“I have never felt so lacking in agency as I do out in public here, because clearly my agency doesn’t matter to them.”

Last week I hit a teenage schoolboy in the face. Now, that’s a way to get your attention. Except what I was trying to do, at the point when this happened, was to not get any attention, to walk unnoticed through the streets of the city I live in. You wouldn’t think that’s too much to ask, but here in Cairo it is an impossibility.

Put your phone in your bag, grab your keys, one last check in the mirror to make sure you’ve not got toothpaste around your mouth again. As you walk out of the front door and lock it behind you, you feel your shoulders start to hunch, your eyes fix on the floor, lines and knots of tension spread down from your neck. Step out into the streets of Cairo; your body is no longer your own.

Harassment here is a well-documented phenomenon. There are even those who believe the increase in reports of harassment since the revolution is a positive sign, that it shows more openness and a willingness to talk about it. This means in theory that the problem might be one minuscule step along the way to being solved. Be that as it may (and for what it’s worth, from my three years of living here I don’t see any progress at all) – these reports and the articles and the discussions cannot cover what it feels like to walk down the street in this country.

Impossible to explain the effects of the staring, the nudging and pointing, the jeering, the honking of car horns. The way you shrink inside yourself. The depression or the incandescent rage, depending on your mood and how much sleep you’ve had. This overwhelming feeling of how DARE you. What makes these people think that my body is something to be commented on, shouted at, gawked at?

I have never felt so lacking in agency as I do out in public here, because clearly my agency doesn’t matter to them. It doesn’t matter that I am an actual person, with thoughts and feelings and a reason to be walking somewhere; all that is totally irrelevant. To them I am just a body. All-too visible while my ‘self’, for want of a better word, feels like it is fading. It wears you down, this assault on your sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

I cannot offer explanations, and to be honest by this point I can’t be bothered to. Unsympathetic as it might be to say it, I don’t care why it’s like this anymore. I just wish it wasn’t. I shout, when the effort isn’t too overwhelming, and give the finger a lot, just hoping that even among the laughter and jeers some part of the message that this behaviour is not OK goes in. I am not optimistic about attitudes so ingrained changing.

So this brings us back around to the teenage schoolboy, who I hit in the face because he grabbed me in the street. It was 8:30am and I was walking to the swimming pool, a half-hour walk in the early-morning cool which in another city would be a pleasant way to wake up. Not here, however. I always have to run the gauntlet of a group of 50 schoolboys hanging around on the street, and on this particular occasion one grabbed me. Pushed by a friend, dared, by accident, on purpose? Quite frankly, I don’t give a shit.

While writing this I was all too aware that it is perhaps not directly relevant to the message of this blog, but the experience of daily harassment has made me more aware than ever how our bodies can so often be viewed as detached from us as people, and how this treatment can affect how you see yourself, how you carry yourself, how you react in different situations. I never thought that my refrain would be ‘just leave me alone’, but now the ability to walk down the street, going peacefully about my dull daily life, seems a necessity to keep the relationship with my body secure.

Living In

I was brought up in a culture and a house where looking in the mirror, liking your self was not okay. It was vanity. It was too close to sinning. Any child’s desire is to be loved, accepted and so I learnt to blend into the background. At the same time my family would remark on my weight seven or eight, and the concept of fat came from their words. So I didn’t live in my body, I looked at my body through their words, their eyes. I was called a highland cow, I was jeered. It wasn’t all bleak, summers free in Ireland, I forgot about the adult world and was building straw bail houses in fields, talking to contemplative cows and feral cats with kittens in the shed.

I hit puberty early with ignorance and shame. Covered up. Hid. Rolled down my shoulders, hunched my breasts. My grandmother poked me between the shoulder blades. Slouching makes you fat. Used toilet roll to block the blood from leaking. It wedged like a brick in my pants. The male gaze in our family wasn’t safe. Sexual awakening was accompanied with sexual assault. All of this meant loving my body wasn’t even a formed thought for me, let alone a feeling or simply just being in the world.

