At the weekend my Mum told me she had decided she needed to lose weight, and that could I offer any advice: “Because you look great but you’re always eating.” I told her what I tell anyone when they say something like this to me: “You don’t need to lose weight.” In my experience, people don’t hate their bodies because they need to lose weight, they hate their bodies because they hate their bodies.
Losing weight won’t stop you hating your body. I should know, I hated my body for years. Years wasted being frightened of food, either eating too little or inhaling vast quantities of the stuff before spending hours in the bathroom with my fingers down my throat. Years thinking that I couldn’t wear the kind of clothes I wanted to, thinking I would never be one of those girls who go out looking hot, or who could have sex with the lights on.
There was never anything wrong with how I looked, but I always thought I needed to lose weight. Until I learnt how to love how I looked (then ironically, I did lose weight).
So that would be my advice to anyone who want to lose weight: learn how to love your body. Your new found happiness and lack of anxiety about food might, like me, cause you to drop a few pounds. But if you don’t it won’t matter, because you’ll be seeing the real awesome you, not a number on a scale.
It’s difficult to break out of that negative cycle of poor body image. I’m lucky now to be in a place where I can laugh at all the shit people talk about it. And they do talk a lot of shit. Only recently, somebody told me I looked great and asked if I was on a diet. I told her I wasn’t, adding that it was most probably caused by anxiety. She replied, without hesitation, “Oh so maybe I should get a long term boyfriend, then break up with him, and I might lose weight.” I’m not kidding. I’ve also been told how good I look when I’ve been really ill. I even met people in India who were trying to get tapeworms because they were so desperate to lose weight. That’s how messed up we are about body image: we would risk heartache and disease to have more slender thighs.
So I can’t tell you what will work for you, but I can tell you what worked for me. It’s been a long old journey, but here are the things that happened that helped me love how my body looks.
- I escaped Western culture for six months while I worked for a charity serving a slum community in India. I didn’t see any magazines or any television. I dressed in traditional shalwar kameez: designed to hide my figure but always in the most beautiful colours and fabrics. I also had a reality check, coming across people who had what I perceived to be very little: but who were generous, house-proud and almost always hopeful. After half a year of twice daily curries, amazing street food, and super sweet tea I weighed two stone more than when I arrived. But I was more confident about how I looked than I had ever been.
- When I returned to the UK I took up running to release the pent up frustration that comes from a long distance relationship and fruitless job searching. I learnt to love my body because of what it can do. My chunky thighs mean that I can run up hills without stopping. I am strong. I can do anything.
- I got paid to take my clothes off. At a party, someone tells me that she models for life drawing classes and that the artist she works for is always looking for different bodies: would I be interested? I immediately dismiss it but can’t seem to start thinking about the idea. Wouldn’t it be amazing to be confident enough to model naked in front of a room full of people? I became a life model and find it not to be awkward or embarrassing but liberating, empowering and also really meditative. I always left classes buzzing, and at £12 an hour it paid more than my office job at the time.
- I learnt how to cook good nourishing food. I slowly teach myself not to be afraid of it any more. I’ve always been a foodie, but had previously only associated eating with guilt. Learning to make it helped me get over this, and enabled me to start enjoying going out to eat. Now I can’t stop eating, or talking about food. I daydream about flavour combinations and what I’m going to cook for dinner.
- I wear what I like. Not what blogs or magazines say petite pear-shaped women should wear, but exactly what I want. I don’t dress in what I believe to work well for my figure, or to hide the bad bits (there are no bad bits!) I dress in what makes me feel awesome.
So to summarise, I suppose my advice would be: stop reading magazines, stop believing what you see on TV, get moving and get naked. Don’t let anybody tell you what to eat and don’t let anybody tell you what to wear. Be awesome, be bad-ass, and be you. Not you in a smaller dress size: you.