Words and images by Verity Brown
I remember buying a UK size 10 (US size 6) dress for my college ball. People commented on how slim I was. I would respond bashfully with, “Thanks, yes, I am a curvy slim.” What does that even mean? I knew what it meant. It meant that I had been dieting since I was 14 and I knew I was smaller than I had been (size 14/16), but I still saw myself as “chunky”. The slight wobble to my outer arms, the sticking out bit of belly, the touching of the thighs. No matter what the label said, in my head I was bigger than the other size 10 girls.
I once said to my dad, when barely a teen, “I have fat thighs” and I remember his response being, “Well, you will do if you look down at them! Nobody else is looking down at them like you. It’s an illusion.” And I now wonder if that illusion was not reserved to the upper leg area of my body. I didn’t wear a bikini until I was 29 years old. Skirts above the knee were a short-lived ‘during university’ affair, and only with thick tights and Converse (never heels!). During my later teen years, outfits planned around an attempt to cover my upper arms/ belly/ "cankles" became a daily chore.
I was on a diet for 10 years. From 14 to 24 I counted calories, forced myself to order skimmed milk in my takeout lattes and tortured myself with no chocolate/ no full-fat/ no carbs rules. Then at the age of 24 a medical condition meant that I could no longer choose what I ate. I needed food to act as fuel and my health began to override my desire to be skinny. And thank goodness it did. I put on about 6 pounds, I haven’t dieted another day in my life (I am now 31) and I have stayed that exact same weight, bar the natural fluctuations we are lucky to have through the marvel that is our menstrual cycle.
I am now the largest I have ever been in my life, in terms of both size (a beautiful UK 12) and shape (my hips are wider, my bottom rounder, my breasts bigger) and the most confident with my body, too. Is it simply a case with women that we need the passage of time to be an education in feeling happy with our bodies? Or is it the fact that my generation were fed so many photo-shopped thighs and tropically tanned bodies throughout our upbringing that it has taken this long to shake that idealization and realize it is not a reality?
The scary thing is there is a part of me that still sees myself as the fat girl, and if anyone ever calls me slim I just can’t process it. It was only when I became single a few years ago (after a 9-year relationship) that I truly started to love my body and accept her flaws. More than that, I appreciated her. Even though I have scoliosis (a curve in my spine), which means everything is a little lopsided and I can’t touch my toes in yoga because my body just does not bend that way - I am so thankful that I can walk, feel, hold, see, wobble. Having recently explored some of the East, I am also honored that I am even having this conversation and that lack of nutrition and starvation are not daily concerns for me, like they are for millions of women in developing countries.
I would like to think that if I have a daughter I can raise her in a world where the media isn’t purely dominated by unobtainable body shapes, and I think we are getting there. Famous women seem to be standing up to a certain element of realness, and their passion and power is overriding the media’s choice to put a more aesthetically pleasing body on the cover of their magazine. We still have a long way to go though. I would also like to think that I myself, as the woman that guides my daughter through her childhood, can set a strong example of a woman who loves her all-over-the-shop, mainly functional, messy but beautiful, curvy, slim body.
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Verity Brown is the founder of the SEASALT plan (Stop Existing And Start Actually Living Today). She helps women understand their thoughts and heart, ultimately enabling them to live their most fulfilled life possible.