'Trying my best' on a Sunday.
Talk for Sunday Assembly, Central London on the 4th February 2018. They ask a member of the community to come and share their story around the theme of that week, which for this week, was 'Embrace the skin you're in". Here it is:
“For those of you who have been coming here for a while, you might remember that I’ve stood up here before and done a ‘trying my best’ speech. Last time I spoke about my anxiety - which felt terrifying at the time. Well, let me tell you, speaking to a room of 300 people about learning to love myself, turns out, is way scarier.
I think this is because we’re told that we shouldn’t say ‘I love myself’ too loudly. It can sound arrogant against the social norm that we should be trying to change ourselves at all times.
I bet that for most people in here it would be easier to say, ‘god I feel fat today’ in front of their friends, than ‘I feel incredibly hot today’.
We don’t celebrate those who are happy with themselves. We celebrate the people who have the willpower to always refuse dessert, those who smash it in the gym even when they’re really tired and the seemingly magical people who can ‘forget to eat.’ The thinner your body, the more social revere. And those of anyone found lacking, well you must at all times look to be‘being good’ in order to eventually meet the set standard.
Well screw that.
I don’t have any memories, even as a child, of liking my body. I was chubby for as long as I remember - and then I was tall and chubby - which as a teenage girl is pretty much a fate worse than death. Although I was repeatedly told I had a pretty face as if it was some sort of consolation prize. I also had two petite best friends which, love though I did, did nothing but fuel the fire for wishing I looked the exact opposite of what I did. Add a well-meaning mother who grew up in the era of diets becoming the mainstream so at age 13 off I went to Weight Watchers. And so began pretty dark road.
Here is a photo of me age 16, I look absolutely lovely, but I know how much I hated myself at this time of my life. By now I was a walking Weight Watchers points dictionary, and I had been rewarded by losing some weight (the first diet always works).
But the problem with any diet (or detox or lifestyle programme, they’re all the same) is that they do nothing to change your thoughts.
The praise I got when I lost weight was replaced by massive amounts of shame when I put it all back on when I was 17 miserable at school. I recently went home and in the loft, I found all my old diaries (turns out 33 is just about the time when you bear to read your teenage thoughts) and I found this.
It’s the Get Gorgeous Plan 2003. And at 18, you can see that there’s some sensible advice in here… I particularly like the don’t give your happiness to blokes line. (It took me another ten years to figure that one out!) But hidden under this quite innocent looking list is still a really deep dislike of myself, an obsession to change and the belief that if I could just get to 9’12 (which was the ingrained goal weight I had in mind) I would be happy. I was back on Weight Watchers, refusing to eat home cooked dinners because I couldn’t know how many points were in them to track, but by now I had also turned to secret eating and nighttime binges.
By the time I was 21 in University I had, what I know now, was an eating disorder. I was making myself sick up to three times a day but as I didn’t fit the stereotype of thin, gaunt girl I definitely didn’t consider it one. The pursuit of thinness overshadowing all the other achievements I’d gained in University.
But it was around this time, that I found a book, and I have no idea what this book was called because I lent it to another girl I felt needed it and never saw it again, but it was a body positivity book although it was very much before the days of the movement we have now. There was a line which said, ‘treat yourself like you would you best friend’. And this blew my mind. But how could I treat something that I hate - something that I fantasised about changing all the time - how could I love that?
The book had a big impact but it took me half my twenties more for me to take any of it on board.
When I came to London I joined another slimming club, I had a new boyfriend and we were going to Ibiza so I HAD TO GET THIN! I was actually thinner than I am now but they still took my money - because in the world of dieting there’s rarely such a thing as too thin. I remember the other members saying you look great! But as I say, dieting does nothing to change your thoughts. It was only when I had cut virtually everything out of my diet apart from family sized cottage cheese and rice cakes (weird that you’re able to eat as much cottage cheese as you like but a slice of toast was the devil) Even though I was going to be gym 4 times a week, the scales still wouldn’t shift - that thankfully some part of my brain said, this is crazy.
And it was after that there was a part of me that thought there HAS to be another way and so I promised myself that I would never sit in a circle of shame again. And I haven’t.
The journey to healing my relationship with food and then my body is one I’m still on. Part of it was training to be a massage therapist and discovering how genuinely amazing the body is and how we all look the same really. Every single body is lovely in its own way.
You as much your eyes are your thighs.
A few years later, I trained to be health coach learning over 200 dietary theories but really taking home the underlying message of my course - that if you listen to your body and it will tell you what it needs and it can heal itself. Then I found body positivity then intuitive eating and finally, the health at every size movement. I had my eyes open to how much dieting has co-opted the wellness industry. And now see that our bodies are political and that fat acceptance is a social inclusion issue which we need to address.
Diets at the very least, steal your happiness, your potential to use all that brain space for something awesome and rob you of life’s joy - that meal you miss or that photo you're not in because you'd rather take the shot than be in it. But they have a much darker side not shown on the glossy spreads of magazines.
Fast forward to where I am in my story. I am now a coach. I teach unapologetic body acceptance and I am firmly anti-diets. I use my experience to help others heal their relationship with food and their bodies. I try to use the privilege I have looking as I do, to speak out for those in bodies still marginalised by beauty standards and call out the diet industry in places where it shouldn’t be. I am very grateful to have lived the experiences I have, to now be able to help others not go through the same thing.