‘How to lose weight FAST.’ I can’t even count how many times I must have typed that in to a search engine when I was growing up. I wasn’t ever very big, but I was on the edge. ‘Dumpy’… ‘Chubby’… that’s what people told me I used to be when they excitedly congratulated me for losing 2 stone in 6 months (at the tender age of 17.)

Here are some things I genuinely did to try and lose weight:

  • Bite into chocolate and then spit it out so I enjoyed the taste but didn’t consume the calories
  • Drink water until my tummy was so full I didn’t want to eat
  • Imagine my food was full of maggots whenever I felt hungry
  • Skip breakfast and lunch at school. (I ate some dinner because if I didn’t – Mum and Dad would notice and worry)
  • Chew chewing gum to convince my body it was being nourished

I’d never got much attention romantically. I think I was 15 when I had my first kiss. And I was so SHOCKED that someone would want to kiss me when I wasn’t even thin. The attention flooded in when I started dropping pounds. ‘You look GREAT.’ ‘I’m so jealous.’ ‘Can I take you out?’…

Then, ‘You’re disappearing!’ People didn’t recognise me in the local pub and I remember my Mum’s friend joking that it was illegal to starve your child. A joke, but looking back it makes me feel really sad.

I wasn’t strong. I had lost a lot of weight in a short space of time meaning that my muscle weight was wasting away. Of course it’s not healthy to carry excess weight, it puts strain on your organs and suggests you aren’t living an active lifestyle. But it is just as unhealthy to starve your cells of nutrition and be unable to take part in strenuous activity because you know that you’ll get hungry. I wasn’t happy with my body either, I thrived on the compliments but they just encouraged me to stick to my guns and look the other way when food was available.

My story isn’t extreme or unusual. A very close friend of mine has recently lost a lot of weight in a very unhealthy way. It made me want to vomit too when I saw facebook comments on her profile photo. One of our friend’s mum’s even wrote ‘The butterfly has emerged from her cocoon!’ I wanted to punch her.

What IS this fixation with people having the ‘right’ body? According to the body image movement, 91% of women claim they hate their body. MADNESS.

In the past, it was considered sexy for women to be fat and billboards went up in London encouraging women to buy food products to get chubby and appealing. Women would also paint their teeth black as it suggested they could afford sugar which would rot their teeth – hot! And then there came the noughties, where impossibly thin women were paraded up and down the cat walk looking like they might blow away in the wind. And now? I’m pleased we’re seeing a surge of ‘strong is the new skinny.’ But you know what, I’m sick of there being a body shape that people ‘should’ prescribe to.

In Africa and Asia, white skin is sometimes purported to be ‘in’ and some people purchase bleaching products. In the Global North, many people pay for tanning booths to become browner. We are convinced that the way we look is not only critically important, but also that it should be altered. With starvation, over eating, tanning, bleaching, diet plans, surgery, botox. Why are we brainwashed to believe that beautiful is not a quality based on individual perception, but that it is packaged and put on shelves for us to purchase? After all, the only common factor here is the money exchanged.

Wax, razors, the list is endless. Incidentally, much evidence suggests razors only became popular amongst women post WW2 following a huge over supply. ‘What do we DO with these?’ … ‘I know, let’s convince women that their leg hair is repugnant and to be removed.’ And now comes the age of leg and armpit shaving. Of course it’s not all that simple, but it seems money is at the cause of many social pressures, on all genders.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last few years it is this:

The only person that needs to find you beautiful, is you. If wearing makeup and shaving your legs makes you feel great then go you. If having a hairy bikini line and wearing no makeup makes you happy, then go for that instead. You need to remember (however hard it can be sometimes) that beauty is largely a concept designed by the cosmetic industry in order to convince you to part with your cash in order to be more ‘appealing.’ Be yourself, be happy. Oh, and considering a multi billion pound industry is aimed at making us feel shit – how about we encourage and compliment one another. After all, when we buy products to change how we look, we aren’t really paying with money (that’s a human invention.) We are paying with the hours of our life. Life is short, life is moving, what kind of freedom is that?

Rather than the destructive kind of compliment that made me believe that starving myself was the ticket to acceptance here are some more positive suggestions:

  • You look so beautiful
  • You look so healthy: your skin is glowing
  • You have such beautiful vibes
  • I love the colour of your eyes

‘WOW, you’ve lost so much weight. You used to be so dumpy but now you look hot’ is NOT helpful or acceptable.

A final note for anyone really struggling with body image:

At uni I found a more healthy balance for how I felt about myself. I’ve put on a substantial amount of weight, but I’m happy with that. I found regular training at my boxing club gave me a sense of purpose. And, what’s more, STRENGTH. I can’t explain how sassy I felt. I could lift things, run long distances, train hard. My arms became a little bigger and more defined. It was an empowerment I couldn’t have imagined. For anyone struggling with self-confidence I really recommend the power of finding a sport you like. From dancing to fighting to horse riding – there is something out there for you and moving your body is liberating to your perception of yourself.

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