“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.

“My body is strong, it has endured and survived so much, it has forgiven me countless times. I am proud of it. I am proud of me.”

I went to a store yesterday. I tried on a size 10 skirt. It fitted perfectly. Guess what? It hasn’t changed my life. It hasn’t instilled unshattering confidence in me. So, that’s that theory blown out of the water. Back to the drawing board. I don’t want to drone on about my personal issues with body image – my own and everyone else’s – my teenage to early twenties eating disorders, my use of food as a replacement for experiencing actual life, etc., etc., for I would argue that rather than being among the minority I am, in fact, among the ever increasing majority; one of those who cannot pass a mirror without casting a highly critical, horror-inducing glance at the self, or, in actuality, what we merely perceive to be ourselves. The eye, as we know, plays logic defying tricks. I live in a country where, among young women anyway, a size 6/34 to 8/36 is the norm, a country where frail women are the desired object. And believe me, ‘object’ is the apt word. I am strong, I have muscle of the physical and intellectual kind and I like this. I like it a lot. No amount of social conditioning will beat this out of me. Perhaps I should be honest with myself and admit I am only at liberty to say this now as I am about to leave my adopted home…hopefully to one with a more well-rounded selection of bodies. Take that as a pun if you wish. It came to me some time ago that no matter how much I adore this country I cannot be a part of a culture and society which fetishises the thinner and paler among us. Every day I workout I think “fuck you! How can strength be seen as a weakness?” Patriarchal forces are stronger here than anywhere else I have ever lived, that is how. That is why. It is with a heavy heart but an enormous sigh of relief that I leave. I do realise that my body, this body, and all its attached emotional trauma is coming along for the ride, joining me on my next big adventure to a different continent. I find myself strangely glad however that this is the body I am taking with me. I wouldn’t swap it for anyone else’s. My body has been my shell, my shelter and friend for 39 years. I am only now beginning to see it as such. It has been victim to three overdoses, bulimia, anorexia, compulsive eating, alcohol dependency; laterally friend to a healthy eating program, daily exercise, meditation. What can I say, I don’t do things in small measures. My body is strong, it has endured and survived so much, it has forgiven me countless times. I am proud of it. I am proud of me. So, next time I go to a fitting room I will focus on the overall package, mind included, mind foremost! Regardless of dress size I will look in the mirror and fucking smile! After all, how we react to our bodies is performative. If media advertisements tell us success is being a size 8 and we believe it, then surely every day we can look in the mirror – or not look at all – but instead remind ourselves that the key to happiness (and happiness is success!) is a strong and independent mind, emotional intelligence and community with others. Repeat this every day and surely we can believe it. It sure as hell costs a lot less than a pair of tummy tuckers from M&S.

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!

“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 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– by an anonymous woman

“I 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.

“Just because I often look at my reflection though doesn’t mean I like what I see.”

Feels quite strange to sit down and type up how I feel about my body. I think it is on the whole it being seen as narcissistic or vain to talk about one’s appearance.

I can’t really remember how I felt about myself as a child so any issues I do have is clearly something that came later in life. I do remember however being told off for looking at myself in the mirror, something (even as a 23-year-old women) my mum still calls me on. She has often commented that I have an ‘obsession with my appearance’. I always seemed to think it was natural to know what you looked like at any point of the day.

Just because I often look at my reflection though doesn’t mean I like what I see. I often change my hair colour as it’s the only thing about myself I can change instantly. I wear make-up nearly every day to cover up what I don’t like. I think I have more body hair than what’s normal for a woman but it can be removed instantly or covered up. What I can’t change instantly or cover up is my weight or my in-step.

I’ve always been a bit heavier than the other women around me. But when you have near enough bow-legs exercising causes me a fair bit of pain and it’s getting worse the more weight I pile on.

Losing weight though scares me. I’m scared that if I lost weight and had a lot of men suddenly interested in me that the only thing they wanted was my body and not that I’m a good person to be around.

I start physio soon for my legs; hopefully the pain becomes less and I can exercise more and maybe get the body I want.

“As I get older I find more to appreciate and less to dislike. I can now look at my eating disorder as a blot on the periphery of how I feel about my body rather than a significant feature.”

*Trigger warning for bulimia*

The story of my body is a turbulent one. Like most it’s a constant stream of ups and downs. And to me when you say ‘body’ it translates as ‘weight’. I know for many people it will be the same and it’s quite sad that’s where our minds jump to. So let’s start at the beginning: for most of my childhood I was big, tall and clumsy. Being taller than boys in your class is off-putting and very noticeable; this is where I think my ideas of being bigger began, because I was. I just felt like a big lumbering presence. Then I stopped growing but still held this idea of being ‘big’, of taking up too much space. My weight fluctuated in my teens culminating with an intense and aggressive eating disorder until my early 20s. Sure, the latter – Bulimia – has had the most obvious effect on my relationship with my body but it doesn’t define it. I was lucky though; I got out pretty unscathed – I have been in recovery for 3 and half years and am a mostly happy and healthy size 12. Although there has been lasting damage to my teeth, stomach and heart. That in itself is like a medal of how close I came to the edge and managed to pull myself back. Being ill to that extent makes you glad of what you have, of energy, and having an actual appetite for life. Post-recovery your body becomes a vessel for living rather than harming yourself and you can’t help but view it with slight awe. You have pushed it to the edge and it has weathered the storm. Ok, you may have been battered and bruised along the way but it keeps going on and fighting to keep you here. Even with all this it’s sad to say there will always be a tiny whisper in my head telling me nothing tastes as good as thin feels. It is a shame but I can deal with it. I’ve been through worse.

