FAT. The F Word. The F word so many of us avoid using. I. Am. FAT.
That’s a pretty hard thing to not only say, but mean when you say it. For the vast majority of my childhood and young adult life I was skinny. Really skinny. The sort of skinny that occasionally makes people ask you whether you are eating properly. “You take after your Dad”, relatives and family friends would say to me. “Oi, Kate Moss” my college friends would say and exclaim how tiny my waist was. “Where’s your tits?” said the school boys. I hated my legs because they were so thin, and when I was a teen the thigh gap wasn’t a sexy thing. But I was very aware that being skinny was something that was society viewed as a sign of success, of achievement, of control and you know what? I liked it. I loved being able to fit my tiny frame into children’s clothes and telling people about what a bargain they were. I got a kick out of picking up a size six off the rail, knowing it would fit.
This week, I had a brief for a filming job and when they sent through the wardrobe recommendations, I knew I needed to buy some new dresses. But now, it’s not the size six body-con dresses I was looking for in Topshop; I trawled the internet for options, clothes that would flow over my stomach, that weren’t too high on my neck. Nothing too bright, but bright enough to be ‘jolly’. I found two dresses on Simply Be, and the Boohoo plus size range because in the last ten years, I have gone from a size ten to a size 16-18. Not often a 16. And while I was once incredibly proud of my slim body, now these curves and soft flesh, rounded arms and stomach and thighs that rub make me cringe with shame so I rarely buy anything in store, and prefer to shop online, trying things on in the safety of my bedroom or bathroom where I can hide away and shove things back into the return envelope without anyone asking me ‘did you find everything you wanted today, madam?’ because very rarely do I find something that makes me feel great.
Body positivity is such a huge movement today and the women who take part in campaigns expressing love for their bodies are incredible. I’m in awe of those who have the confidence to strip to their underwear and celebrate their bodies in all shapes and sizes. Admittedly, those who are more curvaceous make me pause and linger on their pictures for longer. I assume that those who are slighter must be less insecure and I find myself searching the larger-figured women’s faces for a sign of my own reflection. Are they happy? Are they confident? Do they look at their bodies with the same critical eye that I do? Why do they feel different to me; why are they proud and I am shamed? Why do I believe that they are incredible for their body positivity and yet still shame my own body? I swing between their empowering messages and pictures; the fashion that flatters the larger size and revel in their confidence but it doesn’t touch my monologue of shame inside. I love that they readdress the fashion industry’s rhetoric of thinness equalling success and I like that they take on the ridiculous notion of ‘real women’ peddled by the tabloid press.
The elephant in the room is quite literally, me.
This isn’t about other women though. This is about my own internal monologue – the one that tells me I’m gross, that I’m less worthy because I’m fat. It’s the devil on my shoulder that makes me doubt myself because I believe people see my size first and assume I am lazy. I feel embarrassment when I meet someone new, and I overcompensate with warmth, affection and ‘likeability’ so that I hope, when they walk away, they’ll remember me for being a nice person rather than a fat person. I try and disarm their critical thoughts by being self-deprecating about my size, about what I eat, drink, wear – so they think I’m ‘fun’. I make jokes at my body’s expense; I warn them to watch out for the size of my arse, or banter about my fat thighs being like an uncooked ham. I think if I confront it, and joke about it, then everyone around me will think ‘thank fuck for that’. The elephant in the room is quite literally, me.
I realised this week that I have preserved my own weight gain, completely subconsciously, but completely within my control. I don’t have full-length mirrors in the house, so I rarely have to confront my ‘true’ size. The lighting in my bedroom is soft, and so my shape is never subjected to the brutal harshness of natural light. i cut the label out of my clothes so I don’t have a reminder of the size, and I use contour powder to draw in cheekbones and jawlines where mine have simply melted away into my cheeks.