Living in my body meant living with shame, guilt and fear. Lumpen heavy dragged down. A source of shame to my family. Not pretty, sylph-like and adored but shy and bookish. I felt a quiet defiance though. Then they called me a bull. It’s your star sign they said. More names. I said nothing. My mind was the way out.

I was happy being an outsider – not with the popular crowd who tottered up town on a Friday night to feel grown up dating older men. I was one of the lads, still hiding my body, and I learnt boy language. Safer than trying to be a girl. I was the one they practised on till they moved onto the real thing. I didn’t mind. My body wasn’t there. I wasn’t really there, I observed. I couldn’t feel anything – but then I had stopped living in years ago. Clitoris? Orgasms? Masturbation? No idea. Our sex education in a catholic school was a creaky video of a woman giving birth. We watched it in the school library amidst posters of grey looming tombstones engraved with AIDS KILLS, and embarrassed passers by. More shame.

Curious at 17, I went to the public library and hired the proper sex education video to watch in one of their study booths – I couldn’t take it home. Mid throws of ‘the sex scene’ with mild murmurs from the woman I actually felt tingles, there was a knock at the door my poor studious neighbour -turn it down I’m trying to work. Oh the burning redness on my face.

I left home for polytechnic and never moved back. I had relationships. Had sex. Felt little. The first time I did a friend showed me where my clitoris was and an orgasm (courtesy of his ex-girlfriend—thank you Alison!). The joy. I struggled to share it with the boys I had relationships with all the same. I was still ashamed of my body.

Twenty years on, interspersed with 10 years of two relationships littered with sexual, physical and emotional abuse and I left my body for much longer, I am here. Living in. I have learnt that loving my self is the only place to start with love. How can I ask any one to love me or expect to be able to love them fully if I don’t love me? If I don’t love my heavy loose breasts, my scars, my crinkles, my smile, my belly that gives me my laugh and furrowed brow? Our culture teaches us an arrogance, some cringe factor about these sentences even, let alone the actuality of it. Poetry, writing, music and art have kept me alive, been my backbone.

This image was taken by my lover who I feel emotionally safe with, who I can fuck with abandon, happiness and can cry with. In the fells outside naked with the sun on my topographic stretch marks and white skin, I am free like those summers in Ireland as a child. My nerve cells and I have reconnected. I am a woman with my feet firmly planted, my shoulders level with a quiet defiance that got me through, my stride is one I love and I can dream a future of my own making. My eyes are bright and open, my heart is whole, beating, I can love with my head up and most of all I feel alive.

living in

Michelle Blog – donkey

Learning to love our bodies

Bodies are funny things. Like many people, I have a love-hate relationship with mine – this doesn’t just affect women! I grew up in a family of three girls. My good-looking mother modelled clothes for a local fashion store, and was known to say “you can never be too thin”. She often reminded us that she was only 6stone 10lbs (42.6kg) after having three babies. She ‘watched her weight’ (an interesting term, isn’t it?) throughout her life, and remained petite, though never as thin as she had been as a young mother. She smoked cigarettes (as all the trendy young women did after the Second World War), and died some years ago of a smoking-related cancer.

I was a much loved, ‘plump’ child – a mass of blond curls, chubby cheeks, legs, arms; mum called me her “sugar plum fairy”. Today people would describe me as ‘slim’. I wear size 8 to 10 clothes, but have a predictable tummy, thanks to giving birth to two good-sized, wonderful sons. I don’t like my body very much without any clothes on – lying down helps! – but I am healthy and, on the whole, grateful that I can still climb hills, make love, write books, and enjoy a glass of wine or good food with friends. I let my hair go grey when I was 60 last year – this was a big step after years of dyeing it. It is now cut very short, and I have some funky glasses that suit how I like to think about myself – a bit quirky, but also someone who wants to be taken seriously!

