It’s no secret that experiences in your childhood shape the way you grow up into an adult. There’s one experience I had that’s seared into my brain. It happened when I was 11 years old, at secondary school, where everything was new and frightening. At that time the uniform hadn’t been updated to let girls wear trousers, something that put me on the back foot as a then tomboyish kid. As we were lined up on the stairs one say, waiting to get into our form room, a kid turned around to me and commented ‘You’ve got legs like tree trunks.’
That’s the first time that someone ever openly commented on my body, but it wasn’t the last. My family despaired of me as I hit puberty and was no longer a stick thin kid (thanks to growing nearly a whole head taller than my classmates in a short space of time), and put on weight. I started getting the arseholes who felt the need to beep their horns and wolf whistle at me as I walked home from school, in my school uniform. Suddenly, my body was everyone else’s property, and it wasn’t good enough.
It’s no wonder then, that I spent my 20’s feeling that my body was too fat and just not good enough. I was never going to look as good as my friends, because I couldn’t lose the weight. I went on holiday and felt self conscious in every picture that was taken of me, because I felt I didn’t look good enough. I was hyper critical of my teeth, my arms, my hair. Nothing looked the way I thought it should.
You know what the stupid thing was? There was nothing wrong with the way I looked at all. When I was moving house I found some old photos from when I used to go clubbing, around the age of 18/19. Looking at those pictures, I was perfectly normal looking. I wasn’t a whale, or disturbingly ugly, as I had been lead to believe. I looked fine.
I did start to realise this around the time I turned 30, and at this time I was watching the body positivity movement blow up. Everywhere, women are being told that they’re beautiful, that they should love themselves. On the surface, that’s a great thing. It’s time for women to start ignoring what the media has been telling them, and embrace the way they look, ‘flaws’ and all.
No matter how hard I tried though, I couldn’t actually ‘love’ my body. Being a UK size 16 and having a couple of ongoing health issues, I couldn’t get onboard with ‘loving’ my body. At best, I’m pretty much irritated by it. There are parts that don’t work properly and I can’t make it fit into a lot of high street clothes, no matter what size I buy. Am I failing at feminism because I can’t love my body the way it is?
That’s why it’s a huge relief to see people like Sofie Hagen calling out this movement as bullshit recently. She’s written a book, Happy Fat, about why it’s ok to be fat, and why the narrative around women’s bodies is all geared towards making money out of you. It makes sense. If you’re made to feel bad about your body, then you’re going to spend money on fixing it. You’ll buy diet foods, gym memberships, ‘slimming’ items that are never going to work. It’s a fact that diets are almost totally ineffective, but we keep buying into it anyway.
The same goes for the body positive movement. When you’re looking to ‘love’ your body, you’re going to spend. That could be on new clothes, trying to find a style that lets you love the way you look, or on any other items that are being sold to you through the movement.
Sofie Hagen has been doing interviews, pointing out that ‘fat’ is a neutral term, a descriptor rather than a good or bad thing. It isn’t anything, it just is. What she’s aiming for is ‘body neutrality’, or just being ok with your body. It’s just your body, after all, just the thing that you’re piloting around during your very short time on this earth.
I like this. It’s not asking for me to starve myself to make myself more palatable in skimpy clothing, or to declare love for my own body if I’m not even sure I like it yet. I’m actually going to see Sofie Hagen at the end of the month, doing her Bubble Wrap/Happy Fat tour, where she’ll be reading from her book. I’m very excited to see what she has to say.