Swimwear and scars

Content warning: this post mentions sexual assault.

A friend shared a story recently about her struggle with showing her scar in a bikini. It was really inspiring and it got me thinking. I don’t have scars like my friend, well not external ones. Yet it occured to me that I’ve never worn a bikini. Definitely not since puberty, at least.

I suppose wearing a bikini is the ultimate in self confidence, in body confidence. My Instagram feed is full of beautiful fat women wearing two pieces. But since my recovery, I haven’t bought any swimwear at all.

Then I remembered the last time I wore a swimsuit on holiday. Way back when I was straight size, but not really any more confident in my body. And I remember the man who leaned forward and tried to put his hand down the front of that swimsuit, and my friend and I fighting him off.

I remember my therapist asking if I subconsciously binged to make myself bigger to avoid the groping, the unwanted comments and propositions. And it made sense. I feel less visible when I’m fat. I am less visible. My body is certainly less sexualised by strangers.

We’re all conditioned to want to be thinner, more attractive. But whenever I complied and lost weight, my prize was unwanted attention from men who believed they had the right to see me as an object. To stare openly at my breasts. To grope. To shout at me in the street.

Losing weight was supposed to be all my dreams come true. It was supposed to bring happiness, success, everything I ever wanted.

What it actually brought me was a feeling of unease, of not feeling safe. The expense of buying a whole new wardrobe for what I now know would be a temporary body, because my real body and my eating disorder always fought back. It brought a constant hunger. It never brought that confidence the models had in the ads.

So I tried to fake it. I put on a swimsuit. And look what happened.

I don’t know when the feeling of unease began. Maybe with being viewed and treated as an adult women from the age of 12 or 13. Or with the house party in my early teens when a boy kicked in the door to the bathroom, pushed me down on the floor and ripped my knickers off before I managed to get away.

As young girls we’re taught to feel pride in being sexually attractive to men. And so I did. But I also felt afraid. And in the midst of all this were those eating disorder thoughts of being ugly, and fat, and hating myself, and not understanding why men would find me attractive at all.

It’s all so fucked up.

Looking back on my therapist’s question years later, with all that I’ve learned about diets and restriction and how our bodies fight back, I don’t think I was deliberately making myself fat. My body was just responding to famine in the way it is biologically programmed to. Each successive period of weight loss, whatever the reason for it, has inevitably been followed by a period of weight gain, where I ended up bigger than I started.

In many ways I wish my body’s set point weight were lower, that I’d recovered into a straight size body that fit better in the world. But another part of me is glad that I’m fat. And yet another part of me isn’t particularly bothered about my body’s size at all.

Because through body positivity, I found body neutrality, and I’m starting to view my body according to how it feels and what it does, not how it looks. I may not love it. I may never love it. But that doesn’t mean I can’t listen to what it needs and treat it with respect.

I don’t know if I’ll ever reach the point where I put on a bikini. But I’d like to think that if I do, I’ll do it without fear.


So much time wasted, lost

To the voice in my head

That told me I was unworthy

Of joy, love, freedom to be

Myself. Not that I knew who that was,

Too busy trying to bend, to fit

Into someone else’s mould.

Not that it helped

Because the mould kept changing.

I could never be enough.

Words can’t begin to explain

The relief, the realisation:

I don’t have to fit in a mould,

I can be who I want.

Do I know who that is?

Not quite yet, but I’m finding out,

Giving myself space

To feel that freedom to be

What I denied myself for so long:

Happy, content, unapologetic

In this body that hurts,

That doesn’t fit this world of ours.

We only get one body, one life.

Why waste time fighting myself?

It’s time I found the freedom to be


A fortnight of fatphobia

These last couple of weeks the anti-ob***y rhetoric seems to have hit an all time high. First the UK Government announced it’s going to start weighing children in school. Then a group of dentists in New Zealand published a highly suspect study about their miraculous new device designed to keep fat peoples jaws’ closed.

Both of these developments completely ignore the science. Both of them are potentially extremely harmful and could, directly or indirectly, lead to the deaths of the people they are intended to “cure”. Both by leading to eating disorders, the second through the risk of choking. Both place the blame for obesity squarely on parents, or the obese themselves, while ignoring the 100+ other factors which play a part.

Fat people like me live in a world where we are judged by everyone around us, from the mainstream media, to healthcare professionals, strangers in the street and online, to our loved ones. We are labelled as greedy, unhealthy, lazy, a drain on the NHS, a scourge on society. If we would just lose weight and fit into society’s neat little boxes of what good human beings look like, all would be right with the world.

Except that’s not possible. There is NO truly effective permanent method of weight loss. No, not even bariatric surgery. Diets fail 95-98% of the time, not because fat people are greedy, but because human bodies are hardwired to stop us from losing weight. But that never makes the international headlines. Presumably because no-one stands to profit from that.

For decades I blamed myself every time my weight trended upwards. I thought it was my fault, that I had no self control, no discipline, that I needed to exercise more, keep purging, just stop bingeing. Why couldn’t I be happy living on lettuce? Why wouldn’t my body do what I wanted it to? Why couldn’t I shame or hate myself thin? Because I was deeply ashamed, and I truly hated myself.

Then I started treatment. The first thing the Eating Disorder Team taught me about was the Minnesota Starvation Experiment. I didn’t understand. It explained what I was going through, and yet contradicted everything I had been told since I was a small child. It meant that in order to heal, I had to stop restricting. I had to stop starving myself all day to counteract my binges, because that was actually causing my binges?

In order to recover, I have had to unlearn everything that society has taught me about dieting and ob***y, and accept the weight I have gained in the process. But the rest of society hasn’t unlearned those lessons yet. Every day I have to make a conscious decision to prioritise my mental health over society’s expectations of me and my body.

Not a day goes by when I don’t wish I were thinner. Because the world was built for thin people. Because the demand for thinness is all-pervasive; there is no hiding from it. But my determination never to go back to that dark place, to live my live free of constant thoughts about food to the exclusion of all else, just to allow myself to be happy, stops me from restarting that destructive cycle.

I dream of a time when universal acceptance and equality exists. When stereotypes and stigma in all their forms are a thing of the past. Until then, I know there will be fortnights like this one. That they will be hard to deal with. But also that I have been through worse, and I will get through them too, bruised, but still intact.