“My relationship with my body is love/hate – mostly hate.”

TW for bulimia.

My relationship with my body is love/hate – mostly hate. I have a 1 year old little girl and she has COMPLETELY changed my body! Before I got pregnant I was pretty curvy but felt fine about myself. I did always want to look like they did in magazines but not enough to actually do something about it!

I was about 30-something weeks pregnant when I started getting stretch marks and I felt horrible. I felt fat, bloated and ugly! Then I gave birth by cesarean and have been left with a scar that makes my belly look weird and saggy. I was sick of feeling fat and ugly so I did something about the weight. I lost 2 and a half stone within 6-8 months. I felt great physically but mentally still ugly.

I follow hundreds of clean eating and body building pages on Instagram and I want to be like them but I am so mentally drained with being a single mum that I have no motivation. I weigh myself everyday and if I put on a few pound I sometimes make myself sick. It’s so stupid. Sometimes I look in the mirror and feel great and think, “well, I look pretty hot for a mum!”, but that’s soon wiped away and I look closely at my stretch marks and lifeless boobs and feel like a deflated balloon.

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“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!

“I have concerns that I will be left feeling un-womanly but the far greater chance is that I will just be left with smaller breasts, still wearing a padded bra and (hopefully) much more confidence.”

Like anybody, I have my insecurities. Neurotically speaking, out of the top ten things that I worry about or that annoy me, about 7 or 8 out of ten are related to my body. (The exceptions are failing my degree or family problems). From sweating too much, to the point where I am the only person who I know with clammy fingertips, or having a little too much hair everywhere (emphasis on ev-er-y-where) and worrying about the fact if I were to go get my first professional wax, I’d be laughed out of the room. Include into this my anxiety that I’m not skinny enough and the general angst-y rubbish which clouds my thinking as I head out of my teens and into my twenties. But mainly, I have enough good humour to accept them as just an unfortunate combination and that most people have much worse.

I’m still a virgin. Partly through choice and partly through utter fear. Since being at university, I’ve had two relationships. Both of which were short-lived and riddled with doubt about the best way to act or what new sexual experience I’m about to have, and, partly, a lack of confidence in my body. The reason is as follows:

I have to make a decision in the coming months about my body and it will be with me for the rest of my life, as the ‘problem’ has been since I started puberty. As much as I can cope with bleaching my top lip and occasionally using stronger deodorant (even on my fingertips) and home waxes – until I become eventually brave enough to finally take a visit – the size and asymmetry of my breasts is number one on my angst list. (Sometimes replaced by the shade of my slight lady-lip moustache that I’m currently rocking and whether it’s noticeable to people who aren’t as aware of it as myself).

Since the age of 13, I have been seeing a specialist about the asymmetry of my breasts in their development. The memory of medical photographs at the age of 14, one of which carefully captures a bead of nervous sweat running from my armpit down and around the curve of my non-existent breasts, still stings. Although my breasts have developed seven years on from this, my breasts themselves haven’t grown much. As a size 12 to 14, I wear a 36A-B bra, where one of the cups is amply filled and the other is more of an AA-cup and disguised by my choice of slightly padded bra.

I’ve chosen to wait until my early 20s to ensure that my breasts are properly developed and that one is not just a ‘slow grower’. Unfortunately, it seems not to be the case. And in three months’ time I have potentially my final discussion with the NHS consultant plastic surgeon. I am not normally at a loss for words to say, but when it comes to this decision I am. My breasts are small but well-formed; I have very good nipples; however, as my breasts are so small the half a size cup difference is quite noticeable. If my breasts were to be slightly larger then the difference would not bother me so much and the thought of wearing a thin non-padded bra and occasionally allowing a cheeky hint of nipple to rise underneath my top is something that I would like to do – though it wouldn’t be a regular occurrence but is something that I would currently never dream of doing. It would leave me too vulnerable.

