CW: Eating Disorders, Diet Culture, Weight Loss.
I’ve had a tough relationship with my body since I was about 15. I went to a girls’ secondary school, and it was a breeding ground for self-criticism; the best diets and the latest eating disorders were frequent topics of conversation which seemed pretty much impossible to evade. This manifested as an incessant preoccupation with body image in my mind, which quickly led to a crippling lack of self-esteem which I’ve been struggling to shake since.
I’ve never had an eating disorder per se, but I’ve always had a complicated relationship with food – I love it, but sometimes eating it fills me with so much guilt that I feel sick. In the past year, I’ve been trying to change this by not beating myself up for eating unhealthily every now and again, but it’s easier said than done when I’ve been so obsessed with my weight for years now.
This isn’t helped as one of my go-to responses to emotional situations is to over-indulge on food as a distraction, but it never actually helps and just makes me feel worse afterwards. Even though I know this, old habits die hard. I can’t seem to stop myself engaging in self-destructive behaviour, even though all I can think about a lot of the time is my desire to lose weight.
This is massively exacerbated by continually comparing myself with others. This is a trend which started in school, and has carried over into pretty much every other environment I’ve been in since. I’ve developed a toxic inner voice, constantly attacking me with little jabs and put-downs, and I can’t seem to shut her up.
I’ve become hyper-aware of other women around me – I always look at their bodies on TV and in movies to try and work out whether or not they’re thinner than me. I even do it with women I pass on the street. There’s literally nothing constructive about this whatsoever, but I do it constantly, and I have no idea how to stop.
This comparison is a huge source of guilt for me, because I’m a big advocate of self-love, embracing individuality and cheering on other women. I think everyone should love themselves and appearance shouldn’t be a factor in that, but every time I analyse another woman’s body alongside my own, I feel like a massive hypocrite, and can’t help feeling like I’m betraying my own body-positive ideals. I guess I’m proof that it’s very possible to fail in practising what you preach.
I used to try and convince myself that all this comparing was giving me ‘inspiration’ to lose weight and somehow transform into a supermodel. I used to have a folder of screenshots of girls’ washboard abs and tiny waists on my phone because I thought it’d force me to start doing 500 crunches a day and stop eating chocolate. The whole idea is absolute rubbish.
For me anyway, I need to find inspiration from somewhere within myself rather than through so-called ‘role models’, because studying girls who look the way I want to is just disheartening, and, on bad days, soul-crushing. And yes, I do still feel the need to be inspired to become healthier and lose weight, because, tragically, that’s the only way I can see myself being able to truly love myself.
For a long time, I lacked confidence in pretty much every area of my life. Now, after working through those insecurities, I’m pretty self-assured about various areas of my life, but I can’t say I’m confident about myself overall because of my body image. After all this time, I still essentially judge my worth based on my appearance.
Catching sight of myself in the mirror can cause a crash in confidence, especially when I’m feeling bloated that day or treated myself to a takeaway the night before. Discussions about body image, calories or working out can severely affect my mood for entire days, even if they’re just menial topics for everyone else and they happen in safe spaces with friends I trust.
In previous years, I was intent on the fact that I’d never be satisfied until I looked exactly like the stick-thin models on Instagram, even though my bones are structured entirely differently to theirs, and I don’t have time to work out 24/7. In fact, I have felt a lot better about the reality of my body type since unfollowing those models – why surround yourself with toxic influences if not completely necessary?
Nowadays, I’m working simultaneously on embracing my body more, but also still wanting to lose weight, although perhaps a bit less than I used to. I can foresee this being an inner conflict I’ll have to battle for years to come; insecurity has become part of my daily life. I wish it didn’t have to be that way, but I’ve come to the unfortunate realisation that to be really comfortable in my skin, I need to be at least a little closer to my ideal.
I don’t have as much self-hatred as I used to. That gives me hope that I may be able to love myself someday.