Summer holidays are full of traps if you like to consider yourself body positive, because you’re a feminist and know that you should be, but you really don’t like what you see when you look in the mirror:
- SWIMSUITS: you haven’t bought a new one in what is possibly 10 years because you hate the way you look in them, with the effect that pale white flesh is spilling out everywhere – but hey, at least you braved the bikini wax this year;
- CHUB RUB if you want to wear your favourite dress, or your short shorts, or a maxi skirt, ending back in your hotel room later with your thighs on fire for your trouble;
- and worst of all, when you brave the hill in the heat and the sweat pours down your face and clavicle to pool below your gargantuan breasts and soak into your bra; a phenomenon I have grown to term SWAMP TITS.
This is the first summer that you haven’t been cat-called. Well, except that one time – but you were buried beneath your yellow sun hat and he must have been 70, so it hardly counts. At home you wear a pin that says “cats not catcalls”, so you know you’re being a hypocrite, but it hurts when the scooters slow down and honk their horns for anybody but you.
And the thing is, I knew that this would happen when I started exercising: my ‘Year of Living Mindfully‘, or whatever it was I optimistically billed it as back then. There’s somebody in my life who, bless their heart, has inadvertently become the source of many of my body issues (although when you continually ask somebody to stop saying certain things a certain way, no matter how well intentioned, how long before it crosses the line into advertent…ness?).
“The weight will fall off you,” they said.
But what if it doesn’t?
“But it will.”
Well it’s August, and it hasn’t, so what do I do now?
Eight months of taking the stairs down from the fifth floor, of lunchtime walks, of “30 active minutes”, of (admittedly irregular) sweaty spin classes. Eight months of calorie counting when I remember, and logging each emergency mid-afternoon chocolate bar or can of Coke so I’m forced to watch as the little counter turns red or tells me that I’ve “met my goal” for the day at three in the afternoon. Eight months of all that writing, all that reading, all those things I could have been doing in those wasted moments in pursuit of nothing. I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts though, so that’s something.
‘Wellness’ tries to tell us it’s not about the numbers: the ones on the scale, the ones on the calorie counter (provided those calories are ‘raw’ or can be found in powdered protein of course). It’s a lot like blogging in that way. But, real talk: I flipping hate exercise. I feel shit when I’m doing it, I feel shit afterwards, I feel shit the next day and I feel shit when I know I have to go and do it all again. I met an endorphin once, in the kitchen after my first spin class, but it’s never happened again. Maybe it’s the SSRIs, maybe it’s yet another mental deficiency. But if my anxiety is based on never having enough time, and I am genuinely getting nothing out of exercise, then what the fuck am I doing?
The first proper turn-down-the-page-corner-and-save-it-for-later moment I had while reading Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls actually came in the first guest essay, by Virgie Tovar. I’ve been so busy and so tired over the past few weeks – not to mention in pain from when my ankle collapsed on me for the third time in a week – that I haven’t spun since Brexit and have been forgiving myself more ‘transgressions’ (lol) than usual. “Dieting”, Virgie wrote:
…was my way of communicating to myself and others that I wanted to be ‘normal’. Dieting was my way of communicating my understanding that my fat body was unacceptable and shameful. It was my way of communicating that I understood a woman’s role is to be small and totally obsessed with how little space and resources she could take up.
See also: exercise.
I realise I’ve been seeing my fatness as a temporary state. As somebody who can shop with most high street brands in what the plus-size blogging community calls “straight” sizes, I feel an awkwardness when I chap on the doors of the community – the same awkwardness I feel as a bisexual woman in a heterosexual marriage when I ask to sit with the LGBT kids, or as a person with a mental illness who has all but managed to always hold down a high-functioning job. I look at my wedding photos from six years ago and think I look amazing, but if that girl absolutely hated her body while needing to get a dress I can no longer fit into taken in then what does that make me now?
In my head I’m still a size 10 waist, size 12 top; and I close my eyes and I can see myself in a camisole with long, flowing hair, riding a mint green Vespa. This is, of course, lunacy: I’ve never been able to pass a car driving test, and I would blatantly tie my hair back before riding one of those things.
Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls is an excellent book. It’s full of quotable bits, reminders that you are great and even some practical steps to take when your mental health is in the toilet. It even deals with the fact that the lady on the cover has the traditional vintage hourglass silhouette that is pretty much the only acceptable image of body size diversity in the mainstream media. It hasn’t stopped me from thinking I could be better, but it has reminded me that I am pretty damn great.
And for now?
Well I do want to go back to spin, as it gets me out of the house and I think it does me good. The ATF dance classes I’ve been going to with Bobby have moved to the city centre, on my bus route; and they give me a chance to hang out with one of my best friends on the regular regardless of how shite I am at the moves. I still dream of being strong, of finding things to eat that make me feel great; and I’d love to find a trainer who won’t give me bullshit about endorphins and avocados, and who understands that if I quit carbohydrates my blood sugar will drop by 11am and I ain’t got the time to lose dealing with it.
After that? We’ll see.
RELATED READING: 5 SIMPLE THINGS YOU CAN DO TO START FEELING OKAY ABOUT YOUR BODY TODAY by Bevin Brandlandingham for The Militant Baker.