One of my least favourite childhood memories can be traced back to a cramped, curtained high-street fitting room with mirrors on all sides. I can’t remember exactly how old I was, yet I can vividly recall the feelings of anger, frustration and then sadness that coursed through my body as I tried to violently coerce my legs into a series of jeans that just wouldn’t fit. I tried sucking in my stomach, contorting myself into painful positions and tugging hopelessly at the fabric until it threatened to rip, but it soon became clear that nothing – except perhaps a miracle – would succeed.
I’d always known I was heavier than the majority of kids my age, but I didn’t really know until this point that I was ‘fat’ by society’s standards. I was taunted for my weight, but I rationalised the insults by reminding myself that everyone has a flaw to be dissected by ruthless school kids. In hindsight, I remember being fat-shamed before I even knew what fat-shaming was.
I remember being fat-shamed before I even knew what fat-shaming was.
As I grew up, my weight began to fluctuate naturally, although it never really dipped enough to fit society’s definition of an ‘ideal’ body. I joined my school gym at 15, determined to shed weight and shrink myself to meet the expectations of what my body should look like. I put myself under enormous pressure; sometimes this pressure was exacerbated by nasty insults and thoughtless comments made by strangers, a surprising number of whom claimed to be ‘well-intentioned.’
But when people called me fat, it never felt like a gesture of kindness. I’ve since come to accept the term – alongside others like ‘chubby’ and ‘pudgy’ – as mere descriptors, but my 18-year-old self wasn’t quite so rational. I started downloading gay dating apps and scrolling through photos of headless torsos decorated with glistening abs; I entered in conversations with men who told me I was ‘too fat to date’, and I voraciously consumed queer media hoping to see more bodies like my own. I didn’t.
It was only after years of being shamed for my weight that I dedicated myself to making a change. Unfortunately, I chose to do so at the worst possible time. I had just moved abroad to study, and I quickly found myself isolated and lacking control over my life; to compensate, I decided to exercise control over my body. I began to fixate on the idea of losing weight, but I had tried 'eating less and moving more' in the past, and it hadn’t worked. So I restricted myself. I limited myself to four cereal bars a day, walked for hours across the city and often replaced evening meals with bottles of neat alcohol intended to curb my spiralling mood. I posted selfies of my new, slimmed-down body, and spent hours posing for drunken webcam photoshoots, which temporarily made me feel better.
As my measurements dropped, my insecurities soared. I nagged my housemate constantly, asking her if I looked too fat or if my body had improved – she always replied, exhausted, that there had never been anything to ‘improve’. But no amount of gratification could alleviate the constant internal battle between my desire to lose weight and my perpetually rumbling stomach. I was miserable.
It wasn’t the years of fat-shaming, the constant gags about my weight or the passive Grindr insults that made me exert such strict control over my body. It was my rapidly-declining mental health. Years of seemingly trivial comments began to intermingle, building on top of one another to exacerbate the problem, creating a heavy sense of shame which I became determined to blitz in a mission to “improve” myself. Sure, I fucked more men, received more compliments and could fit into more clothes when I was slimmer – but in reality, I had never felt worse. It was only when I moved back to the UK, surrounded myself with friends and facilitated a more positive mindset that I began to feel happier – but I also gained back most of the weight I had lost.
Sure, I fucked more men, received more compliments and could fit into more clothes when I was slimmer – but in reality, I had never felt worse.
As I started to eat more and actually enjoy myself, I began to see just how insidious those years of body-shaming had proven to be. I had reached a point of such frustration that I resorted to extreme, damaging methods to shed weight, yet my slimmer physique came at the cost of my mental health.
I had tried conventional diets and exercise before, and some had worked. But they weren’t effective enough to stop the shaming, because when someone advises you to ‘lose weight’ they’re doing so for no reason other than to make you feel shitty. The rationale behind fat-shaming is that fat bodies are unworthy of love, and its flaw lies in the fact that nobody can demolish their body and build a new one overnight. Nobody is ‘looking out’ for your wellbeing by hurling slurs your way, because your physical appearance is not a direct translation of your actual health. All they’re doing is contributing to existing insecurities, and potentially pushing you to take the same extreme measures that I now recognise as signifiers of a disordered relationship with food.
I might be heavier now, but I’m happier and healthier than I was at my slimmest. For those reasons alone, body-shaming no longer bothers me.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, please call Beat on 0808 801 0677. Support and information is available 365 days a year.