The options available to me are the following: an implant in the smaller breast, two implants to ensure that the shaping of both breasts is similar as my body ages over time, a breast reduction on the slightly larger breast (either in the traditional form or potentially by using a liposuction technique) or to not have surgery at all. I do not want miniscule breasts but more than that, I do not want something alien inside my body. I feel as though I want the next sentence to begin with “Unfortunately, both of my breasts will be smaller as I have a reduction on the slightly larger one…” but the honest truth is that, after feeling so uncomfortable, I’m not too sure whether it will be unfortunate. I have concerns that I will be left feeling un-womanly but the far greater chance is that I will just be left with smaller breasts, still wearing a padded bra and (hopefully) much more confidence. And always the potential to finally let my permanent nip-on be welcomed to the world via a non-padded bra.

The chances are that as I’ve been in the NHS system for so long and have considered my decision for so long that there would be follow-up care and any ‘damaging’ psychological effects could potentially be solved by another breast operation; an enlargement. Though I really think it won’t be necessary. Strangely, writing this has shown me that the confidence I lack can be solved by a bit of effort to keep in shape, do my hair and a wee bit of make-up. The fear of taking my bra off and having sex (I considered writing “intimate relations” then, apologies) is not from my breasts alone, but they remain a contributory factor. I was not brought up in a prudish family and was taught to respect myself and my body. The idea is that so long as I am comfortable with my decisions and how I act (and I don’t cause harm to others), then it’s fine. Partly, the longer I wait, the more that I want it to be with someone that I trust and feel comfortable with. It isn’t a decision which is rooted in romantic ideals of being in love but it still means something to me. Frankly, the ‘issue’ with my breasts has been something that I hide behind and occasionally excuse laziness or gluttony by. The “well, it won’t change things anyway” attitude which really has not helped me so far. With a summer ahead of me (and after just emailing my consultant as I am finishing this piece), it’s made me realise that the time is now. I’ll still wait a year until I’ve finished university until I have the operation by which time I will be 22. But the decision has been finally made and the plans can finally be set in motion. Just the fact that I have made my decision makes me more confident and really, that’s all that matters when anyone has to very personally think about their insecurities and their bodies.

by an anonymous woman in her early twenties

“Some days I think I’m skinny, some days I think I’m fat – but importantly, most days, I don’t care.”

Throughout my teenage years I had all the usual hangups, worrying that I was fat or oddly shaped. I wasn’t, I was a size 12-14 with great proportions – I look back at photos and think my body looked amazing, and that I was foolish for not appreciating how little trouble my body gave me then, but hindsight is 20:20. Four unhappy years at university down the line and I’m somewhere between size 14 and 18 depending where I shop, and the shape of my body has changed, probably forever. This is a story with a somewhat happy ending (although it’s not really over of course – instead of an ending we’ll call it an ongoing), but first I’m going to take a tour of the main issues I’ve had with my body over the years.

Stretch marks

When I first put on weight I was distraught, not particularly at being bigger, but at the irreparable changes my body had gone through – the long, red, angry looking stretch marks that snaked their way up my belly, right at the front, making me embarrassed to be naked even around long term partners and saddened that I’d probably never wear a bikini or certain types of clothes again. Aged 14 I developed long horizontal stretch marks across my back, it looked like I had been whipped, but they’re faded now except in certain lights and I never really cared that much about something I couldn’t see anyway. While the stretch marks elsewhere on my body felt like a natural part of growing, these stomach scars felt like some kind of awful punishment – for being greedy, for being lazy, for being unhappy, for being stupid enough to let them grow in the first place – every kind of self critical thought you can imagine. Weight can be lost and gained and lost again, but stretch marks are forever.

I felt like I’d blown my only chance to have a good body while I was young, before life and age and babies. I felt I could accept those processes of life as normal, but my body felt abnormal. No matter what size and shape my body is in the future, those marks will be there. They aren’t forever in the way that I convinced myself they were though – over time I’ve continued to put on weight and they have continued to spread, but the marks that bothered me so much before are now silver or white, and the new ones are slowly losing their redness too. I find, for some bizarre magical reason that I’ll never understand, that they seem a whole lot less visible and less prominent when I’m aroused – I don’t question it, I just allow it to boost my confidence. And the way I feel about them is that I am just not as bothered by them as I used to be. I’m not totally okay with them, I still sometimes cover them up when I’m otherwise naked and I’m lightyears off being comfortable enough to wear a bikini, but instead of feeling like my life is over because of them, I’m confident that they will change, concern me less, and that I can cope with them in a way I couldn’t before.

