Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Body Positivity

What does body positivity mean to you?

It's a big question, right? It's a very personal question and it can only be answered by you.

I don't write think pieces a lot anymore, quite simply because there are so many who can voice it better than I but what I can and will do is relay my own experiences and hope that it maybe helps even one person feel a little more positive about their own body.

Throughout my life, since childhood, I was the chubby kid. Chunky and big boned were words frequently used to describe my pre adolescent body. When I hit secondary school it became even more frequent an occurance, in fact, it became a taunt. I had a big butt, wide hips and a round face. Or so everyone around me seemed to have me believe. I was an easy target for bullies, they knew my soft spot, the one little tiny opening for causing hurt and people weren't afraid to use it as a weapon. This was only made worse by family who would comment on my weight citing my health as a concern. By the time I was headed into 3rd year it was starting to affect my self esteem and confidence hugely.

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A couple of occasions stick out among the rest. When I was around 7 it was time for me to do the whole Communion thing. My Mum and I headed off to the store with all the pretty white dresses and as I marveled at some of the most beautiful gowns I'd ever seen, with growing hope I would look like a little princess, it became apparent that it would be more a case of what would fit. I was 7. I was aware of the whispers between the shop assistants and I noted the scramble to find a suitable dress. Or the day we went school uniform shopping for heading into 3rd year. My parents had taken me to the usual school uniform store and we all began gathering the bits and pieces we needed for the upcoming school term. Firstly, my shirt size was larger than the usual because of my wide hips the bottom buttons on the usual size of shirt wouldn't close so we sized up. There was a fair amount of clucking from the shop assistant. This continued when it was time to select a school skirt. Our skirts were rather straight and the material didn't allow for any size outside what was considered the 'norm'. Instead of one of the small, medium or large options, I was ushered into the changing rooms with a slightly different style of school skirt, in a size 16. I'll never forget the red hot scorching of my cheeks as the shop assistant spoke down to me about how they were having to try a skirt outside of what they usually used for my uniform and fellow school goers. It was hideous. The skirt AND the experience. I remember going home that day with my parents and sisters and crying myself into a nap. I felt so incredibly low. Of course now I can say with certainty that the behaviour shown towards me was shaming and it was wrong. Looking back on photographs from my childhood and teenage years I can see very clearly I was not a big girl. Back then? I was just a kid who felt they were abnormal and troublesome because my size and shape wasn't necessarily exactly the same as the next.

My weight and size crept up.

Many around me continued to voice their concerns about my health. It's easy to see now their concern was centered around my size, not my health. My health at the time wasn't great, my mental health was worsening but it had little to do with weight and a lot more to do with bullying, self esteem issues and physical health issues that I now know had absolutely nothing to do with what weight I was. At 15 though? I took everything that was said to me on face value and I allowed it to eat away at me bit by bit.

By the time I was 19/20 I was a size 18. My self esteem had been lowered through years of voiced concern about my size and weight. I was at an all time low after finishing a relationship and unfortunately I ended up in an abusive relationship. I'm not going to go into full details, it's something I've closed the door on personally but the reason I'm mentioning it is because this person knew how insecure I was about my size and they used it like a weapon. Unlike anyone before. They used my self esteem issues to break me down so that by the time they were done and I was moving on there was so much damage done to how I saw myself it's taken me until recently to try and fix that within myself. Red flags should have appeared when, within a few weeks of seeing this person they made the comment, 'oh! you hide your actual size well' but because I'd been on the receiving end of years of comments about my size, I didn't know how damaging comments like this were. By the time the relationship had gotten physically abusive, I had been given the nicknames Flubber, Whale and I was constantly told I was deceptive in the beginning of the relationship because I wore flattering clothing that skimmed my frame.

Phew! That was hard to write!

Moving on, I came home to my parents after an incident that I won't go into but that left me with a permanent reminder of this person. The superficial wounds healed quickly enough. The deeper ones, not so much.

I went on to start talking to my now husband online, this was 11 years ago now. In the beginnings I had no intention of ever meeting this lovely person I had started chatting to. I looked forward to seeing them log on to Myspace and found myself being more and more drawn in to forgetting any type of real social life and focusing more on the internet friendship I had struck up. The reason I had told myself I would never meet this guy was that I was insecure and wasn't looking for a relationship anyway. The real reason? I was ashamed. Of. My. Size.

Before long, the spark was hard to ignore and I couldn't stop my heart and tummy from fluttering when I knew I'd get to chat to him. We made last minute plans for me to travel to him and just meet up. No expectations. I'll never forget that train journey up to meet him. I could barely breathe, it felt as though there was a huge weight on my chest. You'd be forgiven for thinking I was nervous because I was meeting someone that it was becoming pretty obvious I had feelings for and wasn't sure if he felt the same but that wasn't the reason. The reason? My size. My shame. My shame in my size was so forefront that I remember texting him and chatting to him before hand telling him, warning him, that I was probably a lot bigger than I appeared online. That photos didn't truly relay the extent of my body size. He didn't care. To this day he still doesn't care. Yes, he's the one I ended up marrying. He has done nothing but treat my body with the upmost respect since the day and hour we met. He has respected my boundaries and he helped me heal.

But still the shame ran deep.

Throughout our years together there continued to be concerns about my size, shaming was rife. Not by my husband, he tried his very best to counter it all the best he could but the damage was being done and I was letting it affect me deeply.

For instance, when I moved in with my now husband, we had a bath. No shower, just a bath. A family member expressed concern that I wouldn't fit in the bath to wash correctly. I was a size 20.

