Since I was a baby I have been a natural born feeder: whatever was placed in front of my mouth got instantly ingested. I grew comfortably into my ‘puppy fat’, and I was a very happy and healthy child. This was before I became severely asthmatic and was placed on heavy doses of steroid treatment; turning my cute ‘puppy’ fat into regular fat. My parents acted on my early weight gain and snacks and dairy products were banned from our house for a while (there’s a reason why they say that cheese is as addictive as cocaine). I was never openly told that I was overweight because I wasn’t – but these were precautionary measures my parents took to ensure that I didn’t slip into a downward and unhealthy spiral. Just like my asthma, however, the weight gain was only temporary. The mental stress of not becoming ‘fat’ mixed with external societal pressures to look a certain way, however, left a lasting and exhausting impression right up into adulthood.
By the time I was 11 I was steroid free and my body began to change in preparation for becoming a woman. I was scrawny and boyish with an athletic frame, sticky-out hips, and pointy shoulders. I didn’t develop like other girls around me. My brothers would jokingly call me their little brother as opposed to their little sister. At 13 I became more image-conscious and my relationship with food and my body drastically changed. For the foreseeable future, my mind was to be engulfed with negative and unrealistic ideas of what my body ought to look like. I was also dealing with a physical disability at the time and so, to me, my body was disgusting and didn’t deserve any love or nourishment. This tormenting cycle continued into my late teens and eventually worsened to the point where I would try and go two or three days without eating – in total secrecy, of course. Mentally, I knew what I was doing to my precious body was so wrong, and I understood the consequences of my actions, but I couldn’t stop myself.
My body and mind were constantly on different pages to one another. I felt perpetually hungry, my mood was dreadful, my skin was grey in colour, and I looked ill. By 17 I had undergone three brutal spinal surgeries and had lots of metal inside my body, but I had become so thin that the metal began protruding through my skin. I knew I needed to gain weight to get healthy again – and I wanted to – but I needed to train my brain into realising that my body needed help, and my brain needed to realise that it had to cooperate with my body’s needs. I was getting fed up allowing my negative relationship with food to dominate my health and my self-worth – but I was the only one who had the power to change it.
By the end of 2015, I had had my petite body ripped, torn and stitched seven times over. I was ready to feel good about this vessel that was taking me through life, and slowly, but surely, I began facing my demons. The first step was the toughest: admitting to myself that my body is beautiful and deserving of respect; no matter how many ‘imperfections’ I might see. I believe in the power of self-love. For instance: I’m not a fan of my nose, my flat chest, or my scars, but I make it my business to regularly look in the mirror and tell myself that those things are what make me beautiful. I’m learning to eat myself healthier and I’m educating myself on what types of nutrients and proteins my body needs to flourish and look it’s best. I worked with medical professionals – and lots of good councilling from friends and family – to gain weight. And while this process is on-going, I’ve figured that I’m naturally skinny – and probably always will be. Most importantly, I’m healthy.
The terrifying thing about my story is that millions of young women and men find it totally relatable, and I believe that society as a whole is to blame. I was in a popular shop recently when I came across little girls pyjamas that had the words “cheat meal” printed on the top along with a slice of pizza. The pyjamas were sized for 11-12-year-olds. If we’re introducing that kind of language to children so early on, surely we have to face the repercussions? Statistics from the Social Issues Research Centre show that children are able to recognise themselves in mirrors by the age of two. It’s shortly after this that they begin to dislike what they see. There shouldn’t be a need to ‘fat shame’ or ‘skinny shame’ (the latter which I have a lot of experience of), but to promote a healthy, balanced, and happy life. Our overly-saturated, media driven world has worsened the desire to look glamorous and more ‘womanly’ – i.e not flat-chested with sticky-out hips – but this conceals the bigger picture; life is for living, and not for worrying.
I admittedly still battle with my body demons – I am human after all – but I’m enjoying my journey of self-love and my rekindled relationship with food. We’re not here for a very long time so we need to respect our bodies and minds and give them the love and care they warrant.