Body Honesty. I’m going to say it. The word that has women quaking in their boots, living off black coffee and cashew nuts, gulping air for lunch. Fat. The word that’s the strongest weapon in anyone’s arsenal, the insult that’s guaranteed to hit where it hurts. This is the word that taught us a BLT is ‘naughty’, and that allowed a diet industry worth 2 billion pounds to flourish. In February 2016, I attended London Fashion Week. I wandered spellbound around presentation after presentation, seeing racks of beautiful clothes in a size I usually reserve for my feet: a tiny 4, contrasting starkly with my cumbersome 12. I could probably fit one thigh in the dresses, one arm in the trouser legs. Women this size, had I not seen them in the flesh, could be creatures of myth.
My self-consciousness was further exacerbated at a show I attended one afternoon, where I, the event photographer, was mingling and snapping the guests. I knew no one and so was sitting by myself drinking a beer (a FREE beer) while my fellow fashionistas looked on with distaste. How many times, Abi, have you been told not to drink your calories? The other girls didn’t say ‘hello’ to me – it’s a dog-eat-dog world – but I was loitering, more socially desperate than I think I have ever been in my life, my determination to network palpable. The photographer came over to take a picture of the women I was standing with and, I kid you not, deliberately took one with me just out of frame. Realizing he had done this almost by proxy, he gave me an apologetic smile and motioned for me to join – but it was too late. It was now a pity party.
I scuttled back to the cloakroom, my charity shop £5 leopard faux-fur hanging next to a leather Acne Jacket, and something sequined by Ashish that I just know I could never pull off. I walked out with my tail between my legs, an all-too-familiar thought creeping over me: I will never fit in. This is a fashion publication, and so it’s fitting that I’ve talked about high fashion. But that sentiment – I am not good enough, I am not thin enough, I am not anything enough – echoes far beyond the skinny, unreal, elitist world of Fashion Week. Among women today, it is almost universal.
When I was a little wisp of a 10-year-old, my Grandmother presented me with a newspaper clipping that I kept on the pink, heart-shaped gingham noticeboard above my bed for 8 years. The article was by Melanie Reid, ‘The Times‘ journalist, left tetraplegic after a riding accident in 2010. Without the use of her legs, and with only partial use of her arms, she wrote about looking back with frustration on her teenage years spent worrying about the size of her thighs.
I’ve been in a lot of different places: obsessively counting out almonds and eating only 0% fat yoghurt and green veg, eating Dominoes at 3am several times a week and hiding crisp wrappers down the side of my bed, attempting to not eat all, attempting to eat everything. I’ve survived someone approaching me on a night out, uninvited, and saying “You would be hot if you weren’t a little fat.” The irony being, of course, I’ve never in my life been fat. I’ve amassed earrings and shoes because then I don’t have to make things fit over my hips, contain my boobs, hide my tummy and then look flattering, to boot. I don’t have to worry about the little black numbers that seem to creep up and down of their own accord: 8, 10, 12, 14, beyond. A trip to Topshop, in my head, is on the same level as a trip to the dentist when you know you have to have something unpleasant done to your molars, or being told I have to repeat my GCSES. I have a theory that you have to be an extra-terrestrial creature to look good in things from Topshop, or just not have hit puberty. Those funny high-waisted jeans with no pockets are doing very few people any favours. “You look gorgeous! Take a selfie!” orders the pastel-pink decal stuck over the changing room mirror in the brutal Oxford Street building. I don’t look gorgeous. I look like the Abzorbaloff from Doctor Who. And this is from someone who loves shopping.
It’s no revelation that we’re taught hard and fast that our worth is dependent on our appearance and so I’m destined to forever feel that my warmth, my intelligence and my humour all come second to the chub that spills over the waistband of my jeans and the pink stretch marks that have snaked along my inner thighs, like I’ve outgrown myself. It will also come as no surprise that no matter whose affirmation we seek – friends, mothers, boyfriends, the unkind abyss of the internet – the most important person we should be listening to regarding our bodies is ourselves. I hope I’m not alone in internalizing anything unkind that’s said to me and not even listening to the people that love me, who want the best for me and who think I’m beautiful just the way I am.
I started this article a couple weeks ago now, feeling very ill at ease in myself. I’m finishing it now feeling completely different. Have I lost a huge amount of weight? The answer is no. Do I look any ‘thinner’ to other people? Probably not. What changed, what really had to change, was how I treated myself. I’m at a point now where I don’t know how to finish this piece because, like any one of you, I’ll never have all the answers. I don’t think I’ll ever be at a point where I can give a lecture on body-positivity and I don’t think I’ll ever not feel guilty if I eat three consecutive doughnuts. But I will say this: we can be mean to ourselves. Horrible, in fact. The things I thought about myself were not things I would ever say to a friend, and it’s definitely time to be a friend to myself now. It’s time to come clean: the way I’ve treated myself through my teenage years has not been a case study in self-love and feminism, it’s been a case studying in self-loathing.
We have some serious ground to cover – there is still a whole host of issues surrounding occupying a female space, especially one that’s (gasp) isunapologetically large. The plus-size fashion industry is booming, but as many of you will know or have experienced, ‘plus-size’ models are frequently a teeny size 12 and mainstream collections are still focused upon making fat bodies look thin – we’re subversively told that plus-size bodies are shameful and should be altered or hidden. There still isn’t the creative, expressive fashion available for women who are a size 18 that there is for women who are a size 8.
As a young woman, I sometimes felt that my body had ceased to be my own. In order to reclaim that, I had to be kinder to myself. I think it’s a myth (and a cliché) that no one will love you until you learn to love yourself, but I do think having the latter tucked away inside you – a quiet, steadfast assurance from yourself that you deserve something wonderful – helps you look for love in the right places. Let’s start with being kind. Let’s radically change the way we talk about female bodies. Let’s renounce WeightWatchers and Diet pills from Boots. Let’s be kind about women we see in magazines – the world is unkind enough to them already, and we have the power to be nice. Most importantly – most radically – let’s be kind to ourselves. When all is said and done, for the most part, my body does its job perfectly. I am able to run, even though I avoid it at all costs. I can squeeze my hands into fists and wrap my arms around people. I can go for winter walks with my family and return home red-cheeked from the cold. A very slight alteration in this delicate chemistry would leave me unable to do all the things I take for granted. I have nothing, at all, to complain about.
Written by Abi Buchanan for Fashion Philosophy, Issue 3. The above photograph is sourced from The Lonely Girls Project.
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