As a recovering anorexic, I face body image issues everyday. These anxieties around my body have a huge impact on the ability to live my life. Some of the things it has affected the most are my social life, intimacy and even getting dressed in the morning. Daily, I find myself in front of the mirror surrounded by the contents of my wardrobe at my feet, feeling stressed and tearful that I don’t feel comfortable or confident in anything I try on. I notice changes in my body as it grows to be strong and healthy yet I see it as a failure to my eating disorder. I scream those words that we all use, “fat, disgusting, ugly.” My recovery is telling me one thing but my mind is saying the exact opposite. The media and society we live in today are also to blame. When we open a magazine we see one type of woman, there is no variety and a hell of a lot of airbrushing. How am I supposed to weight restore and confidently enter womanhood when the world idolises one body type?
Finding my tribe
During my recovery I’ve found it important to surround myself with like-minded people whom also struggle with body image. Luckily, I have found the body positive community, a movement in which it appreciates and celebrates all body types: their differences, “flaws” and natural beauties. Every stretch mark, scar, roll and cellulite. Body positivity sees the truth behind that airbrushed image in the magazines and applauds that.
I have been to a few body positive events run by an incredible group called the Anti Diet Riot. This group aims to take down the diet industry and stigma around being different from society’s image. It is always empowering to see so many women (and men) come together in unity and be proud of what nature gave us. That said, I have always noticed one problem. We as the body positive community must be careful to not give the message “bigger is better.” We must be inclusive of all shapes and sizes. So long as we have good health, physical and mental, and we have a healthy relationship with food and exercise, then our bodies will be as nature intended. No nips and tucks or fad diets. Eat healthily as well as listening to your body. If it says have a takeaway, be my guest. Exercise moderately which can include taking your dog for a walk, doing the school run or cleaning the house from top to bottom. Have an important life balance. Go out and have fun and try new experiences. You can do all this and be a size 4 or a size 24 and that is just the way you were created.
Fat shaming vs skinny shaming
We’ve all heard of fat shaming but we must be cautious to not get into the territory of skinny shaming. As I have just explained, you can be a size 6-8 and live a body positive lifestyle. We can’t choose our bodies but we can choose the relationship we have with them. At a recent event I was looking through racks of clothes labelled size 14 and above. I loved the rockabilly styles and bold colours and patterns. I am now a size 8, a remarkable achievement from the emaciated body I was last year. As I was looking through the larger sizes I felt a sense of judgment. One lady looked shocked as I was rummaging through the vintage dresses and said “you do realise this is a swap shop.” With clearly no size 14 clothes to swap I walked away feeling unable to take part. Later that day during a ‘love yourself’ workshop we were flicking through fashion magazines. There were comments such as “these aren’t real women” and “who has washboard abs.” These models, who are all adult women, have bodies too and could have a perfectly healthy lifestyle. The photos are also airbrushed which is most likely the editors choice, not the model. As much as I appreciate the message of these body positive events, I can’t help but think they don’t always cater for those below a size 14. I have been skinny and been on the receiving end of skinny shaming. Although those people may not have known, but I was deeply suffering in a very dark period of my life. I have seen the scary side of skinny. I was not doing it to look like a supermodel, I was severely unwell with a voice controlling my every movement or piece of food entering my mouth. When we see “skinny” we should refrain from the immediate judgement and remember they could be going through a difficult time or they are living a perfectly normal lifestyle and that is just how there body is supposed to be. I am fully aware that I am not quite there yet in finding a healthy relationship with food and exercise. Having body positive values as an anchor throughout recovery will enable me to sail safely through the storms.
So, what happens now…?
Although I now eat a healthy balanced diet, it is still extremely controlled and I often ignore cravings and treats that my body is allowed. However, I am in the middle of a process of recovery and these changes will not happen overnight. I definitely am fully aware that my goal is to live a completely disorder free lifestyle and be body positive and that is a step in the right direction. I hope that standing by my body positive and anti-diet beliefs will tear down my demons as well as inspiring others. Body positivity amongst eating disorders is much more complex and I feel there isn’t enough out there to support our side of the story. With mental health rising and approximately 1.25 million people suffering from eating disorders in the UK, we must be incredibly aware of all body types and not be prejudice. I think it is important to remember that the even bigger factor behind being body positive is self love. We all need this, at any shape or size.