“There is joy in exploring bodies together.”

I’m twenty-six, and I’ve had sex with around thirty people, maybe more depending what you feel counts as sex. I was only in relationships with a handful of them, many of them one night stands, occasional things with friends, or short (often very short) flings. And I’ve never felt like a “slut”, or like I’m doing something wrong.

Just over a month after I turned sixteen, I lost my virginity to a boy I’d met that same night at a party. He was also sixteen, and a virgin too, and we got along, flirted, and had sex. (Funnily enough, I had sex again with this same boy once more, three years later.) It had never been important to me that sex be “special”, although if that’s your thing, great! I don’t remember feeling especially nervous or like something especially momentous was happening, although of course I texted my friends immediately afterwards.

In retrospect, I was lucky to have a group of quite sex-positive friends, although of course we were a mess of hormones and had our share of poor decisions and fights. We didn’t slut-shame each other, we swapped masturbation tips and passed around dirty books (how retro is that?) I also benefited from access to very comprehensive sex education, and we were generally, from the start, aware and diligent about contraception and STI prevention.

Sex for me has always been something I’ve entered into easily. Funnily enough, I find the whole process of flirting supremely awkward and have major anxiety about rejection, so I tend to never make the first move, but if things are going nicely and I’m open to kissing them, I’m probably open to having sex with them.

I find it’s a good ice breaker. The moments after you have sex, especially good sex, there’s no more awkwardness. You lie there all sweaty and just look at each other and laugh. Sudden your bodies feel like they live easily together, because they’ve worked together. Sex when you’re in love is different and wonderful, but that doesn’t make casual sex worthless. It can be life-affirming and joyful and, most importantly, pleasurable. I’ve had wonderful sex with people I barely knew, or casually and intermittently with a friend I feel a sexual connection to. There is joy in exploring bodies together.

I feel no shame of my body when I’m having sex, not that I normally do otherwise. I don’t feel exposed or afraid. They think I look beautiful, or they wouldn’t be there. Your partner doesn’t care, whether it’s for a night or a lifetime. All bodies are beautiful as you explore them and make them moan at your touch.

Of course I’ve had bad casual sex. Not everyone is good at sex, and even those who are can’t be good all the time. Maybe your bodies just aren’t a good fit, or it’s just boring or unsatisfying. But most of the time, the experience as a whole is still fun. There is still joy in kissing someone, in holding someone, in admiring and being admired. You relate on a different level when you’re naked together. Sex should be laughter and pleasure and joy. It doesn’t have rules, except to respect everyone’s consent. It’s revealing and intimate even with a stranger. It can be full of beauty.

Perhaps I am promiscuous by the standards of society, but I can honestly say I don’t regret a single one of the people I’ve slept with. I would probably have been with many more if I was capable of being more forward. Of course there are people I wouldn’t go with now, but they’ve all been a part of who I am. I wouldn’t change it, I wouldn’t take it back, and I will never, ever allow anyone to shame me for it. I had sex with those people because I wanted to in that moment. That’s what matters. Have sex how you want to, on your terms. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you need to be with more or fewer people, or enjoy a certain kind of sex. It’s not boring to have vanilla sex, any more than it’s wrong to consensually explore the dirtiest kinks you can imagine. Sex is a different experience with every new person, and that is wonderful.

There is no such thing as a slut. Have all the funny, sweaty, joyful sex you like. Use a condom, get tested, and be safe. Respect other people’s boundaries, and your own. Explore and enjoy.

“I think perhaps self-harm is something that never leaves your blood.”

Trigger warning for vivid descriptions of self-harm

I think perhaps self-harm is something that never leaves your blood. I no longer think of myself as someone who self-harms; it’s been a long time since I took apart a razor and longer – years – since I took one to my flesh. And yet as I sit here, my cuticles are ragged from tearing at them with my teeth in times of anxiety, I can see the ghosts of tooth marks on my arm where, months ago now, I bit myself so hard I almost drew blood. And it isn’t so long at all since the last time I let myself be overtaken by impotent rage and pummelled myself with my fists.

I have a cut on my hand just now, which was an accident. But feeling the pain as I press on it, and watching the miraculous day-to-day knitting together of flesh, makes me remember how very, very good it can feel to open up your own skin. It makes me remember the pain which can be controlled, second to second. It makes me remember my flesh crying tears of blood. The subsequent empty numbness and shame which is somehow so much better than the feeling that my very veins will explode with the rage and pain boiling inside them.