My challenge over the years ahead is going to be learning to love my body as bits start to go wrong, as they inevitably will. I have cataracts in my eyes, and these will get worse and require surgery. It sometimes takes me a while to remember a very ordinary name for something – so far, I can still do academic stuff quite well, thank goodness. I don’t sleep as well as I used to, and I get tired more quickly. I cannot have more than two glasses of wine without getting a hangover the next day. These are all tiny signs of decay – and things can only get worse. I have been to too many funerals already of friends of my age and slightly older. It’s all down-hill from now on, and that’s going to be my biggest challenge… Wish me luck!

Viv Cree

“When I engage in kinky sex, I am not being oppressed. I’m not “letting” a man do anything to me – I’m participating, consciously and actively, in something I want to do.”

Content warning for explicit descriptions of kinky sex, including spanking, play piercing, and blood play. Includes mention of misogynistic slurs, but used in a consensual context.

The other night I had one of those one night stands that was totally worth the effort. Sitting at home on a Saturday night after a busy shift at work, I got a booty call from someone I used to fuck a while ago. Initially I said no – perhaps out of a reluctance to revisit the past, perhaps out of internalised slut-shaming; I don’t know – but I changed my mind pretty much immediately and said yes, out of desire for some purely uncomplicated sex, and walked over to his at 1am.

His company was easy, despite the time which had elapsed since we last saw each other, and we ended up having the kind of dirty, sweaty sex that I’d almost forgotten I even needed in my life. Hair-pulling, dirty-talking, arse-smacking sex. He fucked me while calling me a slut, and I left in the morning feeling powerful, sexy, and totally respected.

Some people – still, in 2014 – see some kind of conflict between enjoying this sort of sex and identifying as a feminist. Some particularly misogynistic men see it as somehow “proving” that women don’t really want respect. But, for me, there is no conflict at all. Woebetide any man who sees fit to call me a slut or smack me on the arse in my everyday life – but in bed, with my consent? Bring it on!

When I was twenty, I was with my first proper boyfriend. Although neither of us was having our first sexual relationship, the relationship we had together was one with a lot of space for experimenting with various kinks. We explored many things which interested both of us, and by most standards it was a sexually adventurous relationship. I called him Sir when we fucked, and he called me his dirty little whore. We did a lot of bondage and playing with pain, and I loved looking at the welts the riding crop left on my backside, admiring them in the mirror and tracing them with my fingertips, feeling proud of my pain tolerance. We made our own porn, and experimented with play piercing (the practice of piercing yourself or someone else for the sensation, rather than to have a permanent piercing – I hope it goes without saying that sterile needles should always be used, and that you should either wear gloves or be with a trusted and tested fluid-sharing partner if you’re going to give this a go, but you can never give too much sexual health advice!) Perhaps the hottest sex I’ve ever had in my life was the time that Sir tied me up in the shower and spanked me before piercing his own cock and covering every inch of me in his blood while he called me a whore. Penises bleed a lot, by the way. The bathroom was covered in bloody handprints and droplets and bumprints just from two thin needles through his glans, and it was immensely sexy and satisfying.

I did these things and more not because I secretly long to be subservient to men, but because they gave me pleasure. Engaging in consensual violence and humiliation was never, for one moment, about hating myself or losing my autonomy. Quite the opposite. I love the freedom and escapism of choosing to surrender aspects of control, while retaining the ability to make it stop at any time. I find the transgression of it erotic, and would never want anyone to call me a whore if I believed that’s what they truly thought – about me or about any woman.

That escapism is something I need in my sex life. Not every time I have sex, but some of the time. Surrendering to the pleasure of sensation and losing myself in this fantasy world are absolutely feminist acts for me. I feel no shame about enjoying being consensually degraded by a man during sex. As long as the situation is emotionally healthy for you – whatever that means in the context of your life right now – and the acts are consensual, go ahead and have whatever kind of sex you enjoy, whether it’s kinky and rough or sweet and loving (and it may surprise some people to know that sex can be all of those things at once).

Bodily autonomy is a central tenet of feminism. The right to contraception, and to an abortion. The right to have sex on your terms – and the equally important right to NOT have sex, whether that means right now or always. The right to dress as you please without fear of attack, and without being judged in the awful event that you are attacked. The right to control what happens to your body is hugely important for everyone, but especially for women, whose bodies in our society – in all societies – are so often seen as the property of men.

