Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘body image’

On being fat – a revelation

I first remember being unhappy with my body when I was about 7. I remember standing in the playground at school and cinching the belt on my dress as tight as it would go so that my stomach wouldn’t look so fat. I remember spending the rest of my school years miserable that my thighs were fatter, my bum was bigger and my stomach was more wobbly than most of the other girls. I remember being at university and feeling like a balloon next to my slender friends. But the stupid thing is that looking back, seeing photos – I was never fat. Not as a child, not as a teen, not as a student. I was built differently but I wasn’t fat.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have struggled with disordered eating and weight gain for many years. My most recent post was about how much I dislike myself. But some of the responses I had to that post really made me think. I had a lot of supportive comments from followers, Mumsnetters and Twitter friends; I was linked to a couple of amazing and inspirational blogposts about being fat and the fantasy of being thin. And as a result, over the last couple of days I have had a bit of a revelation.

Firstly, how I look isn’t the most important thing about me. It doesn’t even come second or third. It baffles me that I have let this define me for so long. As Georgina (the author of the “Being Fat” blogpost I linked to) says “I have fat on my body, but I am not fat – a mere lump of the stuff”. And she’s right. I have fat. I also have muscle, skin, nerves, bones – that just tells us that I have physical form. It says nothing about me, about who I am.

Secondly, my body is pretty amazing. In my younger days before the degenerative disc disorder really kicked in, this body was very flexible and I did a lot of dancing – mostly ballet, jazz and contemporary modern. This body has done bungee jumps, white water rafting, a skydive. It has carried and borne 2 babies. This body has been solely responsible for sustaining those infants until they were ready for solid food, and then continued to supply sustenance for as long as was needed. This body is awesome, despite its structural issues. 😉

The third part of my revelation was that while my body may be fat/big/obese/however you want to put it, it is merely incidental to who I am. I need to stop saying “I am fat” and start saying “I am me”. I am Sam. I am kind, friendly, intelligent and frankly a bit daft. I am a woman; a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister. I am a graduate, a stay-at-home-parent, a role model. I am so many different things that I can’t list them all – why then should I focus only on my physical appearance?

That appearance has to do with the fourth and final part of this revelation of mine. For the last 15 years I have been trying to lose weight. I have followed exercise plans and all kinds of diets. I have promised myself that I will be more confident when I am thinner, that I will be more outgoing and that I will be happy with how I look. I now realise that unless this weight loss comes with a free personality transplant these things are very unlikely to happen. I have wasted 15 years being miserable about my appearance. I don’t want to waste any more time; I don’t want to lie on my deathbed and look back on a lifetime’s misery about a few extra inches.

I need to stop wishing for a body that I am never going to have and learn to be comfortable in the body I have. I do need to eat more healthily and tackle my disordered eating, and hopefully that may have the side-effect of losing a little weight but you know what? If it doesn’t that’s ok.

I am what I am. And I am fabulous.

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Do you love yourself?

My daughter asked me this last night as I was tucking her into bed. We had been talking about family and love and she was earnestly insistent that everyone should love themselves as well as other people. I smiled and replied “Of course I do!” and she went to sleep happy.

I lied, of course. Not a little white one either but a big fat whopper of a lie. Some days I loathe myself to the point of repulsion; some days I merely dislike myself. But I certainly never even come close to loving myself. I just don’t want my children growing up to feel this way about themselves and the longer I can hide my self-loathing from them the better.

So what’s so bad about me? To be honest the reasons are pretty feeble. The first one, always top of the list, is that I am fat. But then I have always hated my body and been convinced that I was fat, even when looking back I can see that I plainly wasn’t. However these days I really am. Measuring in at around a UK size 20 I have rolls and flab and looking at my body fills me with revulsion. For a variety of reasons losing weight isn’t easy for me but the 2 main ones are that exercise is difficult because of my back pain, and that my eating habits are disordered to the point of possibly having an eating disorder (I’ve written about this before). I don’t really believe that though – I’m just greedy and have no willpower. My size is my own fault.

Moving on, another reason I dislike myself is that I am needy. I want others to approve of me and other people’s opinions, even those of strangers, matter to me. That’s why the previous paragraph was so hard to write – I don’t want online friends to know what I look like below the neck, I don’t want them to know how awful I look. I crave friendship (after the events of the last few years I have few real friends left) but I struggle to bond with anyone offline, perhaps for this reason.

There are yet more reasons and I can’t go into them all. But off the top of my head? I despise my inability to cope with normal, everyday life when I used to be highly successful at a complex job. I hate what I’ve become & hate that I seem unable to escape this fate. I loathe my anxiety because I know that I am being irrational. I detest myself for not being as good a mother as I want to be, as I had always assumed I would be. In short I am ashamed of both who I am and what I look like.

And yet…

And yet there are things about myself that I quite like. I am intelligent. I have a great sense of humour. I like my green eyes. I may not be as good a mother as I thought but I’m not a bad one either. I like my breasts (even if they do make buying clothing tricky!). I’m not bad at baking. I am a good friend. I care about people.

So maybe I should try to stop focusing on the negatives and recognise the positives. This may sound easy but it is a daunting prospect – even writing down those few good things took me ages. There’s a constant little voice in the back of my mind criticising and rubbishing and belittling my every attempt at positivity:
“You think you have nice eyes? It’s a shame the rest of you is so hideous”.
“You’re a good friend? That’s easy to say when most of your friends have vanished from your life” and so on.

But I am going to try to drown out that little voice and attempt to like myself a bit more. I would hate to see the sadness and disappointment on my daughter’s face if she ever learned how I really feel about myself so I need to change that. I need to learn to like myself despite my faults and flaws instead of focusing on them to the detriment of everything else.

It seems an impossible task but I have to try.

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