Sometimes there is nowhere else for pain to go. Sometimes pain has to become real before it can dissipate. When I used to cut myself, when I bite myself, hit myself, it’s a loss of control. And yet at the same time it’s making something manageable. It’s taking a feeling that I can’t articulate or push away and it’s making it into something concrete, a singular moment of pain that I can understand. I suppose it isn’t healthy, and it’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t feel that urge. It’s something you’re not supposed to talk about. The marks can be hard to hide, but you have to try and hide them because people will ask. And the truth isn’t the right answer. When people ask about my old scars on my thighs, I usually simply tell them, “Those are old.” It’s not an answer but it is, and usually they leave it at that. It’s easier when it’s something you used to do. There is no good explanation that doesn’t cause concern and embarrassment all round when someone asks about current injuries. “Oh that? I got angry one day and I bit myself till I bruised.” No one knows what to say to that, and I don’t want to put them in that position. And I know how mad it sounds when I say the words out loud.

Physical pain can be understood and dealt with right away, right in that moment where it happens. Emotional pain can spring up all over again, months and years after whatever caused it in the first place, and you can’t control it. When you cut yourself or bite yourself, it hurts exactly as much as you want it to. The purity of it is gorgeous, cause and effect of pain that can be managed there and then. When you have that pain to focus on, it isn’t confusing and multifaceted and incomprehensible. It is right there. It is real. Sometimes you just need to feel something you can understand.

Just the other day, I stopped myself from biting myself in anger and upset. My arm was at my lips, my mouth was open, and I stopped myself. I didn’t want to. I wanted to feel that pain, that instant moment of release. I wanted my anger to be channelled into something and I knew that, for a moment, it would help. What stopped me wasn’t a desire not to hurt myself, but the thought of the bruises that take so long to fade, and the toothmarks for which there is no adequate explanation. It wasn’t out of resistance to my own weakness that I stopped myself; it was out of embarrassment at being thought weak by others. People don’t talk about this very often. It is the preserve of the angsty teenager, the young person who can’t handle their emotions. Adults don’t lose control like that.

But we do. It is over ten years since the first time I remember hurting myself in anger. I remember vividly the boiling urge, sitting at the computer in my mum’s dining room, and running my long fingernails down my neck, hard. I remember the claw marks and wearing polo necks in June. I remember getting better at hiding it. Because the shame I feel of the fresh marks is still the same now as when I was 14. The way I feel right before I do it is still the same as when I was 14.

I hurt myself a lot less now than when I was a teenager, but the way it feels has never really changed. The boiling, burning desire; the momentary bliss; the ensuing shame. I am someone who can experience pain in a positive way as well. When I have enjoyed being tattooed, or play-piercing, or some kinky sex, it has never been about self-loathing or anger, but about the sensuous experience of controlled pain, and for me that is totally separate from the urges I can experience to hurt myself. Those are things I have done in a healthy state of mind, and not snap losses of control. I entered into them freely, to feel and experience them in a joyful way. When I hurt myself in anger or sadness, it is a totally different thing. There can be a tendency to conflate enjoying some kind of pain with the desire to self-harm, but that isn’t true for me and I suspect it isn’t for many other people as well. The pain of self-harm is almost incidental – it is a lot more about the emotional release. The pain is a tool to control my emotions, not the goal in itself.

I know that this is rambling and perhaps it seems self-indulgent. But I hope that someone reads it and recognises themselves, and feels less alone.

– a 25-year-old woman

“Because I deserve to love myself, as everyone deserves to love themselves.”

Trigger warning for emotional abuse and disordered eating

I remember clearly when I first became aware of my body and how I felt towards it; I was only 9 years old and I was in a taxi with a friend from school. It was summer so we were wearing those cycling shorts and t-shirts sets everyone used to wear, mine probably had dolphins on, and my friend pointed out that when we sat down my legs got fatter than hers. Of course I know now that when we sit down our legs squish out a little, it’s natural, but at such a young age and never even having looked at my body to criticise it and I was confused as to why she had pointed it out.

Of course, 9 years old is when your body starts to change, you hit puberty and you start to fill out. I was somewhat of an early developer but I was cripplingly shy and I recall being mortified at a party when I was 11 years old and a girl from my class poked me in the chest and shouted “Look at your boobs, look everyone!” and so, of course, everyone did look. My cheeks burnt and I wanted the ground to swallow me up; I was a very private little girl and having this attention drawn to me was horrific.

It’s little incidents like this that affected how I felt about myself; I was embarrassed and wanted to cover up so no-one else would point anything out. I wore baggy jeans and avoided any kind of tight clothes, probably up until I was 16 years of age. I got away with wearing hoodies because I was ‘alternative’ and ‘individual’ so no-one ever questioned it. I didn’t think about it so much at the time and it is only looking back that I am aware of what I was doing. I was ashamed of my body and the less anyone saw it, the less they could judge me.

