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.