Truthfully, because I’ve been slim for two thirds of my life, I still think I am in my head. I feel a sense of shock when I see myself in a full length mirror, photograph, or on film. I get a flush of embarrassment thinking about people who might not have seen me for a while picking up on something on social media and thinking ‘fucking hell, what happened to Kate?’ I fear my husband finds me significantly less attractive than when he first met me. I take selfies from above, and close up; hundreds at a time so I can pick out one that flatters my ego sufficiently to publish. I pretend and fake to myself that I am slimmer than I really am. I try and not think about the reality of being fat. And I see the disappointment in people’s eyes when they meet me for the first time and think ‘she doesn’t look like that online’, or ‘she looks so different – and much bigger – than I expected’.
I’ve let myself ‘go’, and I am my body’s worst enemy.
I know there will be some reading this and thinking ‘oh my god, pity party for one. Just lose some bloody weight and stop moaning’ and I know that you might be thinking that because, when I was slim, I thought the same too. I can’t begin to tell you how simple that is though to those who aren’t fuller-figured, and what an enormous mountain (literally) it feels to climb when you are. I’m a member of my local gym, for example. Since joining, I have been about five times. I tried a class where I was ashamed to find that my fitness level is lower than the 75 year olds around me and I spent the entire session at the back, choking down tears. I then did a plan with one of the trainers in the gym, but when he showed me how to use the equipment, I stood next to a woman who was so in control of her body, and her fitness, that my brain told me I wasn’t worthy to be there and I now have this stupid nagging thing in my head that tells me that the gym is for her, and not me; not fitspiration, but fit-timidation. Swimming, I can do. But the walk from changing room to pool feels like walking the green mile and I feel the whole building is staring at my arse wobbling it’s way into the water, disgusted by what they see. I get hot, breathless and sweaty within just a few minutes and I get embarrassed that I don’t know what to do, so in the end, I make excuses not to go but that usually means instead, I sit on the sofa ‘working’ but really ignoring the growing size of my body and pretending it doesn’t matter. It does matter. I’ve let myself ‘go’, and I am my body’s worst enemy.
Let’s talk about the physical effects of weight-gain too. When it’s hot, I sweat. I spend the summers in jeans because my thighs chafe and it’s so uncomfortable. I’m self-conscious of the cellulite on my thighs. I get the occasional heart palpation because I’m unfit, and I get out of breath when I go for a walk. When I take a bath, the top of my arms slightly wedge on the sides. My wedding ring leaves a groove on my finger when I manage to squeeze it off. I get a mild pain in my joints that nags away and my knees often grind a little bit these days. It’s like my body is calling out for help.
My body has given me two beautiful girls.
My body has given me two beautiful girls. It’s been through the mill of a brutal birth and came out rallying for me. It’s protected me and nurtured me through mental illness, and I know I should nurture it more. I know that I need to overhaul my diet, to cut down on alcohol. I know I need to work out more, to be more active, to walk more. I know I need to get those 10,000 steps in a day. I know I need to eat little, and often, and I need to consider the nutritional benefit of foods rather than just waving the white flag at the end of a hard week and ordering a takeout. I know all of these things, and yet I also have this bewilderment at where the hell to start. Nearly every night I resolve that tomorrow, I’ll do something about my weight and fitness and then fall into the trap of ‘working’ and it goes by the wayside for another day.
But what I also need to change is my mind, and this internal monologue that is so punishing, and defeatist. The voice that says ‘you are not worthy’. I need to harness the strength that got me through some really dark times with PND, and the determination I had to give up smoking so many years ago. I need to accept myself as I am today, and love myself to not only be more comfortable in my own skin tomorrow, but to accept my flaws. Importantly, it’s about recognising the areas where I want to make changes and believing that I am worth that work, energy, cost and love. That my body deserves that. That I deserve to not feel shame and cringe at my photo, or worse, avoid the camera because I am overweight. And that’s the hardest battle of all.
So. No more. I don’t know where to start, but I need to start. I want to wear dresses in the summer, and I want to walk to the pool without shame. I want my girls to not feel defensive of their mum when she refers to herself as fat, and I want them to see that their mum is healthy, and strong and fit. I want my husband to be proud to have me by his side, I fought the battle with post-natal depression last year, wading through the demons in my mind to be clear and mentally healthy. And now, it’s time for my body to be healthy too, and to never feel that cringe again.
Photo credit: Flickr/ Hana Jang