I have absolutely no idea why I felt this way about my body; my mother fed us a healthy diet, she never talked about her weight or going on a diet and I don’t remember ever even noticing how other people looked. Even growing up as a teenager I didn’t look at celebrities and wish I could be like them. I used to complain a little about my wobbly belly but I never compared myself to anyone else; this was my own demon and not because of how anyone else looked. I can only imagine because I was so shy I was scared to be looked at, I didn’t want any eyes on me and if I had boobs or hips then people would look.

It was only as I grew into my late teens and early twenties that I really began to put pressure on myself to change the way I looked. I have to say I don’t even think it had anything to do with how I looked, it was just the only sense of control I thought I had. From the age of sixteen upwards I have been through a lot bad things, things I wasn’t mature or experienced enough to deal with (what sixteen year old is?) and by concentrating on my looks I could distract myself from everything going on around me.

By concentrating on my looks I wasn’t wearing nice clothes or styling my hair, I was wearing a lot of makeup to cover my face and trying as hard as I could to stay slim. When I was eighteen I got into my first serious relationship. I had a boyfriend for a year before and he wasn’t particularly nice to me, he left me with a lot of self confidence issues. I can’t say my next relationship left me in any better shape, in fact it left me a lot worse. I was with my ex-fiance for five years and during that time my weight fluctuated a lot. I went from 8 stone to over 11.7 stone, which is horrendous for my tiny 5’3” frame. I was so terribly insecure and I used to put myself down a lot. When your partner put themselves down it is your job to build them back up again, to tell them you love them and why; because they are beautiful. It wasn’t like that at all, for me. I remember one Boxing Day night when we were supposed to be going to a party; I was upset because I couldn’t find anything to fit me and I thought I looked like a whale in everything I tried on. I was having a difficult time in University and me and my best friend at the time had just fallen out. I was clearly putting a lot of my issues onto how I felt about my weight and when I couldn’t decide what I looked the least awful in, my partner got angry and told me how disgusting and fat I was, that he didn’t know why he wanted to be with me. He went to the party and left me at home, sobbing in bed. I was so incredibly low and I hated myself so much, I wanted to hide away and never be found.

It was about six months later when I started to work full time in my job that I started to lose weight. It was natural at first because I was doing a lot more physical work; I was no longer sitting in lectures drinking hot chocolate and eating a Galaxy Caramel but I was lugging heavy boxes around and everyday I was rushed off my feet. Once I had lost half a stone I decided that I really wanted to go for it, I was sick of feeling disgusting and crying when I saw a photograph of myself, I wanted to fix it while I was still young and could enjoy being slim. Over the next year I gradually lost weight, from sticking to a high protein diet, lost 3 stone and for a while I was happy with the results.

This changed, however, when my relationship turned sour (or more sour than it already was!) My partner had been caught sneaking around with another girl behind my back a fair few times, I know I should have left right away but I was living with him now and it wasn’t so easy to just drop everything and start a new life. Eventually, though, I didn’t have a choice. I couldn’t spend my life with someone I couldn’t trust, someone who repeatedly hurt me and looking back was emotionally abusive.

The next few years weren’t particularly good, either. I thought I was having a good year last year until that went wrong too. I had another breakdown in a relationship, I was stressed at work and I was diagnosed as being clinically depressed; I had hit rock bottom. I sat at home for a god few months crying on the couch, thinking about how much I despised myself. How it was my fault that everything had gone wrong and I didn’t deserved to be loved, that I was unlovable anyway. In my last relationship I was incredibly insecure, probably down to the fact that my previous one was so abusive. It was another unhealthy relationship and I never felt my needs were being met but being so emotionally insecure and vulnerable I clung on for as long as I could, which I regret massively. I always felt like I was the unattractive one in the relationship, that I was ‘punching about my weight’ and that soon he would realise it, he would see that he could do better. I had stomach problems for a long time and I couldn’t eat without getting crippling indigestion, this was down to stress. Work became increasingly difficult and the stress and depression got worse, which caused me to drop a lot of weight. When I was signed off work I was so terribly hard on myself, I decided that I wasn’t going to put the weight back on because I was ugly enough as it was; I couldn’t be ugly and fat. I genuinely couldn’t eat due to a combination of heart break, anxiety, stress and my terrible depression. I got so ill that all I could do was lie down, even eating became difficult and I couldn’t hold any food down if I even managed to swallow it. I should have been worried but I wasn’t, you know what I thought? I thought ‘maybe I can lose a bit more weight’ which I know now is a horrific idea. I was skin and bones as it was, I just didn’t care. I didn’t feel like my body was good enough; my ex was an avid gym go-er for his work and I simply didn’t have the time, money or energy to get a gym membership. I can’t say it was his fault but I did always think he wanted me to be a bit more active, a bit more like him. He wanted me to get involved in sports and activities when I didn’t want to and I thought this reflected on me and made me look lazy. I felt like he wanted me to be something I’m not, he wanted me to be athletic and as into working out as much as him. There was never a moment in that relationship when I didn’t feel inadequate.