So when I engage in kinky sex, I am not being oppressed. I’m not “letting” a man do anything to me – I’m participating, consciously and actively, in something I want to do. It is only an illusion of losing control, and consent is key. My body is my own, and remains absolutely my own through every second of choosing to submit during sex.

There is nothing unfeminist about enjoying whatever kind of consensual sexual relationship you like. There is nothing unfeminist in choosing to surrender control within the fantasy. It is my body, and that can be my choice.

“Now, I care about how well my body functions. I care about being strong, being capable of completing tasks.”

My name is Rachel and I blog over at College on Crutches. I have a chronic pain disorder called CRPS, so I’ve been on crutches for over 2 years. I am also an Anorexia survivor, and my relationship with my body has not always been great. I recently wrote a post about my change in perspective in regards to my body while dealing with my pain/crutches.

Mirror, Mirror…

When I look in the mirror, what do I see? Well, first I might casually notice the untimely blemish that has appeared on my face. Or maybe the way my stomach poofs out a bit, evidence of a meal that was just enjoyed. On some days, I see dark brown eyes gazing back at me in the glass. If it’s a bathroom mirror, I look like your average person. Putting my crutches aside, you wouldn’t know anything is wrong. But when I go into my room and see my reflection in my full-length mirror, that’s when it hits me.

“Oh. Yeah. That happened.”

There are some days when it hits harder than others. The days when I stop to look, rather than simply rushing to get ready. I see my compression stocking as fluid leaks through, a reminder that my foot is currently home to multiple ulcers and wounds. I see my calf, thinner than my arm from the muscle that has gone to waste. I see my foot, the size of a football, and wonder if perhaps that’s where the name of the sport came from. I see my lopsided hips, unbalanced from only using one leg. I see my weak muscles, my bent knee, my disfigured limb, and I am once again reminded that I am different.

But then…something changes. There’s a shift in focus as I push the damaged limb aside.

Getting over the reminders of my right leg, I take a glance over to the left one, standing tall. I see the bulging muscle in my calf, making up for the loss in the other leg. I see my thin, bony foot and I am reminded of the weight that it carries each day. I see my thigh, which certainly isn’t “skinny,” but it is built for the task that it is given. Simply looking at my left leg, I look strong. I feel strong. This leg is my saving grace; it is the part of my body that allows me to remain mobile on crutches. It is working double time to make sure I can do what I want.

I then look back up at my arms, ignoring my lower half altogether. I flex my biceps, thinking about the effort that is required of my arms each day. I think about the days when all I wanted was to be able to grasp my hand entirely around my upper arm, desperate to be thinner, searching for control. I ponder how useless they would be if that were the case today. My small, fragile arms would not have held up to the daily beating that they go through on crutches. No, instead, I have strong arms. Muscular arms, something I never wanted but never realized I’d need so badly. I think about my arms, and I am grateful. Who cares if they don’t look perfectly slim in pictures, or if they don’t fit delicately into my hand? They serve an important purpose, one that trumps any desires for the ideal body.

A few years ago, you couldn’t get me to even glance in the mirror without having a complete breakdown. I hated everything about my body, which, in turn, made my life miserable. I used to have an obsession with achieving a certain weight, specific measurement, or tiny clothing size. I thought that if I were smaller, things would be better. But now…well, that just doesn’t seem to matter anymore. Now, I care about how well my body functions. I care about being strong, being capable of completing tasks. I care about using the pieces of my body that do work as much as I can.

When I look in the mirror, I do see the bad leg. I mean, it’s kind of hard to miss. I see the struggle that is still happening on the right side of my body, and it is a bit disheartening, I can’t lie. But more importantly, I see what I have overcome. I see the shift in perspective, in priorities. The bitter reminder of what has happened is softened by the strength of my two arms and one working leg. Instead of crying over that puffy stomach, I smile at the fact that I was able to eat without fear. Rather than hurting myself for having a larger thigh than I “should,” I give myself a high-five for allowing myself to have a muscular left leg.So what if I’m not a size zero? If my body works, then it’s a good day.

