Content warning: negative body image.
Growing up I was very thin; I was always described as small or petite. That was, until I was diagnosed with a hip condition called Perthes disease and was advised to use a wheelchair for mobility reasons. This condition, the pain that came with it, and the confinement to my chair meant that I was unable to run around like normal children my age. I couldn’t do any sports or couldn’t attend dance classes; my only exercise was possible through physio and hydrotherapy. When I moved onto crutches rather than a wheelchair, I was still unable to take part in all the physical activities that my friends would be able to do. This meant that I began to put on weight, and I couldn’t lose it in the same way that others could. That’s when my body image insecurities began.
It seems almost normal in today’s society that we grow up with body image issues and that we feel insecure about how we look before we have even fully developed. I remember being in school and being well aware that I looked different to my friends, and that I was the “chubby” one. I’ve never felt like I blended in with the societal norm of the female body image. This followed me throughout my life, from primary to secondary to sixth form and now university.
When the film The DUFF came out in 2015, I couldn’t help but relate to the term, which means ‘Designated Ugly Fat Friend’. I have always affiliated with this idea that my friends are better than me, prettier than me, smarter than me. As a result, I felt, and still feel, the need to overcompensate with a sense of fake confidence and mask my insecurities with humour. I’ll make little jokes about my weight here, or my belly rolls there. In the end, what may look like me fishing for compliments, is actually just me trying to make myself feel better about the things I hate.
I’ve never been able to share clothes with friends like most others can do. I listen to my friends complaining that they are fat, and I worry that if they think they are fat, what kind of whale do they think I am? I spend most of my time asking friends to retake pictures of me, I’ll say, “Delete it” or “Can you take another?” until they are eventually sick of taking pictures. They think I’m just being fussy, when in reality I look at myself and I feel awful, I feel a sense of dread, where I no longer want to go out; my image issues then hold me back from enjoying myself, when in reality I shouldn’t care.
I thought moving university would help; I would join the gym, cut back on my portions, maybe I’d start running. But that was far from the truth. Don’t get me wrong – I did join the gym, but then that didn’t last long! My portions were smaller, that part was true, but my inability to say no to a takeaway or a meal out was far from helpful. I have never weighed myself by choice (i.e. only when I’m asked on a trip to the GP), and so I haven’t really measured my university weight gain. I have on the other hand noticed my need to go up a dress size or two, or when I try clothes on from a couple of years ago, they no longer fit. The funny thing with me is that I’ll feel insecure and self-conscious about my weight and body but have absolutely no motivation or drive to do anything about it. I’ve joined different gyms, started different diets, but I can’t seem to stick to them.
One thing that doesn’t help my personal insecurities is looking back on old pictures. I love looking back at old memories but seeing how much thinner my face is or how much slimmer I look in these images doesn’t help my body image issues. I reflect and think to myself, “wow, I wish I looked like I did then”, but I remember thinking at the time that I wished I was thinner, I wished I looked like the old me. This is a running theme for me and will continue to be a running theme probably for the rest of my life. This idea that I’ll constantly be envious of how I previously looked, and never be happy with my current self until a year later when I wish I looked the same. I’ll look at my Snapchat memories from four years ago and feel down about how I wish I looked like my 17-year-old self, where I was still a teenager and not finished growing into myself.
This constant reflection isn’t healthy, and I’m perfectly aware I need to stop. As I go through different changes in life, so does my body, and I should appreciate all my scars, spots, and stretch marks. I need to work on being happy with myself now rather than my past self, because frankly, I can’t reflect when I’m in my grave!