I can’t tell you how I managed to change how I think about myself; I think one day it just clicked. I decided that I didn’t want to hate myself anymore; I wanted to accept my body as it is and show off everything about it that I love.

I got into a new relationship and my boyfriend is more than wonderful. He is so supportive; he tells me how much he loves me and how much he loves my body. Slowly but surely he’s built my confidence back up to the point where I can look at myself and think ‘Yes, my bum is great!’ In the past I have never been comfortable being naked around a boyfriend, I’ve always felt unattractive. Now, however, I’m happy to strut around my bedroom naked, all my jiggly bits on show and wobbling as I go. I have a confidence that I have never in my life had and I love my boyfriend so much for giving that to me. He doesn’t judge me, he loves me. His words when I said I hate my boobs, I just can’t bear them and I don’t think I ever will be able to, he said “I’ll love them for you, then.” I instantly melted, no-one has ever said anything like that to me and the best thing about it was I could tell he meant it. With him I feel like a goddess and that isn’t an exaggeration. I know how attracted to me he is, he tells me regularly and nothing will boost your confidence than knowing the person you are most attracted to feels the same about you.

I try to blog frequently about positive body image and about my journey to loving myself. I would hate to think that one day I will have children and I would pass my body issues onto them so I am determined to figure mine out. I still have the odd morning where I’ll look in the mirror and think “Your belly is poking out far too much.” But it is just a fleeting thought, I follow it up with “But look at those legs… look at your bum.” Because I deserve to love myself, as everyone deserves to love themselves.

It has been a long seventeen years since I was that nine year old in the back of the taxi being introduced to body image and questioning why my thighs were bigger than my friends. I have had so many low points when I have wanted to stay inside so no one could see me but not anymore. Now I can see a light at the end of the tunnel, I can see a future where I fully embrace myself and I champion my flaws. My big hips? My soft, rounded belly? They’re womanly and I am a grown woman, it’s how I’m supposed to look. I gained back around half a stone and shockingly, I feel better than ever. My boobs have gotten bigger and my bum has filled out. My face doesn’t look gaunt anymore, I always hated that, and I don’t bump my hip bones into things constantly. Would you believe that it’s actually painful to lie down when you’re so skinny? My bones used to poke into the mattress, not something I enjoyed.

I’ve been to both ends of the spectrum, overweight and underweight and I didn’t enjoy either one of them. I’m not supposed to be large, nor am I meant to be skinny. I am meant to be me, as I am now. I am a healthy weight, I fit into my clothes and best of all I’m happy; I smile constantly because this feeling of loving myself? It’s great and it’s not something I plan on giving up any time soon!

Author of the blog Back To Me check it out!

“My lovely, ridiculous body.”

I could tell you all about the day I realized I was fat. I went home, locked myself in the toilet, wept. I could tell you that I kept that up for about three days a week, for about seven years. I could tell you all about the blowjobs I didn’t want to give, to boys who were happy to let me suck them off but wouldn’t touch me in return.

I had never had anyone touch me sexually until I was nineteen. I had, however, given, oh, probably thirty blowjobs?

The boy who said the thought of me naked made him felt sick. The many, many times my mum dragged me to the gym. The way that, to this day, I eat sugary food in private and cry afterwards.

But then, when I was 21, I was diagnosed with Lichen Sclerosus. A rare autoimmune disease that attacks the vulval skin, until it lacerates and comes off. It can stop normal intercourse, can make the clitoris scar over and disappear, and it has no cure.

I may well take steroids for it for the rest of my life.

But!! It has changed me. It has helped me. It has made me love my body, love what it can do, love its well parts, the way they work.

Lichen Sclerosus is an illness that responds to stress, to psychological duress. And so – I think, I caused it, by hating this lovely, lovely body.

Steroids make me fatter. They make my face swell up. I don’t like that.

I do like the fact that when this illness is under control, I am blessed with a functioning cunt again.

I do like:
*learning mindfulness
*properly negotiating sex using words – finding partners for whom my condition is not a difficulty.
*lovely long masturbation sessions
*walking with my strong legs.
*dancing with this lovely, faulty, imperfect, friendly body.