Mirror, Mirror, on the wall. We might just become friends after all.

“This is the body I live in now. It won’t last forever. It is changing constantly.”

Comparing yourself to others is not a right thing to do when it comes to achieving a sense of freedom within the framework of your body. That is what I would do quite often, and it still happens to me sometimes. Like it or not, there will always be someone who is in a better shape and condition, of smoother skin, bigger eyes and sexier moves. Similarly, there will always be someone who is less attractive or of less capabilities than you.

There were a certain stages in my life when I would rediscover my body. One of them was, of course, my first sexual relationship. How important it was to hear that I was sexy, smelled nice and had amazing boobs. 14 years and a few relationships later I already know that the beauty is not as obvious as pleasing facial features and flat belly.
One of the breakthroughs in befriending my body was when I met a theatre group from Norway. After their performance, we had a walk around the old town and one of the actresses started to pet her arms and legs saying: “thank you for being strong and enabling me to perform today”. Then she explained: “I try to do that every day, cause I am grateful for my body being fit and the fact that I can do so many things thanks to it”.
“That is so true!” – I thought. We rarely notice when our body works perfectly fine (unless we use our bodies as a tool for work – as in dance or sport). We tend to realise how important it is when our condition worsens.

Now I see how lucky I am to live in my body. I call it my home and I try to take care of it as If it was my shelter. I want it to be healthy, strong and also, good looking. However, I am not obsessed with how I look and I don’t compare myself to others anymore (as often as before). There are some things I can change about my body to make it more flexible, fresh and healthy, so I do that. But there are many things I can’t change, so it is better to accept it.

It wasn’t always the case, though. Until my mid-twenties, I was very unhappy about my look and overall condition. I looked much better than I do now, though. First of all – I was younger, my skin was softer, boobs firmer and I was more energetic in general. But the only thing I could think of was my scars and how to get rid of them. When I think about it now and how it kept me away from sunny beaches, wearing dresses and being spontaneous, I feel pity for this pretty teenage girl hiding under tonnes of layers, ashamed of her body. I wanted to protect others from looking at my ugly parts and this way, to protect myself from being judged and rejected. It took me ages to realise that what others think is their business, not mine. I shouldn’t be sorry for something I can’t control and, more importantly, doesn’t cause any harm to anyone. This is how I look. Others may not like it, but I doubt they will spend their lives thinking about how unattractive the person they passed on the street was.

Another breakthrough was when I was given a laser treatment for my scars and it didn’t help at all. The doctor insisted I carried on with sessions (and spend more money in his clinic). He also said: “You will be back in a few years for wrinkles treatment.” I was raging. For him my body was something to be constantly improved. Ageing was something to deny and fight against. I decided to see another doctor just to have a second opinion. Luckily, he was the opposite. “Are your scars something that stops you from being in relationships or enjoying your social life?” – he asked. “We can of course try different treatment that would, in my opinion, help. However, why not spend money on something else and just ignore these unimportant details which your scars are?”

Boy did I want to hear that!

This is the body I live in now. It won’t last forever. It is changing constantly. What I can do now is to appreciate it as it is, support it, nourish it, listen to it, and thank it for being still strong and responsive.

What I would like my relationship with my body be like in the nearest future is to love it even when it is ill, stiff and in pain. To understand its limits and accept changes. That is the challenge and it is not easy, but I will give it a try.

