I stumbled upon this picture in some old files on my computer the other day. It was like being punched in the stomach when I saw it. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and this one really is. A flood of memories came back of the day that was taken. I was about to go out for my office Christmas party in 2010 (or maybe 2009, can’t remember). The dress was just a cheap one from Primark in a size 8. In the hours before this being taken I’d eaten a green smoothie for breakfast and a very light salad for lunch, the meal wasn’t until after 7 and I’d come home feeling cold and starving. I can remember feeling a little ‘off’ (no fucking wonder right?) but at that time I still hadn’t had a period for several months, so I took what would be the first of several negative pregnancy tests. Although deep down I knew I wasn’t pregnant, I was still upset and that alongside the hunger led to me ‘bingeing’ on 2 protein shakes because they were the only thing I’d allow myself to eat before such a big meal out.
I look at that old version of myself now with a mixture of pity and gratitude. I guess the pity is obvious but the gratitude I feel is in looking back and now understanding that I needed to experience that rock bottom. Now, I’m (almost literally) twice the woman I was there, I’ve learned that happiness does not come with a size 8 label. I was running myself into the ground, ignoring the hunger inside me and instead feeding my desire to be more worthy with the ‘perfect’ diet.
The thigh gap has long gone, my skinny arms have bulked up and my waist is certainly more belly than abs. Yet I love it all so much, every last wobble and curve, and that is made so much easier when I look back and see that picture.
I had achieved what us women are told we should have to be happy, successful and worthy in this modern world. Thinness, the exercise regime, the ideal diet, slender yet muscular arms even the much coveted thigh gap. What the magazines and Instagram posts don’t tell you is what it might take for you to get there.
I’ve no doubt there’s many, many women who look like I did in that image and don’t need to run 3 times a week, do over an hour of cardio at the gym every day and eat a scanty vegan diet to maintain it. But I did. My body is not their body. Thanks to that experience, I know I could never be that woman again. I have neither the desire nor ability to do it. Instead I choose acceptance and love, I choose having an actual fucking life over obsession. I choose carrying around a spare 14lbs over what it would take for me to lose it – because believe me when I say, I understand what it would take for me to lose it. At the moment, it would cost my life and overall balance too much. Perhaps in the future when I’m in a new phase of life, losing that weight will become more of a priority, just now it’s just not and that’s a-ok.
Right now I eat a fairly healthy diet, loads of plant-based foods and no restrictions on anything else. I love food and I enjoy my indulgences when I choose to have them (choose being the key word here, I’m now in the driver’s seat). I can’t remember the last time I binged. Over ate? Yes, I’m not perfect and sometimes I feel stuffed before I take that as a reminder to stop, like I said I love food! But I am accepting that at this phase of my life, when motherhood, new friendships and running a business has squeezed my time, when I choose other more soul nourishing forms of self care over intensive forms of exercise, that this version of me is the result.
I choose the softness of my life now, over the hard edges of my old life. My old body may have been healthier in some ways (hormonally it clearly wasn’t) but I’d argue against anyone suggesting I’m not healthier now than I was back then.
Health and wellbeing is not just a number on a scale, a BMI, a label in your jeans or the amount of miles you ran this morning. It’s not obsessing over everything you put in your mouth, it’s not bingeing every evening, it’s feeling no guilt around food, it’s knowing that you’re setting a good example to your kids, it’s moving your body in a way that feels good and not forcing it to do something that makes you feel physically sick.
Every calorie you count and every bite you obsess over is stealing away a little piece of your life. I get that some of us need structure and guidance, especially when we need to lose weight for health reasons if our weight is much more on the higher side. But what I see are so many beautiful women with normal sized bodies, beating themselves up over this bullshit diet bollocks.
You have a choice. You can choose to see your health and happiness as extensions of one another. You can choose to see food as nourishment, whether that’s for your body, your soul or both. You can choose to opt out of being made to feel unworthy because of the way your body looks. I’m not saying it’s easy, it takes work every day. I still have to fight back against the negative self talk, the deep seated feeling of ’not enoughness’ that gets triggered sometimes. But it’s so worth the work.
Any thoughts or feelings you have on this are welcome in the comments…