeks to empower women and make them love their bodies as they are, I think it’s about time I shared my experience.
I was a rake-thin child for the first 9 years of my life. I can still remember being able to see my ribs through my skin, which actually scared me as a child! However, when I reached the age of 9, suddenly I began to put on weight. This horrified my mother, mainly because I think she could see her own pattern of yo-yo weight gain and loss starting to happen for me as well. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, she swung between making angry and hurtful comments about my weight and adopting a “we’re in this together” attitude, where she was understanding and supportive. As is the way with the human brain, mine hung on to the angry and hurtful stuff rather than the understanding. As a result, I spent pretty much all of my teens and twenties hating my body.
However, I do think I was lucky with the way I chose to express this hatred. I tried to obliterate my body by eating too much, all the time. I don’t know what would have happened if I’d gone the other way and decided to starve myself, but having seen what anorexia and bulimia did to other family members and friends, I’m so glad I chose to go the other way. I wouldn’t look in mirrors. I resigned myself to being “the ugly one”. I wore terrible, old-lady clothes because, deep down, I knew I didn’t deserve to dress well. If I was the ugly one, I was going to be really ugly.
Despite this, I still felt compelled to diet obsessively. I joined one well known slimming club in the UK and became religious about what I ate. I obsessed about every meal and made weird and (not so) wonderful food combinations, spurred on by the diet books I was following and the people I was seeing each week. Amazingly, I dropped four and a half stone (63 pounds for my US readers, or 28.5kg for my metric ones). I was thrilled! The club wanted me to be their slimmer of the year, I had my goal weight certificate framed with a particularly hideous before photo of myself, and I started on the first day of the rest of my life.
Women everywhere will know what happened next. Freed from the constraints of my diet, the weight gradually crept on again. My attitude to my body hadn’t changed with my weight loss, I still felt ugly. I’ve never gone right back to where I was when I started, but most of that four and a half stone returned within a year. I made some half-hearted attempts at dieting again over the next ten years or so, but I found I couldn’t take myself back to that time of obsession and misery (because it was miserable, believe me).
The next few years were hard. I was coming out as well, which didn’t help. I got my first girlfriend, who was considerably bigger than me and hated herself just as much as I hated myself. We were profoundly bad for each other and split up after just three months. I consoled myself as I always did – with food.
Then I met my wife. Suddenly, here was somebody telling me how beautiful I was. She called me her “Botticelli angel”, saying that I looked just like the angel figures in a Botticelli painting (hence the image above). As the years went by, I began to look in mirrors again, I began to see myself through my lover’s eyes. Yes, I still had a big belly and fat thighs, but as she caressed my body, physically and with words, I felt, for the first time in my life, that none of that mattered. I was beautiful just as I was.
This was when something truly amazing began to happen. Gradually, I stopped trying to diet. I weaned myself off the habit of mentally grading each piece of food I put in my mouth as either “good” or “bad”. I started to buy clothes that looked good on me, buying bigger sizes rather than smaller things I would aim to “fit into one day”. This process continues to this day, and, as I’ve done all this, I’ve begun to realise that I actually have a natural weight. I am wearing a size 18 jumper today. I have had this jumper for three years. It still fits and looks good. When I stopped dieting, I stopped gaining weight. Of course, my weight fluctuates, but I have not put on or lost any significant amount in the last three years.
I also discovered something else – food is wonderful. It’s not my enemy. I want to eat healthily now. I love to cook with fresh ingredients. I try to buy all my food locally, so it’s fresh and tastes better. I cook meals from scratch almost every day. In the past, I would eat takeaways and ready meals weekly. Now I only buy things like that occasionally, as a treat, not a punishment. However, the most important thing is that I’ve stopped denying myself the foods I love. I’ve eaten crisps and chocolate whilst writing this. I don’t usually do that in the morning, but I felt like it today, so I had some. I no longer scour restaurant menus to find the healthiest dish, I eat what I want and enjoy it. This has been a revelation and I love it!
So, why am I telling you all this? Because I want women to stop hating themselves. I want the women who read this to realise that you are who you are. You have a natural weight. You can be fit and fat – look at Lisa Riley on “Strictly Come Dancing” this year. Most importantly of all, if you can learn to love your body as it is and stop trying to change it constantly, the freedom you will feel is incredible.
Listen to your lovers when they tell you how gorgeous and sexy you are, don’t just assume they don’t mean it. Stop shaving, plucking and painting every last inch of yourself (read my blog post about this here) and accept yourself as you are.
Don’t cut off your toes, change your shoes.