“I try to love and respect my body no matter what I weigh.”

My body and I have had a love/hate relationship for as long as I can remember. I remember when I was younger hating my body because it was different than the other girls. I was short and stubby. My mother would tell me to stand up and suck in, so as not to seem so fat. Around third grade is when I realized, I could change the way I look. By third grade, I started off my first course of bad dieting. Eating carrots, soup, and crackers for months at a time. I equated losing weight to being happy. When I lost weight, I felt great. People would comment on how good I looked or how pretty I looked. Eventually, though, I would gain the weight again, starting the whole process over again.

The time that affected me the most, though, was just a couple of years ago. I was a sophomore and junior in college. I was already a vegan, but I decided that being vegan wasn’t enough to lose weight. At the point, I started eating less and less. I would eat a banana for breakfast, gum for lunch, and iceberg lettuce for dinner. I continued to work out. I quickly noticed my body starting to change, but I still wasn’t happy. No matter what the scale told me, I found myself hating my body and who I had become more and more. This sadness oozed out into my everyday life. I found that I couldn’t connect with people anymore. I couldn’t have fun partying or doing random things with friends.

I hit rock bottom when my doctor explained to me that I was ruining my chances of ever having a child. I had lost my period the beginning of sophomore year and had never gotten it back because I was lacking too many nutrients. At that point, I decided to see a counselor.

This was a changing point for me. While you always hear “love your body” and “you are beautiful”, you never really come to understand how reality is distorted by things such as music videos, magazines, the internet, etc. Everywhere around us, we are bombarded with pictures of women who seem so happy. They are thin, tan, and beautiful. Psychologists sometimes like to call it the halo effect. The halo effect is the assumption that persons who are beautiful are perfect. They have great friends, they’re nicer, smarter, etc. That is what I was attempting to do. I was attempting to become beautiful in my body, so that I could achieve this sense of perfection. If I had a beautiful body, then maybe I would have a happier life.

Nowadays, I realize that this mindset was not going to work out. The way my body looked didn’t have to affect my happiness. I could control that. Since that point I saw the counselor and on, I have still struggled with my body. Now, though, I try to love and respect my body no matter what I weigh. I cherish my friends, family, and experiences in life. I understand that I’m beautiful no matter what my body looks like. There is so much more to me. I’m not saying I have all the right answers, but I think I’m off to a good start with my body.

“I now refuse to diet. I am a fat woman. I weigh 315lb and am 5ft 7in. Ask me my weight, I’ll tell you. I love myself the way I am and have no desire to lose weight. There is no thin woman trapped inside of me; I am chunky to the core.”

I remember the first time I realised that something was “wrong” with me. I was three and at preschool and one of the boys called me fatty fatty boomsticks. I was plump but not huge.

By the time I started school, I was viewing myself as a second class citizen because of my weight and school did not help this. I was teased unmercifully and my weight just kept increasing. I started to see my body weight as the key problem in my life. If I could just fix it, everything would be better. At 9 I stopped eating anything but tomato and cucumber for six weeks. I didn’t lose much and it didn’t stop the teasing.

By high school, I was miserable in my own skin and suicidal. I weighed about 82kg (180lb) and 5ft 2in. The doctor put me on a diet but because I had been starving myself, I actually gained 5kg (11lb). He accused me of cheating. People were horrible to me. The bullying got so bad that, years later, a number of people told me that when we were in high school they used to be glad they simply weren’t me.

At 15, my blood pressure became dangerously elevated and I was told to diet or die. I lost 40kg (88lb) through sheer persistence and hard work. For the first time I actually liked myself but I realised that how you feel about yourself is in your head not a function of fat on your behind. They weight came back, as it always did and forever will but my confidence stayed higher than it was before.

The next problem was that my weight was affecting my fertility. I weighed about 300lb at the time. I tried for eight years to get pregnant but no dice. I knew I needed to lose more weight than I could on my own so I had a lap-banding. It was a devil’s bargain. I was miserable, in pain and vomiting but with extreme exercise, the weight just fell off. I lost 70kg (154lb) in seven months. My ego got huge and I did not like the person I had become. I later realised the ego was a covering the fact I was deep down unhappy. I could not relax or enjoy being thin because if I did the weight might come back. Fortunately I got pregnant but regained nearly half the weight during the pregnancy.

As my son grew, so did my weight. The lap-band only slowed the regain and there was so much pressure to lose weight that I kept trying, losing and regaining, developing increasingly disordered eating habits and severe arthritis in my knees from pushing myself to exercise so hard. I was starting to see that this was destructive for me and truthfully, I felt like I was a traitor to myself each time I celebrated a loss.