By the time I was looking for a wedding dress, the most exciting day for any bride-to-be, I was a size 28/30 and there were no affordable wedding dresses in my size in any of the stores we visited. None that you could wear and feel beautiful. In one store they had one dress in my size at almost £3000... In another they fussed about the fact they probably wouldn't have anything to fit me, anywhere else I rang I was told flat out that my size wasn't catered to. The shaming continued. I ended up wearing a very unwedding wedding dress for what was meant to be one of the happiest days of my life.

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Then I unexpectedly found we were welcoming something of a miracle baby into our lives and my attitude shifted. I found a drive to lose weight and I did. I joined a slimming club and I went on to lose 11 stone in weight. I slimmed down to a size 12/14. I was congratulated by people I didn't even know. People who I'd never met or spoken to would stop me in stores in our town and profess their admiration for my weight loss. It baffled me no end. The frequency with which strangers would comment on my body was alarming and it only served to deepen the shame of my size before slimming down.

This is when the tide started to turn for me.

When I achieved what was referred to as my target weight, I didn't feel any different. I didn't magically feel confident, my self esteem didn't grow with every inch lost. I still felt the same about myself. My body was still outside the norm, my bum was still huge, my hips still wide, my tummy still rounded and jeans still didn't fit right and I continued to shame myself. Internally and to my husband. My husband who never did and never will understand how I could see myself so drastically different than he did and does.

More than that though, I developed additional health issues because of my weight loss journey and because of the way I went about it. I found myself in the emergency room one night in the most pain I had ever felt in my life, believing I was going to die the pain was so incredibly intense. Gallstones. A lot of them. As an aside, I'm not a great candidate for what they refer to as elective surgery, I have an intolerance and an ability to counter effects of general anesthetic.  I couldn't simply be whisked into surgery to remove them and so I'm now entering my 5th year living with gallstones. Subsequently my gallbladder is now failing and it makes getting necessary nutrients difficult. Coupled with other health issues I am unable to eat a lot of raw (and sometimes cooked) fruit and vegetables.

My confidence never kicked in. I didn't see myself any differently. I still saw myself as the person whose body would never be up to scratch and I sunk into the depths of yet another depression. I couldn't look at myself in a mirror. After finding a love of fashion I returned to a uniform of all black everything.

Then I started to read body positive literature. I started to get woke. I started to see myself. Who I was. Not what size I was or what shape my body was. Me.

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And slowly but surely I started to heal the damage done throughout the last 25 years of my life.

It's going to take time. It took years of erosion of my self esteem to get me to here and it will take some time to undo the attitudes and ideals that have been forced upon me personally by society at large. But I'm dedicated. I'm dedicated to allowing myself freedom from societal norms. I'm dedicated to opening the door to others, like myself, who need and deserve the freedom to be who they are without being forced to believe they are anything less than the person they are simply because of the size they might be. I'm dedicated to the plight of plus size women who seek acceptance. I'm dedicated to the fact women deserve rights to their own bodies. I'm 100% committed to the body positivity movement because we need it. Personally and as a society. We need the freedom to live life outside of the ridiculous concept that we should be a standard set of sizing numbers.

So, what does body positivity mean to me?



Personal growth.

Living life.

What does it mean to you?

If you'd like to be involved or read more about body positivity, there are a mountain of great writers, websites, magazines etc out there and the movement is growing still. I personally write a plus size fashion column for a local magazine now with the view to trying to lessen the taboo of body size and I know many other fantastic women who, in their own way, are trying to change the way in which we think or the way society has ingrained in us how we should see ourselves.

Why not check out
Body Positive Ireland which is run by the amazing Rebecca who frequently chats about all things body positive and body acceptance on her Snapchat (its_r2theb)
Rosemary MacCabes recent post on body positivity.
She Might Be online magazine who cater exclusively to plus size women and give them a voice.
The Militant Baker - a personal favourite go to of mine.

Surround yourself with empowering body positive bloggers and instagrammers such as
Callie, From the Corners of the Curve 
Grace F Victory, GracieFrancesca.com
Danielle, DanielleVanier.co.uk
Becky, BeckyBarnesBlog.co.uk
Bethany, Arched Eyebrow
Nancy, Sugar-Darling
Marie Southard, Migg Mag
Leah, Love Leah 

I could go on... Since beginning to change the way I view myself and diminish the hold societal sizing norms have over my self esteem and consequent worth, I've discovered some truly incredible women who are entirely dedicated to the body positive movement and all I can say is thank you to them all, from the bottom of my heart, for all that they do. In a society where we are still fat shamed, where fatphobia still runs rampant, these are the voices we need to help be heard.

If you're only beginning your journey to body acceptance and body positivity, my first step was incredibly simple... Rewire the way you speak to yourself. Before uttering or even when you catch the beginning of the thought process in putting yourself down ask yourself one small question, would you dare say that to another woman's face? If the answer to that is no, don't say it to yourself. Allow yourself the respect you show others. If you make efforts to ensure others feel good about themselves, make efforts to do the same for yourself. From there, read, surround yourself with body positive people, educate yourself and let yourself grow as a person. It's a long road but it's a very worthwhile journey, trust me!


P.S. If you're wondering why I didn't include comparison 'weight loss' photos within this post it's because I chose not to. That is not the message I want to portray. We all know dieting can shrink your size but my message is about the journey to body acceptance and positivity. I have shared some photos on snapchat (seraemily) but my message remains the same.

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