Now though I just don’t have the stamina to really deprive and hurt myself. If I hate myself at size 8 with a constant cycle of fasts and binges why not just pack it in and still hate yourself but eat what you like and be a size 12? This strange philosophy worked for me and slowly you learn to accept and even gradually like yourself. As I get older I find more to appreciate and less to dislike. I can now look at my eating disorder as a blot on the periphery of how I feel about my body rather than a significant feature. Although, food and my body will always be intrinsically linked to me now – I can’t think of one without the other – it doesn’t inhibit my life or perception. It is perception that matters most to me now. How I perceive something may be far off from the truth. So I go by how my clothes feel rather than the scales and I don’t eat foods that make me bloated and uncomfortable. Like most relationships the one with my body is fluid and I just try and understand that my body is as turbulent as my feelings towards it. It changes from day to day, as much as my own impressions about it do. Sometimes we may go in the same direction other times there will be a clash. Either way I’m quite happy for any negativity to take a back seat most of the time and let me get on with life.

by an anonymous woman, 24

“All the things I loved in my body before him, and all the new things he made me love, were tainted now by the memory of his touch and the pain of its loss.”

I’ve written here before but I wanted to again because I’ve been thinking about my body a lot recently. My body and mind have both been in flux and it’s been confusing and made me think about a lot of things.

About three months ago, my heart was broken by a man I thought loved me. And heartbreak raised all kinds of issues. Suddenly, my body felt so alone. Alone, and still, everywhere, covered by him. I took to sleeping with my arms and legs wrapped around a pillow, to feel something against me except the emptiness left by him. He was gone, and my body ached for him. Not sexually, because my mind had retreated from sex – from the crushing reality that I wouldn’t be having sex with him any more – but emotionally. All the things I loved in my body before him, and all the new things he made me love, were tainted now by the memory of his touch and the pain of its loss. I couldn’t touch my own body, smell my own scent, without remembering how he had loved it. I still so badly wanted my body to belong to him that it didn’t feel like mine any more.

My appetite faded and I lost weight. I’m thinner now than I was before – not underweight but slimmer. People keep telling me I look really good. I feel ambivalent every time someone tells me that, because I was perfectly happy with my body before and in no way thought I was fat. I feel conflicted in myself when I look in the mirror, enjoying my flatter stomach and then asking myself why I’m buying into that ideal, why I like having a flatter stomach when I didn’t think it was fat before. I still have a big arse – I hope I’ll always have a big arse – but it’s smaller than it was before and I don’t want to lose any more weight. What I see in the mirror varies with my mood. Sometimes, when I feel lonely and unlovable, when – even though I don’t want him back now – I wish he was still here, these breasts seem too small, too saggy, these bags under my eyes jump out at me, this new, flatter stomach is still too pudgy. And then sometimes, when I’m jumping around my bedroom to this song and I’m happy and I’m in my body and I’m feeling like I fucking rock – then I look in the mirror and I know I’m fucking beautiful.

My mind has been so up and down, and my body changing. But I think my mind is on the up these days, and my body finally feels like mine again. I can think of sex now without missing him, I can masturbate and enjoy my body and my mind and a sexual world without him in it. I miss him, or I miss closeness, sometimes when I’m sad. But my body is my own. I want sex again, I want to feel my body against another, I want to enjoy discovering someone.

Another issue this has been raising a lot in my mind recently is that, now I’m single again, sometimes I wonder where I’ll find someone else who doesn’t care that I don’t shave my armpits. I know that anyone who cares is someone I don’t want to be with, but the thought can’t help but cross my mind. It was a choice I made for myself but being with someone who liked it made that choice easier – if I’m being totally honest, it might have been what made the choice possible for me in the first place, although I’m not about to go back on it now.

Sometimes when I’m out in a club and I’m dancing, I catch people staring, nudging their friends to point out the mad hairy woman over there. I love having hairy armpits and, while I can’t deny there is an element of making a political point about it, this is the way I like them. It doesn’t hurt as such when I catch people looking. It makes me a little angry, although I do understand why they look. But it also awakens this socially-inculcated fear that most people find my body disgusting. That I might meet a lovely man at a party and be having a lovely conversation, flirting away, and then reach up to get something and turn around to find him running in disgust and horror from my horrifying armpits.

I know that’s ridiculous. But it’s also not completely ridiculous. The beauty norms of our society make me – I think make all of us – feel the need to justify those things which are “abnormal”. And my hairy armpits are, by societal standards, abnormal. They are an abnormal choice that I’ve made, a choice which is bound up with various implications in people’s minds – dirty, hippie, man-hating… – and even though I love them, I still sometimes feel self-conscious. To put it bluntly, I worry I won’t get laid. Not that I’d want to fuck anyone who gave a shit about my armpit hair – but the idea that someone might find me unattractive because of that one factor of my appearance does cross my mind and it does hurt.

I guess this is all a part of coming back into my own body. It’s partly sexual frustration, partly the normal fear of being alone forever that surfaces when we find ourselves single against our will. It’s a big part societal norms that I’ve absorbed even though I consciously reject them. It’s the memory of shaving my armpits for the first time after some girls made fun of me on the bus to PE when I was thirteen. But I’m not on the PE bus now (thank fucking Christ) – I’m twenty-three now, and I love my hairy armpits, and someone else will too.

I’m so glad to be back in touch with my body. It’s no longer a site of too many memories of happiness gone sour; it’s a site of happy memories to come. It’s a place I’m living in again. I look in the mirror and it’s all mine; it’s not missing anything by not being next to his.

by Hannah