In my thirties, I decided to embrace my weight. I started to use the word fat for myself and be really upfront about my size. I decided to be kinder to myself and stop believing the things society tells me I should think about myself. I was still dieting though.

The final straw came when I was about 37. It is very hard to find a doctor that supports my position of self-governance regarding my weight. My GP at the time blackmailed me into having my lap-band tightened (against the surgeon’s better judgement), so tight that I could only take liquids. My liver function started to decline as a result. This is where I called a halt. I realised this pressure was no longer about making me healthier but about making me try to conform to societal ideas of beauty. Over my life time I have lost about 510lb and regained it. If dieting was going to work long term, after 25 years, it would have done so.

I now refuse to diet. I am a fat woman. I weigh 315lb and am 5ft 7in. Ask me my weight, I’ll tell you. I love myself the way I am and have no desire to lose weight. There is no thin woman trapped inside of me; I am chunky to the core. I do not diet but instead treat my body with dignity by giving it healthy food and as much exercise as my disabilities allow. I dress boldly, shave my head and am covered in tattoos. People stare; I stare right back. It is a struggle to get doctors to respect my wish regarding my own body but I believe it is a basic human right to control what happens to my own body and because I love myself, I persist in the fight.

The thing I learnt through all this, is that your self-esteem is not about your body but your mind and your thinking. Constantly worrying about your weight is a pretty depressing way to live and allowing others to influence how you think about yourself is effectively turning over your power to them. Change your mind.

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

*Trigger warning for disordered eating*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The most important thing that came from recovery was a newfound, unshakable, almost instinctive respect for my body. It never fails to amaze me just how strong my body can be, and how fine-tuned it is to my needs.”

*Trigger warning for self-harm/anorexia/bulimia*

This is a cliché, but it is difficult to know where to start when writing about my body. From existence? We talk about ‘bodies’ as if they are somehow separate others, yet what am I if not purely my body? Perhaps that scares me more than if my body and mind were separable. Growing up my body was me, always – I ran, or grew, or was damaged in a playground fall – yet at the beginning of the inevitable slide into puberty bodies become something else; untrustworthy objects that swell and act defiantly out of our control, things to be scrutinised and unwillingly accepted with time.

Since around about 2nd year, I increasingly saw my body as something I should use in some way to express myself – whether by trying to distort it to somehow show the ‘real me’ or (this came first) by using it as something which I could use for emotional release. I got into the habit on binge-eating after school to deal with stress and general teenage angst (and then grew increasingly horrified at the weight gain, which felt completely unconnected to my actions); later, when that didn’t help, I got a release from pocket scissors in the webbing of skin between my middle and ring fingers. I wore gloves to hide any marks, but eventually stopped after a mortifying moment when holding hands with a friend.
Every year, I made a secret New Year’s resolution to lose weight, and gain control over my body, and eventually, in 2009 I gained ‘control’ in the form of an eating disorder that effectively lasted for two years, and which still lingers in some ways. The mind-set of these things is incredible – the only way I can describe it is to compare it to an addiction where control, starvation and listening to the commands that eventually occur unprompted in your head are the drugs. The first six months are now a sort of blur of rules and numbers, and a thrill in feeling my body shrink that increasingly gave way to exhaustion, and the unwilling realisation that I, in fact, was no longer the one who had any control at all. Recovery was longer and slower than I ever expected it to be, and in many ways lasted longer than the disorder itself. But the process taught me so much. Calorie-counting is insane! A calorie is the measure of the energy required to heat 1 litre of water by 1 degree C. Thin doesn’t mean healthy, fat doesn’t mean unhealthy. If you listen, physically, bodies tell you what they (you) need. Scales are inaccurate and weight fluctuates by kilos. Most importantly, advertising is mad: for years I failed to see that women are beautiful when they are healthy and confident, not when they starve and pout. I still have difficulty doing this sometimes, but at least I can now see it’s a lie.

The most important thing that came from recovery was a newfound, unshakable, almost instinctive respect for my body. It never fails to amaze me just how strong my body can be, and how fine-tuned it is to my needs. When I starved, my metabolism slowed right down; my periods stopped to save energy; the hair or my arms and face grew longer and faster to keep me warmer; I craved food until I binged. Despite my best efforts it held on to every ounce it could, and kept going. That alone, and the disparity between how I felt and how I feel, have made me eternally grateful for my body – regardless of the occasional hatred of my body’s appearance or new weight – new hips, new boobs, the sour disappointment of ill-fitting clothes – I can’t help but love some small, deeper part of it simply for being alive and strong.