Boobs

My boobs are big, round, sensitive, squishy, they slightly sag but are easily pushed front and centre. They can get uncomfortable and sore from lugging them around all day, the skin on my nipples breaks easily, and I have chronic lower back problems that I doubt will go away, but nevertheless I like them as they are. The size of my chest has resulted in a lot of attention, mostly negative and unwanted. People make comments in the street, stare, talk endlessly about it as though it’s a topic I should find interesting, act like I couldn’t possibly know my own bra size, make presumptions about me. The one that bothers me the most is that people presume there’s something ‘obvious’ about you if you have big boobs. Like the size of a body part that you’ve never chosen or determined means you’re easy, stupid, not worth the bother, not very interesting. Sometimes people refer to me as “Boobs”, like there’s no other noteworthy qualities about me. Often my family imply that I should cover them up more, I don’t see the point. Aside from the fact that I pick clothes based on liking them and not how much of my boobs they cover, I don’t get any less comments about the size of them if I wear something high necked, and I’m not going to wear clothes I don’t like just to please other people.

Contraception

I started taking the pill when I was 16, put on weight and had stressful mood swings, so I stopped taking it. When I was 20 I got the contraceptive implant, which coincided with a bad relationship (more on that later), but it also increased my weight, I bled every single day, and the impact it had on my mood was huge, so I had it taken out after three months. I think it’s awful that we expect women to bear the burden of contraception – especially because in the process we have to make our bodies a test site for a bunch of different hormones and their various side effects that can affect our mental and physical wellbeing. I stopped using hormonal contraception because it was upsetting me, and condoms are great anyway. However, I’ve recently decided to go back on the pill, trying a different kind, because my periods are so bad. Testing the pill is a horrible, trying process of weighing up side effects and benefits – at the moment, the benefits for me outweigh the worries. I wish I didn’t have to make those choices, but I do, so hopefully I can find the right thing for me. At the moment, this uncertainty about what unpredictable changes my body might go through is my biggest source of body worries.

Self-esteem

I want to talk about how I’m more accepting of my body now than ever before, but first I’ll need to explain how I reached the peak of hating my body last year.

I’d been in a relationship with a guy for nearly a year when I found porn on his computer. It wasn’t the kind of porn where people have sex, it was the kind of porn where very large women eat food while naked or semi-naked on camera, for men to masturbate over. After finding videos on his desktop, I looked at his internet history and found that not only did he watch videos, he joined pay-to-view porn sites, wrote on forums for ‘bbws’ and ‘feeders’, joined dating sites for men to meet large women where he pretended to be single, and even met up with one woman for drinks. It wasn’t just a sexual preference, it was a fetish. Any confidence I had flew straight out the window, for my body and my mental health.

Both of us identified as feminists and I couldn’t believe he would do something like that – to me, and to the women he was objectifying. I explained how upset I was, and told him my feminist objections to porn, to the fetishisation of types of female bodies for the sake of male gratification, and to the culture of ‘feeders’ – I don’t see much difference between a man encouraging a woman to diet because he finds it sexy, and a man encouraging a woman to eat lots of food because he finds it sexy. It’s controlling and manipulative and dangerous. Whatever size a woman is should be determined by her alone, not male fantasies. He apologised, said he understood and would stop.