Loving your body is a hard thing. It exists as the physical token of all that you are, and that is hard – we all want to be the best, shiniest token, when in fact most people are looking at our personality.

So, there are days when I am in so much pain I can’t walk. Or days when steroids give me bad Cushings syndrome. Crying days, lonely-till-I-die days, why am I still not thin enough days.

But mainly? There are thank heavens for my body days. My lovely, ridiculous body, capable of giving – and now I am older, receiving – so much pleasure.

Anonymous woman -age unknown

“My body can do amazing and destructive things. My body is not an ornament but an instrument. It allows me to give hugs, work hard, create, make love, play, feel nature, bear children, to dance. It allows me to live and to love and to feel and to experience.”

I remember as a child seeing my size 16 post-four-children mother lie reading on her side on the couch and thinking how beautiful her curves were. She was like a renaissance painting to me. Or when I was walking behind her up the stairs and was mesmerized by her swaying hips and voluptuous behind and thought to myself that I would like to be as beautiful as her when I grew up. But it turned out, I was wrong. That wasn’t the way she or I should look at all. Her mother before her was a petite, small-minded woman whose main aim in life was to be attractive, well-coordinated and to be the envy of others. Women who were not attractive were to be pitied and others who didn’t comply with fashion ideals were scorned. She constantly reminded my mom to suck in her belly and she put hairbands over my ears to keep them from sticking out.

I watched my mother and her friends diet constantly growing up. They went to Weight Watchers, low-carbed, counted points, calories, enjoyed temporary satisfaction when they had managed to be “good” for a sustained amount of time and would “reward” themselves with treats when they lost weight. This was the way women should be, I soon learned. Reward, punish, control, deprive, bargain, scrutinise, congratulate, berate, stick-to-it, push through, treat, fall-off-the-wagon, squeeze. Disappointment, exhilaration, relief, depression, failure, exhaustion. The end of the diet cycle usually begins with the words “fuck it.” And then they begin all over again. This was what women should spend their time doing, obsessing over and striving for.

I was very active as a child, constantly hungry and wishing there was more food available in our kitchen. By the end of primary school, I was thin and flat-chested and was bullied mercilessly. By my second year of secondary school, I hit puberty and with that came the inevitable curves. I was bullied for this also. By sixteen, I started a part-time job and I spent most of my money on food, luxuriating in the fact that I now could eat whatever I wanted, not like when I was younger. I was soon pulled aside by my father who said I should lose some weight. The shame and self-loathing that washed over me was overwhelming and lingers on in my mind and heart.

Throughout my teens and twenties, I often naturally lost weight in the summer due to being more active. I was slim, tanned, intoxicated with hormones and addicted to the flattering attentions of guys. One summer, I became infatuated with one of my friends who liked me back. He saw me again that December, pasty and back to my normal weight, and his feelings for me evaporated. There was my ex-boyfriend who “loved” me when he could be proud and show off my slim body to others and and was ashamed of me when I was overweight and dared to wear a bikini in front of his friends. Or my dad who only posts old photos of me when I was slim and doesn’t post the new ones but constantly shows off my slimmer sisters. Or well-meaning friends who say “You look great; have you lost weight?” Or colleagues who casually mention the newest fad diet and ask if I would be interested. Up until now, as my weight has vacillated constantly, so has other people’s – both men and women, friends, family – treatment of me. And now, this much I know: when you find your worth in how you look and the reaction that provokes from others, it can be an unstable, insecure and deeply unsatisfying existence.

So, what now? I am at my heaviest weight ever. I am medically obese and long to be a healthy weight but I am overwhelmed with how complicated my feelings are around my body and what I eat and don’t know where to start. I have done therapy and need lots more to work through the layers. I’m still not sure about my elfish ears that my grandmother so disliked. Or my saddle-bags that my ex thought I should work on. Or my fat ass that I get affectionate slagging for. It all hurts. And yet. YET. I know that one day I can eventually live freely and lightly. Nutritious eating and exercising and resting and self-caring will someday be as natural, uncomplicated, life-giving and anxiety-free for me as sleeping. And I long for that day to come quickly.

The stretch marks, cellulite, broken veins, dimples, freckles, moles, lumps, thinning hair, crows feet, short ‘n lumpy legs are all just as much a part of me as my sparkling blue eyes, my long neck, high cheekbones, big breasts and small waist. My body tells some of my story. It is my vessel that carries everything I have been and am in it. My body can do amazing and destructive things. My body is not an ornament but an instrument. It allows me to give hugs, work hard, create, make love, play, feel nature, bear children, to dance. It allows me to live and to love and to feel and to experience.

So I remind myself yet again for today: my body is me and I am beautiful, loved and worthwhile; I always have been and I always will be, no matter what.

