One of my most vivid memories of high school involves me hiding under my desk, crying. I’d been telling friends of mine about a 5km run/walk I’d done with my family the weekend before. A boy in my class called me a liar. How could someone who could do a 5k possibly be as fat as me?! Meet 13 year old me:
I felt fatter then, than I do now 10 years (and probably 20kg) later. My relationship with my weight has always been a turbulent one. But my body image issues go well beyond my weight. It’s about my height, my body hair, my complexion, my fitness, the way I walk, the way I run, the way I move and the way I smell. The shape of my knees, the roughness of my hands, the scars and scrapes on my legs, the length of my toes and the clothes I wear. It seems there is no aspect of my body that other people can’t be repulsed by. And I can’t be ashamed of.
I regularly describe myself as ‘stumpy’. I have none of the long-legged grace and elegance traditional beauty demands and none of the athletic ability that sometimes lets you get away with that. I’ve been on diets on and off since I was 12. I took slimming tablets for the first time when I was 14. I’ve joined and quit the gym twice. I own at least 5 pairs of heels that I absolutely cannot walk in. I am acutely aware of all the ways I fall short. How could I not be when the world is constantly screaming that the way I look isn’t good enough? It tells me I’m too fat. I’m too pale. I look stupid when I dance or when I run. My skin is too rough, too scarred. And I have a moustache some high school boys would be jealous of.
A good friend recently posted a video on Facebook to which the message basically was ‘Don’t hate your body because whatever you look like, someone out there will be attracted to you’. I get how that is an appealing message, and it’s also probably true. Girls like me take small comfort in thinking guys want ‘something to grab onto’ or ‘real women have curves’. But all these ‘comforts’ are still based on us having our bodies defined by others and what others think of them (not to mention that it means degrading other women’s bodies in the process).
The message is still that I can only love my body when you do.
It took me years to realize this but my body is for me. I’m not here for your eyes. I’m not here to entertain you. Not to soothe your ideals of what beauty is or to make you comfortable. This is me, whether you like it or not. What matters is whether I do.
And no boyfriend or inspirational quote or Dove beauty campaign has gotten me here. The truth is simply that hating myself is EXHAUSTING. I’m just so tired of celebrating every gram lost and mourning every gram gained. Sick of pretending I can walk in heels, sick of spending all my money on a gym membership I don’t use, sick of never fitting into jeans (even those Eva jeans that Levi’s promises you have ass space), sick of apologizing for my lack of rhythm and athletic ability. I don’t need you to remind me of my ‘flaws’. I don’t need you to give me that diet you’ve been on. I don’t want your advice on how to dress. I don’t need you to accept, or even love, my body. You know what I need? For everyone else to stop telling me what my body is worth.
So here’s a simple tip: If you think someone is beautiful, tell them they are beautiful. If you don’t, shut the fuck up.