I didn’t have the strength or the will to leave him despite how horrified I was, because it made me ill. I felt alone, confused, trapped, anxious, depressed, incredibly paranoid, and thinking about or looking at my body felt traumatic. I double questioned every thought I had. I thought, am I fat, and is that why he finds me attractive? Or am I not fat enough for him and he wishes I was more like the women in the porn? Both options were unpleasant, and made my body repulsive to me. I found going to the shops and being seen in public a struggle, I stopped wearing tight clothes, I became paranoid about what my friends were saying about me, I hardly masturbated and when I did it was joyless, I hated myself and felt alienated from everyone else. I can’t fully describe the levels on which it played with my perception of myself and other people, it’s not something it’s possible to entirely understand and explain, I just know that it scarred deep. When months down the line I found he hadn’t stopped doing it, I knew it was a losing battle and I left him. It took a while, but I came to realise it had never been about me or my body, but about his problems and his issues with control. I was able to finally recognise the way he treated me and the things he said to me as emotionally manipulative and abusive, and I’ve never looked back.

The first couple of times I had sex after that, I covered my body, but I don’t do that any more. I was still in poor health mentally, but the sense of relief and freedom was tangible and it really lifted a lot of the pressure I felt in my head about my shape. I’m sometimes still shocked at how easily I began to be able to look in the mirror, see my body as it is and not want to cry, previously an alien concept to me. It’s not that I wouldn’t like it to be different, I’d like to be slimmer, I’d like my belly not to hang the way it does, I’d like it if I could stop crying in changing rooms when I have to get the bigger sizes and the lights are so unflattering, I’d like a lot of things. But I feel able now to look in the mirror, see what I see, and get on with my day because there’s nothing immediate I can do to change it and it is what it is. There’s nothing wrong with what it is, and anyone who wanted me to change it wouldn’t be worth my time. When I’m focusing on improving my mental health, worrying about my body feels like a waste of energy.

Sometimes, things can pop up which trigger me and put me back in that headspace where nothing made sense anymore and my body felt like a cruel joke. When I see ‘real life’ magazines with stories about feeders on the cover, when I see the TV guide and it says they’re showing “Fat Girls and Feeders”, and sometimes when I see fatpositive blogs and images of large women’s bodies on sites like tumblr, I crumble. I don’t feel that way because of the women’s bodies – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with them and it pleases me when women of all sizes take ownership of their bodies and are positive about how they look – but because it reminds me of the men who abuse and fetishise large women for their own sexual pleasure, and how much damage one such man did to me.

But, time (and talking about it) heals some wounds, and I’ve come a long way from last summer when I hid in a tent and cried for hours after seeing a magazine article about feeders at a campsite. When the issue comes up, I can explain my experiences to people without wanting to melt into a puddle. And I have the wisdom of experience to know that I’m stronger than I gave myself credit for, and that what my body looks like is the least of my worries so long as I’m emotionally supported by the right kind of people, including myself. And since I’ve rediscovered masturbation, and the ability to appreciate how my own body looks and feels during it, I’ve had the best orgasms of my life. Some days I think I’m skinny, some days I think I’m fat – but importantly, most days, I don’t care. My body doesn’t haunt me the way it used to. I’ve experienced enough body changes now to know that things are never as permanent as they seem, and worries are never as important as they seem either. Of course there are times when I still berate myself for not looking a certain way, for not exercising or for what I eat, but I find those days are fewer and further between the better my mental health gets and the more accepting I am of my own feelings and experiences. A good counsellor, good friends and good sex mean the world to me right now.

Friends

Recently my best friends and I sent each other photos of our vaginas. It wasn’t sexual, we’re just generally nosy like that and like to compliment each other – we all have great fannies of course. It was a sincerely nice and funny bonding experience. Some people (particularly men) who have heard about it react fairly oddly, as if it’s the last thing in the world they would expect close friends to do. It makes me sad that most men, and a lot of women, are more likely to learn about genitals and sex through porn, with all its distortions, than through honest discussion and learning from friends. No one has helped me to appreciate and understand my body sexually more than my friends – from the friend who gave me my first orgasm, to the friends that tell me their experiences of types of sex I’ve yet to try, to the friends in primary 7 who taught me the function of the clitoris when we experimented with masturbation and reported our findings to each other. There’s no better way to learn about sex, about your body and about yourself, than to have friends that you trust and talk to and share experiences and thoughts with.