– by an anonymous woman

“I can finally proclaim: I am entirely happy with my body”

*Trigger warning for disordered eating*

It was at 17 that I finally realised I had been abusing my body. I was in my Geography class in sixth form, when suddenly I became very dizzy, grew very pale and felt incredibly nauseous. But there was nothing in my stomach for me to actually throw up.

Like any normal teenage girl, I was unhappy with my appearance and had been most of high school. I liked very little about myself. Despite being reasonably skinny, I never had washboard abs – a fact that I hated. At 5”10 I was freakishly tall, towering over most of my classmates, including the boys. I had massive feet, and despised my toes so I could never wear sandals. My skin would break out in spots that I couldn’t cover up with makeup. My boobs were about the size of ping-pong balls. My teeth were constantly in one brace or another. In fact, the only part of myself that I liked was my ginger hair, despite this being the thing I was most tormented about by my peers. I felt weirdly protective of my ginger hair; it was something I was never ashamed of.

However, it wasn’t until sixth form that I really started to criticise myself. One day I stepped onto my scales and the figure hit 9st 3lbs. I was mortified. I had spent most of my high school life floating about the 8st 7lbs mark, and yet somehow I had eaten enough food to put me over 9st. I tried to convince myself that was ok, that for my height 9st 3lbs was actually pretty good. I continued with my day-to-day life. But I started weighing myself more and more. Every week I would recalculate my BMI, to make sure I didn’t fall any nearer to the ‘normal weight’ section of the scale. I fooled myself into thinking I was naturally really skinny, so having a BMI of 18 (technically underweight) was healthy.

For me, it wasn’t a conscious decision to stop eating. I never stopped eating altogether; I had at least one meal a day. But I would often miss out breakfast, convincing myself I didn’t have enough time to eat on a morning, nor to prepare myself lunch. I’d manage, I’d be late for class otherwise. I would grab an apple and that would be my lunch. My evening meal would be enough at the end of the day.

I realise now that I was essentially starving myself, but at the time I didn’t see it as that. I never once thought “I’m fat” or “I need to lose weight”, at least not directly anyway. Yet at the back of my mind I had somehow convinced myself that I should be eating less food; it was definitely a type of anorexia.

My wake-up call moment was the low-point I hit in the middle of class. I had to leave the room, get some fresh air and I forced down a sandwich. Nothing had ever tasted so good as that simple ham sandwich did for me that day. From then on I swore that I’d never go down that road again, and from then on I had grown to love my body more and more.

Now, in my third year at university, I can finally proclaim: I am entirely happy with my body. Sure, I still have down days. But I now eat properly, exercise every now and again (more to keep myself fit than for appearance) and sometimes I even leave the house without makeup on, without having done my hair, but with all my confidence intact. I’m a happy 10st 3lb (with a healthy BMI of 20.5!) and I’ve never felt better.

I was lucky. I never suffered severely and caught my eating disorder before it turned into anything serious. I got myself through it. My appearance hasn’t really changed too much since I was 17, but my attitude towards myself certainly has. I’m much more comfortable in my own skin now, finally, and that has made me into a much more confident individual today.

“When I was growing up, I always felt a little heartbroken.”

*Trigger warning for self-harm*

When I was growing up, I always felt a little heartbroken.

I think it started at school, when I was the girl in the game of ‘spin the bottle’ that no one ever wanted to kiss. I still remember when one of my classmates (who I kinda fancied) asked everyone why they were punishing him when he got a dare of having to give me a peck on the cheek. I never played ‘spin the bottle’ again. After all, why would I make anyone subject themselves to the torture of touching repulsive me.

I was never picked to be at the front in the class photos and always got picked last in PE. Not that it really upsets me now. I never liked sports, playing basketball was like the 7th layer of hell…Yeah, I was an awkward teenager, with loads of acne and an inability to stand up for myself. And thanks to other kids/teenagers in school, I’ve learnt to be really, really cruel to myself.

At the age of 14 not only did I let other people mentally hurt me, I started physically hurting myself. For a few years, cutting was the only way to feel. I even used to carry a razor blade under the cover of my phone in case things got ‘too much’ at school. And all the time I was injuring myself, I felt like I deserved it. Each scar on my arm was for some special reason. My ‘ugly’ nose. My ‘ugly’ eyes. My ‘ugly’ hair. My ‘ugly’ legs. I even went to extremes of thinking that my toes were really hideous because, I thought, I had abnormally small toe nails.

I must’ve been really out of luck, because when I got my first boyfriend (at that point it seemed like a miracle that anyone would ever use their time to spend with me), the nicest thing he ever said was, ‘You’re not the ugliest girlfriend I ever had’.

