*Trigger Warning – when discussing body confidence this post will include discussions about mental health, eating disorders and restrictive eating.
Where Does Body Confidence Come From?
When we are born, tiny little amoeba’s of bones, organs and far too much skin, included in us is a tiny little confidence barometer. It sits somewhere in our brains, probably in between logic and the ‘bat shit’ crazy section and for the first years of our lives, our caregivers job is to fill that little bar full with internal confidence. Every time they clap our farts and well-timed burps, or do that googly face when we smile or laugh, they fill that confidence barometer right up to the top. And then, when we are ready, they let us out into the big bad world, in the hope that we’re resilient enough to cope with the knocks and chips to our confidence barometer.
I remember being very small and feeling incredibly loved and confident. There were gleeful cheers when I ‘cleared my plate’ at my friends houses, or grew another inch on the Tammy Girl chart. I remember being called strong and clever and all those things that parents and friends talk about, and you hear whilst listening on staircases with your pals. I felt good.
When Your Body Confidence Goes in the Bin
Until one day those messages changed. When puppy fat became just fat, and suddenly people were reluctant to give me ‘seconds’ or applaud me for scrapping my plate…into my gob. I remember sitting in my Mum’s ‘Fat Club’ classes and listening to women talk about eating food that was ‘good and bad’ or whether eating cake was ‘naughty’. I learnt that my body, how it was, was bad, and people would pay money not to look like me. Images of thin women, heroin chic and Kate Moss filled my eyeballs, and my body just wasn’t good enough. Side Note: I grew up in the 80’s where people didn’t know any better, but honestly, if you’re still taking your kids to your slimming clubs in the 21st Century, don’t.
I knew from then on my body was too big. I was told to stop eating so much chocolate (but Bish I love that stuff and I remember full blow crying for hours after being told this). Boys didn’t single me out in kiss chase, even though I was practically slow motioning it across the concrete in the hope my BFF would snog me. He did not. When lads were carving girls initials into their arms with Indian Ink, I was the one sat beside them offering a plaster. Pretty quickly my confidence barometer was being chipped at on a daily basis. It seemed that everything I was beyond my body was fine, but not enough.
You Can’t Find Your Body Confidence at the Scales
I was 14 when I first began restricting my diet. I would survive on cans of Diet Coke and a plain bread roll. By 17, I was downing slimming pills bought from under the counter in beauty salons, and mixing vats of lemon water with cayenne pepper. When I first slept with my ex, the week after we had sex, we sat in a field under the burning sun when he mentioned,
“You’re a lot bigger than I thought you were.”
Oof, right into the gut that one. My weight yo yo’d up and down and each time I got a little bigger my body confidence fell through the floor, until my internal meter reached zero. I stopped leaving the house, started a short-lived relationship with Anorexia and laxative abuse and voila! One person with an Eating Disorder emerged. The weight scale constantly changed, but my body confidence never got bigger. It felt that no matter what I achieved, what I was, it was nothing unless it happened inside a thin body.
10 years of having a Binge Eating Disorder ensured that any hope of a slither of confidence was squished out of me. Living in a fat body was difficult. I covered my body in long cardigans and sweated it out in 30 degree heat because getting my arms out in public – horrific. Everyone and everything told me I was better when I was thinner, and I was desperate.
Body Confidence, Are You There?
When I finally realised I was perhaps ‘a bit sick‘ and not just greedy, I searched out treatment. I waited with bated breath for my appointment with a Psychologist. She weighed me and sent me away, for a diagnosis and treatment plan to slip through my letter box a few weeks later. I was popped onto a waiting list and a few months later began treatment for a Binge Eating Disorder. I waited for the diet plan each week. I was disappointed every session that went past where they weren’t going to offer me ‘the solution’ to my fatness. On week 6, the therapist mentioned that the treatment for BED was to not diet. Sorry, what mate? So I am stuck with this body forever. Nah thanks, I’ll take me pen and paper and get out of here.
I wasn’t the only one who had been gutted. We discussed being weighed and that we thought there’d be a ‘plan and they smiled and shook their heads and I was furious.
I was ready to ‘get better’ and by better I meant ‘NOT FAT’.
I went home and googled everything there was to know about my eating disorder and again and again, there it would be. Dieting would keep me sick. But how would I be better if I still had this body. My confidence was so linked with being thin, I didn’t know how to exist within it. Could I get used to being fat?
I went in search for fat bodies like mine. I scoured the internet and flicked through instagram feeds until I found them. I unfollowed all the fitspo feeds and filled my eyes with images of fat babes, chunky babes, BME babes, disabled babes, trans babes. As many different women I could find, I stalked them, learnt everything about them, with one thought, how are you so confident?
I listened to TED talks about fatness and body positivity and pinned quotes about what worse things I could be above being fat. I remembered the times I was praised as a child for being funny, or smart or friendly. I found that kid again. I watched fashion shows with fat girls in bikinis and saw my body shape replicated again and again with people cheering and whopping and going googly-eyed.
I found shops that stocked my size and ditched the cardigans for playsuits and made friends with other fat women on the internet who would send me love heart emojis when I flashed a bit of skin. I found my people, a group of women who built my confidence through every DM, Skype and phone call.
I stopped apologising to the world for being fat and started apologising for a world that couldn’t see the beauty in me and plus size women.
And then this week I got naked. Like properly naked with a stranger and I wasn’t even drunk or horny. Shocker. I met with Alex Cameron and undertook my first confidence shoot and look at the results! If I am honest, all the little chips I have had along the way manifested before the shoot, the simple thought of, this would look better if I was thinner. Being confident isn’t an exact art, some days my barometer is a little fuller than others. But it isn’t empty, not even close. I’d go as far to say, I am pretty body confident.