CN – talk of internalised fatphobia, body and self-confidence issues as well as other generalised anxiety issues.
I want to start by saying that this is entirely based on my own personal experiences, and any and all negativity here is based purely on my own body and my own image. It is so important to me to ensure that I am not speaking negatively about anyone else’s body or self-expression. If any part of this comes across otherwise, I want to know and I want to fix this.
I know I’m not alone when I say that I’ve struggled with my body image, one way or another, for most of my life. I spent most of my teenage years acutely aware that I was bigger than most of my friends and feeling, regardless of whether or not it was actually true, that I was on some level being judged for this. Most of that time, from ages 12(ish) upwards, I was wearing a UK size 12. (As far as I’m aware, that’s a US size 8.) It’s a remarkably average size, which I know now, but when most of your friends are two dress sizes smaller, the difference can feel gargantuan. I’m now a UK 14/16 (US 10/12), which is still not far from the UK average. So it’s remarkable to me how often I feel, or am made to feel, huge.
Having felt for so long that there was something inherently wrong with my body, I took the route a lot of young people take: I wore the biggest, ugliest, least-flattering outfits you can imagine. As a teenage emo, transitioning from my baggy greeb jeans to skinny jeans was physically and mentally painful for me. I wore (and largely still wear) black and grey and did everything I could to stop from standing out. Seeing me in a dress or something colourful was a rare event, and would only happen if I could be certain it wasn’t going to be more than a few hours.
Sadly, I kept this up much longer than I would’ve liked. Each time a chapter of my life ended and I was due to move somewhere new, the idea would pop into my head – “maybe this time I’ll buy some new clothes beforehand and then I won’t be the girl who never looks good”. It never happened. At the end of 2014, during my second year of university, I got tired of myself. I bought a few new cute things and I decided to start an ootd blog, aptly yet somewhat self-deprecatingly named uninteresting ootd, where I would document anything I’d worn that made me feel like I didn’t look completely terrible. I noticed the difference, no matter how small, almost instantly. I still wore ripped jeans and black t-shirts most days, but I started to think a little before I threw clothes on in the morning. Would this be an outfit I’d be okay sharing online? Is this something that makes me look like that 15 year old who is doing everything she can to hide her body? It started working. I got bored though, as I so often do, and I stopped posting. But the changes were still in me, and I felt a little bit more confident.
Then I went on holiday with my girlfriend. We came back and looked at the pictures, and I hardly recognised myself. The body I saw in those pictures didn’t correlate with how I thought I looked and I was horrified. Not necessarily because of my size in itself, but because I didn’t understand how I could be so out of touch with my own body as to not recognise that it had changed so drastically. I felt like retreating back to my baggy clothes and hiding away. I felt ashamed of my body, and of my feelings toward it. I had foolishly assumed that not officially changing dress size meant my body was staying exactly the same, rather than really paying attention to the fact that my clothes were a little tighter, and that one’s body can change shape and size without having to buy new clothes.
Either way, seeing those pictures upset me. Feeling like I didn’t really have those enjoyable mementos of my first trip with my girlfriend and feeling like I was ashamed of the way I looked really hit me hard, and I started to think a lot about why that is. There is a huge, undeniable level of internalised fatphobia at play here, and I’d love to say I’m entirely past it but that would be a lie. I know that I am not the first person to struggle with this, and I absolutely will not be the last, but it has been a daily fight to take my knowledge of the obvious fact that fat does not equal ugly and apply this to my own body. Fat is not ugly. Fat is not anything other than fat, really. No one body is more or less beautiful than any other body. Yet when I try to apply this simple fact to myself, I hit a wall.
I am aware that, at a UK size 16, it could be argued whether I would even be called fat. I am a size L/XL in most stores and 16 tends to be where the UK officially begins plus size clothing in most brands. It still feels that most straight size clothing is really not designed for bodies like mine. I have big-ish boobs and a tummy and a large waist and that’s not really the kind of size 16 designers like. But my arms are not especially big and my thighs are chubby but my calves are not, which means a body like mine is not what plus size brands have in mind either. I feel mid-size and honestly, I realise now that this is what I’ve been struggling with the most.
Returning to my blog, albeit recently, is helping me work through some of my body issues. When I came back, I made a masterpost of some of the outfits I’d photographed during my break, and looking through them felt like a string of wonderful “damn, I looked good in that” moments that I truly needed to experience. The issue I’m still facing is finding who to follow. I follow a number of plus size bloggers who have wonderful styles that I adore, and whom I admire greatly and whose posts I read with little hearts in my eyes, but I spend an awful lot of time wondering if I’m not infringing on a community that is not meant for me. I attempt body positivity, but I cannot apply it to myself, and I am aware that my own body and the experiences I have with it and because of it are not the same as the bloggers I follow and so greatly admire.
I know that I, like so many others, have so much to work on with my body image, but I’m starting to think that maybe I’m getting there. I’m a long way from really loving myself, and I don’t attempt to kid myself about that. I am aware that, completely unrelated to its size, my body is not being looked after as well as it should be, and I know I need to work on that. And I know that imposter syndrome is kicking my ass as an ootd blogger, stopping me from feeling at home in either straight size or plus size communities.
But I also know that my body is, reasonably speaking, not completely terrible. It does what I need it to and sometimes, I can dress it up so it looks cute doing so. I know that, regardless of how difficult it can be for me to remember this, the fat on my body does not define its beauty. I know that if I keep in touch with my body, how it is changing and what it needs, I’ll be okay. Crucially, I now know that needing a day where I hide my body away is allowed every now and again, that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. I can break out baggy jeans and hoodies if I need to, and that’s okay.