– a 32-year-old woman

Your Body

Many thanks to Mythili for sending us this great poem. Mythili recounts her experience of growing up in the South Indian state of Kerala. Even after moving away from what she calls her first home, some scars remain deep. They are given voice through this poem about the Indian woman’s body.


your body

your body is not your own,
when it is owned, it is owned.
not by you, by your patronymic name
and when you grow up, by your wedded name.

your body is not your own,
when it belongs, it belongs
not to you, to your husband when he plays
and when you give birth, to your birth helper.

your body is not your own,
when it pains, it pains
not because of you, by the glaring gaze
and when you dress, by your invitation to play.

your body is not your own,
when it bleeds, it bleeds
not because of you, by the masked vigilante
and when you cry, by the misery of your doom.

your body is not your own,
when it satiates, it satiates
not you, the hungry passersby
and when you crumble, by the masochist ego.

your body is not your own,
when it breaks, it breaks
not because of you, by the Suleiman’s hand
and when you fall, by the megalomaniac.

your body is not your own,
when it is chained, it is chained
not because of you, by history
and when you die, by the daughter you leave behind.

We love when you send us things! You can always reach us at projectnaked@gmail.com or tweet us @project_naked. Art, poems, writing – however you want to tell the story of your body, we want to hear it.

Carol Rossetti – WOMEN

This is one of the reasons I love facebook and can’t quite give it up because I come across amazing things like this from the various pages I follow. This is the amazing work by Carol Rossetti, so simple yet so powerful! I wanted to share on the blog because I felt it so fitting and something a lot of woman will relate to. Also the illustrations are just too KICK ASS not to share.

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Posted with permission. Please go to http://https://www.behance.net/carolrossetti to see more of her amazing work!

“My chronic pain will not stop me being happy.”

This piece by Emma Atack, who blogs at The Sun Always Follows Rain, is taken with permission from Pouting in Heels. The original post, with pictures, can be found here.

Hi, I’m Emma.

I might look ‘normal’ on the outside but inside there are titanium rods and screws, repaired disks, muscles that don’t work when they should, muscles which overcompensate and chronic pain.

But do you know what? I wouldn’t change the amazing journey that I’ve been on. So don’t feel sorry for me – it drives me mad when people say ‘poor you’. Instead I hope to inspire.

In 2000 I graduated from the University of Central Lancashire, with a BA (Hons) in Public Relations. I had a couple of jobs before becoming a press officer for a government-funded organisation. During this time I was fit and healthy, went to the gym regularly, and even ran the Great North Run.

2007 was a significant and busy year. I moved house, was promoted to PR Manager and also got married. I’d had a few twinges in my back but thought absolutely nothing of it. Then in the November my back went. And I could not move.

Tests revealed I had the spinal condition Spondylolisthesis, something I had been born with but typically only becomes symptomatic in your twenties. I was 28.

One vertebrae had slipped over another giving me a dent in my back, a prolapsed disk, muscles that were constantly in spasm and leg symptoms. This was never part of my life’s plan.

I was off work for a few months, determined that all would be ok. After I while I returned to work, but struggled to drive, I could not sit for long and was in constant pain so the following August I left the office and never went back.

In 2009 having tried every type of spinal injection, physiotherapy and acupuncture, I had my spine fused. I WOULD make a full recovery.

But I was still in serious pain, still walking with a walking stick and then I had a tear in another disk. Anger and frustration led to depression, which I failed to recognise until everything seemed to go ‘bang’.

I can remember crying solidly for 12 hours and my mother-in-law saying it was time to go to the doctors. Of course as soon as I saw the doctor I started crying who said to me ‘I’m surprised you’ve not been earlier’.

He was right I should have gone earlier – I was very depressed.

Part of the reason I had not wanted to admit this was that my father had taken his own life nine years earlier and I didn’t want to admit to being depressed as some say it can be genetic.

I look back now and think how totally stupid this was, my whole world had fallen apart and I was living in constant pain. Like so many I was being far too hard on myself. I should have asked for help earlier.

In 2011 I had further surgery and was determined to make a full recovery, but like many other people, unfortunately I have gone on to live with chronic pain.

But yet, I’m determined to make the best of things and 2014 IS going to be a great year.

I have finally met a fantastic NHS physio who is treating me as a ‘whole’ person. We are getting to the route of my remaining pain and I am becoming physically stronger every day.

My key phrases throughout my experience have been and remain to be ‘Everything happens for a reason’ and ‘Things always work out in the end’ – I truly believe these words and so should you.

“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!

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