Well, Happy New Year. After the long, hard, emotionally gruelling slog which was 2017, I know that I was not alone in feeling a huge sense of relief when the bells chimed at midnight on New Year’s Eve to let us know that 2018 had arrived. This isn’t to say that this year is guaranteed not to be a stinker – after all, I felt pretty positive about things this time last January too. But so far, I’ve been feeling relatively good about the state of the world and my place in it. I’ve been cooking delicious, plant based meals. I’ve been getting eight hours sleep a night. I’ve finished watching Feud, been to my first spin class of the year, started rewriting the Cattington website and even found the time to read a book. So far, so good.
That is, until it comes to bodies. As anyone with access to social media knows, January is a toxic slush of bad opinions when it comes to diet talk, exercise talk and just general blather from people who tell us that we need to forgo carbs, dairy and booze in order to become a ‘better’ person. Do you know what the first thing I saw on Instagram on Boxing Day was? An advert for a high impact exercise plan (quite offensive when you consider that the only high impact exercise I was conducting at that point was consuming all the cheese in my fridge.) Thankfully, a lot of this discourse is being counteracted by the growing ‘body positivity’ movement. While I have a few issues with ‘body positivity’- mostly because it seems to elevate voices which are white, cis, pretty, middle class and ‘acceptably fat’ – I’m still glad that it’s there fighting the good fight across my social media channels.
But it’s not easy. As someone who has long struggled with their self image, it can sometimes feel like body positivity is a magic trick performed by other people. So much of what I read about it makes it sound like the simplest thing in the world, like there’s a switch I can click in my brain which will allow me to transform all the shame and complex emotions I feel about myself into something wild, beautiful and wonderful. ‘Turn off the guilt!’ ‘Eat what you want!’ ‘Stop hating yourself!’ For those of us who aren’t quite at that point yet, who are taking baby steps towards feeling better about our bodies, this exhortation that if you feel occasionally feel bad about your body, you’re a traitor to the movement can sometimes make it feel like just another thing we’re failing at.
Sometimes I feel like being fat is an intrinsically narcissistic act. You can’t stop thinking about your body – the way it looks, the space it takes up, the clothing that you put on it – because society won’t let you stop thinking about your body. It’s always telling you that in order to fit in, you need to change yourself in some elemental way. And when you’ve been told your whole life that you are wrong, when it feels like diet culture has seeped into every nook and cranny of your being, it can just become exhausting.
I’ve been going back to this piece by Virgie Tovar a lot recently, where she discusses how hard it can be to practice self love. I like how she appreciates that it’s not an overnight process, that it can be difficult and incredibly emotionally gruelling at times. When the narrative about your body has been written by others for so long, it can be difficult to wrest back control of it and sing your own song. Appreciating your body – what it can do, how it feels, how good it looks in clothes – is a process and one which gets easier every day. Just so long as you keep putting the work in.
Because there will be bad days. Days when you go to the doctor and they’ll talk more about your weight than the actual condition you went in with. Days when you see a picture of yourself not looking your best and flinch. Days when someone will shout something abusive at you out of a car window, or snap a picture of you on their phone when all you’re trying to do is go for a fucking run in peace. On days like this, it’s OK to feel disheartened. It’s OK to cry. It’s OK to rage against a world which seems to want to do everything in its power to make you feel like shit.
But then you have to pick yourself up, have a word with yourself, keep going. Some of the things which make me feel better when I’m having an off day are to surround myself with the wise, funny and fashionable community of fat babes I follow on Twitter. I might go to the gym and lift some really heavy weights or do an online yoga class (while I realise that this isn’t for everyone, I find that I always feel better about myself when I make the effort to move my body and appreciate the amazing things it can do.) I put on an outfit which I really love and wear an obnoxiously bright lipstick. I fake it – and will continue to fake it – until I make it.
Learning to love yourself isn’t easy. But I want to believe that over time it will become something I don’t even think about, as simple and effortless as putting one foot in front of the other. And on the days where it’s not, I will happy that there’s people around me who will pick me up, dust me down and tell me to keep going. Who will be with me – and you – every step of the way.