When we were around fifteen, some of my friends and I started a new weekend ritual; hanging out at our local park. It was free, we could chat about whatever we liked without being overheard by our mums and it was a pretty place for us to take photos. This was just before the age of the iPhone, so we would usually have to try and manoeuvre a digital camera and put it on a self-timer before taking ridiculously silly photos.
In the summer, armed with 99s and ice-cold cans of Coke, we’d take magazines and lay out on the grass. As the months grew colder, we’d huddle up on the bench with hot chocolates and watch our breath in the air as we chatted and laughed until our cheeks ached.
Then, one day, it all changed. A few of us were walking home and we had to pass the skateboard park. There were a group of boys there, some older than us and some around the same age. We didn’t really know them but said “Hi” and carried on walking. Then, in the distance, I heard one of them yell after me. He was yelling nasty things about me. About how I looked. I knew it was about me because my friends were slim and slight, whilst I was taller and bigger. Tears started to prick my eyes and I could feel my cheeks burning against the freezing wind. The worst thing about the whole thing though, was that none of my friends stood up for me. They all carried on walking, and no one said a word.
What happened that afternoon in the park changed things because after that I was painfully aware of my size. I started to fold my arms over myself whenever I was out, and couldn’t bear to look at myself in photographs.
I soon wanted to fix things.
I started to diet and would write down everything I ate every single day. I joined a slimming club and would be weighed every week. I did lose weight, but I’d find myself obsessing over whether I could eat a piece of chocolate or go to a restaurant for dinner. I burst into tears on my sixteenth birthday because I wasn’t sure that I could eat a slice of my own cake. I’d see my school friends tucking into doorstop sandwiches at lunchtime, and I’d be stuck with a limp salad or even worse –sandwiches made with diet bread (it was so thin, I really don’t know how it could have been called ‘bread’). It all became utterly soul-destroying.
After I finished my GCSEs and started college, it became harder to keep the weight off. I would have to stick to my diet plan rigidly, or I’d put on weight in an instant. Another thing about me is that I suffer with a condition called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, and one of the symptoms is weight gain and sufferers often find it difficult to lose weight and can also put on weight easily (a win/win situation really.)
Ten years on I am 5ft 10 and a size 16-18, but I no longer fold my arms over myself. I finally feel that I am comfortable in my own skin. My sister took a photo of me the other day and I didn’t wince or tell her to delete it. Instead, I looked at myself, dressed up, smiling and red-lipped and thought, “Yes! I do like myself!”
When I turned 25 earlier this year, something in me changed. Instead of constantly battling with myself about what I should or could look like, I started to realise that I like myself as I am. I think I always have done, really. I’ve just let other people’s comments or opinions dictate my own sense of self.
I enjoy food. I love to cook. I love to eat out with friends. I try to eat healthily and exercise because it makes me feel good, not because I think I ought to do it to be thinner or to lose weight. I don’t deny myself either, because life really is too short to not have a slice of chocolate cake on a rainy afternoon or a roast dinner cooked by your mum or a pizza with your best friend. If I added up all the time that I have wasted worrying about how I look, or what I weigh, I’d probably be mortified.
Most of all though, I wish I could go back to the fifteen-year-old me and tell her to dry her eyes and stay as she is. Those words stung me for a long time, and yes, of course I still get the odd comment from strangers about my size, but I choose to ignore them. Words hurt, but I think a stranger saying something nasty to someone says more about them than it does about anything else.
It should not be a revolutionary act that a bigger person can be happy with the way they are. Society and popular culture may try to tell us to change or to fit into a certain mould, but how boring would it be if we all looked the same?! We should try to remember that attractiveness is not always linked to how we look on the outside. It is important to be kind. To be a good friend. To stand up for what you believe in. To try hard in all that you do. To be passionate. To have goals, things you want to achieve.
Whether you’re slim or big, petite or tall, your body and how you look is no one else’s business but yours.
I have learned that true happiness lies not in how you look to others, but how you feel within yourself, and if we feel happy and content with who we are, then that’s all that matters.
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