It's My Body & I'll Cry If I Want To.
Updated: Aug 3
I had to really think about posting the picture I put on Instagram today. Not only because putting yourself out there in a bikini is incredibly nerve-wracking, but because I was scared of the response. Would it be seen as wholly narcissistic because I am slim and in society’s view I needn’t worry about wearing a bikini? Would I lose followers because they were turned off by my apparent flaunting? And, yes, the most basic of questions, would people scrutinise my body?
I posted it because when I did think about all of these questions, I realised that women being fearful to post pictures of themselves in a bikini only perpetuates the cycle. It’s my body, the one I got given and though it lacks curves, no longer has much definition and is not considered ‘womanly’, it’s still just a body. And, yes, I liked the bikini and wanted to show it off. I should have been able to just do that without the internal dilemma.
The Body Positivity movement goes back as far as the 1960s and started life as the Fat Acceptance Movement. Since then it’s gained increasing traction and is now as much a part of our vernacular as ‘hashtag’ in itself. The Dove campaign, I-Weigh and an in-flux of body positivity influencers have made sure we are all much more accepting of bodies in any form. And yet, I still feel self-conscious about having and maintaining my figure.
Every Monday & Thursday I only eat 500 calories. It’s called the 5:2 diet and it’s not something I like to tell people. I know I don’t need to ‘diet’. I do it as a way of being able to eat and drink whatever I want at the weekend and still fit into my clothes come Monday. I also work out regularly for the same reason. I could stop doing it, but then I’d start to panic instead.
I know that I write this from a place of privilege; a middle-class, young, slim woman who fits societies mould. I haven't had to defend or explain myself or be looked down on because of how my body looks. I haven’t felt degraded by yet another ad campaign full of size 6 models and I haven’t had anyone staring when I wear a bikini to the beach. So, do I feel like a fraud talking about body positivity? Yes, quite a bit.
For as long as I can remember I have been valued for how I look. My mum didn’t notice how well I did at school she noticed how slim I was that day, she didn’t tell her friends how funny I was, just that I was pretty. In amongst this were the seemingly inconsequential comments about my belly being bigger than hers or, as my nana once said, ‘why would you wear a top like that with a tummy like yours’. My tummy isn’t flat, it never has been. Does it matter? To this day, my mum will ask me every time I see her ‘Do I look fat’? These messages, this focus on weight as a measure of self-worth have been by my side my whole life, passed down through generations of women who didn’t know better.
Let me be clear, there’s no woe is me. There are worse stories to tell, my own and other people’s, but the result has been an alarm in my head that rings every time my tummy sticks out, it reminds me that if you want to be valued, you better look good. It’s the reason I tell my children all the amazing things they are inside as well as out. And so this is why I do the 5:2 diet, this is why I sometimes skip lunch and limit carbs and why I panic when my trousers get tighter & never wear anything figure hugging. It’s the reason I have a mirror on the windowsill in the bathroom angled directly at my stomach, so I can masochistically assess it every morning, breathing in and out so I can see the rolls; rolls that to you might be nothing, but to me have left me in tears. I know its unjustified, unhealthy, and completely irrational, but it’s so deeply ingrained in me that I doubt I could dig deep enough to ever get rid of it.
What I want to say, and maybe I’m not saying it right, is that every body, in every shape comes with a voice. It could be a loud, confident happy voice that shouts to you how good you look, it could be a quiet unassuming voice that gently tells you ‘you’re ok you know’ or it could be a mean, negative voice that whispers just loudly enough for you to hear the bad words. My bad words are about my stomach. You will also often hear me refer to myself as childlike, because self-deprecation is an easy way to bat off the insecurity that I’m not a real woman, because ‘real women’ have curves.
Insecurities, like bodies, come in all shapes and sizes and, like bodies, we shouldn’t be ashamed of them. We’re all allowed to feel how we feel, all able to build each other up and all able to post a photo in a bikini because we want to, and without fear of what others will think. My body and my specific insecurities might be different to yours, but we all know what self-doubt feels like in one form or another. We are all real women, we all need to celebrate ourselves and each other, and we need to remember that life should be measured by the size of your heart, not your waistline.