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

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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

I am a trauma survivor

**TW: child abuse, sexual abuse/rape, self harm, suicide, mental health issues -depression, anxiety, violence, sex**

My relationship with my body is just that – a relationship. It’s a negotiation between what I can do and what my body can do. Sometimes my body is like my best friend, and it looks out for me and protects me. At other times, it feels more like my body and me are an old married couple that bicker and throw tantrums and sulk at each other for not being good enough. I am a trauma survivor. I dealt with pretty bad emotional abuse for most of my childhood and adolescence. Even after managing to escape the people who inflicted that abuse on me, I perpetuated these abusive behaviours in my behaviour and my interactions with people. I am living with the consequences of this trauma now, and part of where I carry these memories is in my body.

I have depression, which comes and goes but often brings fatigue with it. Fatigue is the hardest to deal with of all my problems. It makes walking from my bedroom to my kitchen look impossible. It means that I can’t carry a light bag because my arms and back end up actually painful. It means I might want to go out and see my friends, but I’m worried that I won’t be able to walk all the way there and all the way back. Fatigue means my muscles often hurt and simple tasks like walking can be painful. I am lucky enough that I have enough money now that if the worst comes to the worst, I can get a taxi home from the bus station – but it wasn’t always like that, and I’ve learnt through necessity that my body can do things it is 100% sure it can’t do, if there’s no other option.

I have anxiety, most of which is a direct result of emotional abuse destroying my confidence, and I feel that in my body as well. Overwhelming anxiety starts by stealing all the feeling from my legs, so that they’re numb and shaky and heavy. My tummy starts going round and round like the alarm light on a police car. Low level anxiety, which is with me most of the time, can manifest itself by blotting out my bodily functions. I won’t get hungry or need to go to the bathroom if i’m in a situation that is potentially stressful (like staying at a new friend’s home) – this is my body protecting me from the anxiety these activities can trigger. I might not even notice that I’m panicking, until I’ve realised that I haven’t eaten anything all day and still don’t feel hungry.

Incidentally, my fatigue is actually pretty good for my anxiety because sometimes I just have to sit by the side of the road for half an hour – and necessity makes it easier not to care that people are staring at me. If I’m too exhausted to have many emotions, reason kicks in and reminds me that it really doesn’t matter what random people on the street think about me.

Depression and anxiety are the mental consequences of my experiences. There are physical consequence as well. My abusers taught me that nothing I had was really mine, including my body. While I was living with them, there was nowhere that couldn’t be violated without warning. No privacy and no safety, even within my own body.

This came out into my relationships with other people as well as in how I dealt with and felt about myself. I started having sex when I was 14, and looking back I can recognise almost all my adolescent sexual experiences as non-consensual and abusive. Now, I’m trying to work through all of the sexual abuse I’ve dealt with and exploring ways to actually want and enjoy having sex. Being present during sex is a challenge because I learnt to have sex by dissociating and zoning out. My body automatically tries to shut that whole area down because I’ve learn that it’s wrong and that it hurts and that the best way to survive it is just to shut it out and let it happen. But I don’t want to feel that way anymore, and I’m making efforts towards allowing my body to feel sexual and for that to be a positive thing. Trying to actually be in my body during sex means that I’m more likely to have anxiety and find it difficult not to panic, but I’ll take that because it means I’m making progress. Allowing myself to experience sexual attraction is also hard because that’s one of the things my body decides it’s not worth experiencing – but my brain is pretty sure that it is, now that I’m only sleeping with people who only want fully-consensual, mutually enjoyable sex.

My body is intrinsically wrapped up in all of my trauma issues; it is also a key part of my healing. The worst of my abuse was over by the time I was about 14, and I started recovering by forcefully making a claim over myself and the environment around me. I wallpapered my bedroom with pictures cut out of metal and rock magazines. The entire room was black and ugly but it was finally a space that was mine. I dressed my body in corsets and skinny jeans and eyeliner – and when I got abuse about looking ridiculous I felt proud inside because I knew I looked shit hot – I’d chosen this outfit with care! The claim I staked over my body was somewhat violent – partly because the clothes I wore and the music I listened to got me attacked by strangers on more than one occasion, but also because my tendency to self-harm (present since I was a child) became a regular and defined habit. I don’t think self-harm is healthy, but I know that it was positive for me because it was the first time I’d really been able to stake a claim over my own body. Because my abusers at this point were also people who loved and cared about me, I was obligated to keep my scars hidden from them – and they became my first secret, the first thing that was really and truly mine. My body also demonstrated its remarkable capacity for healing by swallowing the scars time and time again – keeping my secret with me.