See? I hope now you understand why I was so heartbroken all the time.

Thankfully, it wasn’t all shit. By the time I was 16, I became the cool depressed goth kid. And that landed me with the young Kurt Cobain-looking boyfriend. The one that all the girls wanted. It’s funny, because up to this day I still want to hold up my middle fingers at every girl who bullied me and shout “Fuck you, bitches, the hot guy thinks I’m hot!”.

In ideal world I should never have suffered what I suffered, or worst of all, thought it was my own fault. But this is not an ideal world and I’m making the best of it. I slowly started building my confidence again. I kissed a lot of boys. I kissed a lot of girls. Learnt that I’m not that ugly at all. Now I’m 22 and do nude life modelling to make extra cash. And sure, I still get my heartbroken days, when my lumps and bumps seem too lumpy and bumpy and my toenails just seem too small, but at least now I have the resilience to say ‘fuck it all’, put a pair of heels on and maybe flash somebody at the pub.

“Somewhere in the past 10 years, I lost my body, but I’m determined to feel comfortable in my own skin again, and I really believe that I will.”

I grew up in a naked house. My Mum, Joyce, was happiest walking around our small flat with no clothes on – or, when my sisters and I would complain that she was ‘embarrassing us’ with her nakedness – a very thin, silk dressing gown that she would rarely bother to fasten. As I got a bit older, I realised that in fact, I too enjoyed that certain feeling of freedom that only seems to come from being completely naked. I used to sit naked with my mum on the seat by the bay window in our flat which looked out onto the street when the moon was high and the streets were quiet. We would listen to Eddie Reader, and my Mum would sometimes talk to me about how my body would change one day.
We talked a lot about puberty and relationships, I think more than most girls my age did with their mothers. At the time I couldn’t have told you why we spoke so often about such things, and I don’t think my mum could have either. I think I understand it now. My mum died when I was 13 years old.

To state the obvious, my life changed a lot after she died. I had to move into a new house with a new woman to look after me. The naked days were over, and I went through puberty and my teenage years without Joyce by my side, reminding me that everything I was experiencing was just what we had talked about when I was younger – nothing unexpected, nothing to be afraid of. I spent my teenage years full of angst about my body – it was fine, even beautiful by conventional standards at times, but I was obsessed with my appearance and terrified of judgement from others.
Today, I am much less concerned with how I look, but my body and i don’t have the same relationship that we once did. This disconnection between me and my body is manifested most strongly where sex and intimacy are concerned. I haven’t had very many sexual relationships, but those I have had have not been particularly pleasurable for me. I can’t help feeling that there’s something I’m missing in sex – when other people talk about the joy they have experienced through sexual experiences I feel jealous because for me, sex was always mostly about trying to enjoy myself with a man, failing, and then enduring sex for the sake of intimacy rather than it being something I really wanted (DON’T WORRY – I REALISE HOW MESSED UP THIS WAS!)

I have learned a lot about consent in the past couple of years, and realised that having sex when I didn’t feel like it for such a long time (most of a 3 year relationship) has left me feeling quite damaged, and definitely out of sync with my body and my desires. The first sexual experience I had with a man where we talked about what we wanted from sex together and maintained that communication the entire time we were being physically intimate was earlier this year, and it was incredible. We were only together for a brief period, but meeting him was really important because it has assured me that I can relate to sex in a positive way.

Somewhere in the past 10 years, I lost my body, but I’m determined to feel comfortable in my own skin again, and I really believe that I will.
Tonight, I sat by the window in my room, completely naked, watching the moon and listening to Eddie Reader.

by an anonymous woman

“We’re so alien to the nude figure here, unless in some perfect representation of the Western ideal, that people think they have the right to judge when they’re challenged with something regular.”

I have a really confused relationship with my body. In some ways, I love it. It works very well, does everything it needs to and that in itself is something to be thankful for. Other days I look at myself and wonder if surgery really could make me look better.

For most my teenage/young adult life, I’ve been around size 16. My parents would bring up my weight with every conversation, it felt like, and at school, I couldn’t even bring myself to stand on a set of scales for a science experiment. I felt so confused when I was younger. I was brought up with my parents telling me that intelligence and creativity were so much more important than make-up and clothes, and I still feel that way, but when you get to a certain age, your physicality becomes an issued whether you want it to or not. I couldn’t understand why my achievements in school or my hobbies wasn’t enough for my parents to be proud of me.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my parents, and they have supported me so much over the years through thick and thin; and I can see their logic even if I don’t think they’re right. The way they saw it was my unhappiness was down to me feeling “ugly” and not dating guys like every other girl that age, and being skinny would fix that. In my head though, it was always “I am what I am, why should I change for someone that can’t appreciate who I am now? And on top of that, is a man actually the answer to all my woes?” And to this day, I still feel like that. I’m not sure I’d want to date anyone who was held looks in such high regards. Not saying they have to be completely nonchalant, but I’ve always put intelligence before looks, and I’d hope to be with someone that felt the same.