I moved out of that house as soon as I possibly could. Living away from there for the first time was an eyeopener – until recently, I didn’t even recognise a lot of what happened to me as abuse because it was presented as so normal. My mental health issues are my body reacting to being safe. I am no longer in a crisis situation, and my body is beginning to let some of that in and deal with it. That’s why I’m considerably less able to function on a day-to-day basis than I was when I was a teenager. I’m forgetting some of my coping mechanisms because I no longer need them every day. I used to be superb at hiding my emotions and thoughts (I could have a panic attack without anybody around me noticing) and now I can’t do that – but I’m working to see this as a positive thing because it means I’m surrounded by people who are going to be ok if I have a panic attack. Actually, I’m pretty sure I’m surrounded by people who are going to everything they can to help me if I have a panic attack..

I am still learning that all of the things I learnt as fact when I was growing up are not fact. It’s beginning to sink in, after four years away from home, that I can do whatever I want with my body and my life. I have piercings and tattoos now, and some of my tattoos are ridiculous and anaesthetic and my family Do Not approve and I’m yet to explain them to anyone without getting a sort of disbelieving sneer in response – and my reaction is to shove two fingers up at them and remind them that nobody gets a say but me! Now I can put write a note to myself on my mirror, and know that nobody is going to come in and look at it without my permission. I can leave my diary lying on the floor of my bedroom. Hell, I can leave my diary lying on the floor of my living room because nobody would even dream of opening it! I can walk out of my room with fresh self-harm marks, and the only reaction I will get is people who care about me and want me to explain to them how I want them to help me. I can lie on my bed and kiss someone, and not be required or expected or obligated to have sex with them, and even though I still have difficulty feeling that that is true I know on an intellectual level that it is. I’m just waiting for my body to catch up.

My depression in high school made me want to not live because I couldn’t envision anything remotely worth living for. I expected to get married and have children because that was what I’d been taught inevitable happened, and I would probably have a job – but none of this held any particular emotional or motivational appeal for me. I didn’t have any dreams or hopes because I couldn’t envision anything giving me a positive life experience. I went through phases where I didn’t particularly want to die, but I sure as hell didn’t want to stay alive and I’d fall asleep at night praying I just wouldn’t wake up. But now, I’ve worked out that there are things I want to do – and I mean want with a burning passion that occasionally keeps me awake at night because I’m so excited about doing them. Now, I want to live so badly that even when I’m going through a bad depressed period and beyond experiencing emotion at all, I can remember that those feelings and wants exist and feel sure that I just need to hold on and work through the depression and when I come out the other side, all of the good things and good people in my life will still be there waiting for me.

annonymous 

“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 wear what the devil I like, and I don’t care if it’s ‘flattering’.”

“I wear the clothes, they don’t wear me”. My newest & most intimate mantra, and I’ll tell you why.

Like many of you reading this, I’ve had numerous battles with the body confidence demons, since childhood. As a kid I was constantly exposed to females striving to be thin. And I was a pretty fat kid. I’m now a pretty fat adult, but we’ll get to that later.

For my 6th birthday party, I wanted to wear a bridesmaid dress that I’d worn, as a bridesmaid, the previous year. Of course, I’d grown since then, but on the day of my party, when that zipper had to be forced up, I felt horrible about myself. I had an awful time at my party, told my friends that I hated them, and cried the whole time.

That experience was something that stuck with me my entire life. So, fast forward to now, and aside from desperately wanting to give my six-year-old self a hug, and to tell her she is pretty, and maybe buy her a new dress….what’s changed?

Well, social media means we get to interact with a whole bunch of people, at the speed of light. The information super highway gives us access to so many good and positive things, and that’s where the Body Positive revolution steps in.

I’ve taken on board a new way of thinking. Through body confidence networking, fashion bloggers and talking to like-minded people, I have obliterated any body shaming I might once have done, and my confidence has never been healthier.

I am no longer thinking like a fat girl who should obey Fat Girl Fashion Rules. I wear what the devil I like, and I don’t care if it’s “flattering”. To me, flattery implies that we are slowly edging towards some BS ideal of what it’s acceptable to look like, and that doesn’t sit right with me at all.

So since getting my head around that, I don’t care what others may or may not think of me. I don’t waste time second guessing other people’s first impressions of me. I am a shameless selfie whore, I’m body positive, I don’t body-shame other people, and I don’t stress about size labels anymore. I’m happy wearing short things, tight fitting things, sheer things, revealing things. Hence, I wear the clothes, they sure as hell don’t wear me.

Hayley, size 18 & completely not bothered.

@dirtyhayley

“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