So these days. I’m still the same size. The way I see it, my weight sits mostly in the right places, so I’m curvy as hell. I’ve got a reasonably pretty face and in it’s own way, I own my weight. I’ve made it suit me. I’ve started going to the gym recently, but not really to lose weight, but because studying art does leaving you sitting down for hours on end and I just want to move more. I’m going to say something strange: I’m terrified of losing weight. I’m scared that everything will just head south, or my body won’t firm up and I’ll be this bag of skin. Saying that, if I do, it’s just another change in my body, not the first and won’t be the last, I’m sure.

I really hate the attitude we have towards nudity in this country. When I was 18, i went skinny dipping with a German friend in a lake, which totally changed my views on nudity. I loved it. I loved being liberated from this idea that your body is a sexual organ, instead, your body is a living, moving natural being. Since then, I’ve had a lot less qualms about being naked in front of people, and travelling in Scandinavia has reinforced it for me. The sad thing is, I don’t know if I’ve got the same confidence here. Even last night, I was at a screening of The Room. I love the heckling, but there was one scene where the crowd were shouting “Jabba the Hutt!” because when the main actress leaned over, she had a few rolls, despite being a very normal sized woman. We’re so alien to the nude figure here, unless in some perfect representation of the Western ideal, that people think they have the right to judge when they’re challenged with something regular. I’m not sure if there’s a way that body issues will never exist in the way they do, but I’d be a lot happier if it was something for us, as women, to discover ourselves our feelings and we could remove patriarchy from the whole equation.

– Anon.

“I feel proud of my naked body because I can see my mother’s knees, curves and breasts in it … There are so many strong and beautiful women in my family and I am proud to be one of them.”

For me, how I feel about my own nakedness really depends on my mental health and personal wellness. It can vary from time to time. I picture it on a continuum with one side being – extremely.hideous.monster – and the other being something like – foxy.supreme.being -. I don’t ever reach one extreme or the other (thankgoodness!), but I believe having good mental health and balance in life is so crucially important to how we view ourselves, and our place within the wider world. When I’m feeling stressed out and anxious, I look at my body and I see something that’s tired, used-up and in need of repair. I feel heavy, grey and lumpy. I feel fragile and brittle. I see no vibrancy in my skin and no life in my eyes. However, when I’m feeling well-balanced and healthy mentally, I know that I eat better and exercise more often (even without making a conscious effort to do so). So, during those times I feel proud of my body. I feel sexy and strong. I feel soft and alluring. I feel confident.

As I look back on my (nearly) 30 years of life, I remember spending summer days of my early childhood naked, sitting in the grass, playing in my backyard, or skinny dipping in our pool before bedtime — they are all pure, warm and comforting memories. Adolescence for nearly everyone, brings change, insecurity and self-doubt. When I was an adolescent I felt awkward, and for years I hid myself in massive hoodies and XL jeans. I didn’t want anyone to know that I had lumps on my chest, or curves underneath the layers of fabric. I didn’t know how to dress my rapidly morphing figure or have the confidence to try.  I felt safe when I was hidden. I realize now that one of the reasons that I hid myself was because, as a tomboy, it took me a long time to come to terms with what femininity meant, and to find what femininity meant to me. I will never be stereotypically ‘girly’.. and I feel 110% ok with that these days.

When I see myself naked now, for the most part — I feel lucky and proud. I feel lucky because I have come to embrace myself and my body. I have become completely comfortable with myself (most of the time anyway!). I feel lucky because I’ve never hated my body. It works hard for me and I often don’t treat it as well as I should. I’ve abused/mistreated it countless numbers of times and yet, it hasn’t given up on me. I feel lucky because I can see beauty in my body, and I know there are an unimaginable number of women that can’t see beauty in theirs. I’m no longer embarrassed or ashamed of my body – I don’t try to hide it anymore. : ) I feel proud of my naked body because I can see my mother’s knees, curves and breasts in it. I can feel that my skin now reminds me of how hers felt. There are so many strong and beautiful women in my family and I am proud to be one of them.

Two women that have heavily contributed to how positively I feel about my own nakedness are my Mum, and one of my life-long friends, KP.  I am forever grateful to both of them for helping me achieve the level of love and comfort that I feel when I see myself stripped down.

by intheflesh