The Path to Body Positivity can take a long time, columnist Joe Guy writes about his experience.
I’ve always had a tough relationship with my body. Being disabled meant that I have always looked different to everyone else.
For example, we are born with 7 muscles in our necks. I was born with 3 which are all fused together in a ball. This means my head is slightly wonky. Other than neck pain, this doesn’t directly affect my life (with the exception of the canvases in my flat looking wonky). That knowing of being different, not looking ‘normal’, immediately creates an imbalance with you, like you’re never quite on a level playing field with everyone else.
For me, this manifested into thinking I was ugly. I remember from being a young kid and every time I would throw a penny in a fountain, blow out my birthday candles or have a loose eyelash; my wish would be the same. I would wish I looked like everyone else.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I have amazing parents and family who would always tell me how beautiful I am. I never felt like I wasn’t loved. I was loved by everyone… just not myself.
I then took these feelings and ate them. I would buy multiple packets of cookies and scoff them all at night when everyone was asleep. They would be hidden under my bed, behind my wardrobe, in my school bag. And so, naturally, I gained more and more weight. This was never a problem for me until I had to move school aged 13. On my first day, I walked into a classroom and saw the most beautiful person I’d ever seen. I remember he had these big blue eyes and I still recall feeling like I was going to throw up. I quickly became obsessed and made it my mission to be his friend.
It worked. We became close friends and eventually lovers. Privately, he was always really sweet. We’d have sex, kiss, cuddle and he’d tell me how much he liked me. Publicly, he’d point out if I got sweaty, mock me loudly if I was eating chocolate and I was always the butt of his jokes.
I took it all with a smile because I loved him.
I went on my first diet aged 14. I told my parents I would be cooking for myself and would make small meals full of vegetables.
I began following workout DVDs. I’d do everything I could to lose weight, fast.
My relationship with him lasted 3 years and I spent the entire time willing to do anything for him to love me.
It was never going to happen, he was confused about his sexuality and didn’t know what he wanted. This made him both physically and mentally abusive towards me. He would text me if I posted a photograph online saying I looked huge or, if I changed my profile picture on MSN, he’d tell me how ugly I looked in it.
I allowed this because I felt grateful he even paid any attention to me. He and I were always off and on and, in-between our off times, I got attention from other people in my year group. I had lots of sex in High School (sorry, Mum!) but this never boosted my body confidence because I believed everything my boyfriend was telling me, that I was ugly and fat and that nobody really wanted me. I was only good for sex.
We broke up at 16 when I decided to stay in Sixth Form and he went to a different college. Free from his clutches, I started to feel good about myself again. I also ate like crazy and gained my weight back.
Then I fell in love for a second time.
He was a nerdy guy that I struck up a friendship with when I noticed he sat alone. He was funny, sarcastic and he had a beautiful smile. I was smitten but it was somewhat unrequited. I decided the only way to make him like me was if I lost weight. Yet again, I went on a diet. This guy was always very kind to me. He never commented on my body or my weight. He never made me feel ugly. Yet, I still took it upon myself to assume I was.
This pattern has carried on throughout my life. My confidence in myself and my body has always been based on men. If men paid me attention, that meant I was attractive.
At University, I found myself in a long distance relationship with someone I’d spoken with online since I was young. He was funny and interesting. Unfortunately, he was also a heavy drinker. When he’d drink, he’d become abusive to me. He’d go on a drunken Skype rages about how fat I’d gotten since I started University. He wasn’t wrong, I had gained the typical Freshers 15 and then some. This time, I didn’t diet. I just carried on eating. And eating. I would binge on takeaways and booze and cakes. Once he and I broke up, I poured my affection into food instead. I would go on websites like FitLads but it’d break my heart when people didn’t message me first. I always felt I knew why: I’m too fat and ugly to be loved.
This feeling, like I wasn’t enough like I didn’t even deserve to be loved carried on right through my 20s. Until last year. I met someone. It wasn’t a love affair, we only kissed once, but I never felt self-conscious the entire time I was in his presence. He was more interested in me, as a person. We’d talk about our favourite TV shows, we’d laugh at stupid jokes and I never once felt I should be grateful he paid attention to me (even though he was SO gorgeous). I felt on top of the world that maybe, just maybe, someone would like me for me. Could it be possible? Am I actually deserving of being loved? I came to the realisation that I was locked up in a jail cell whilst holding the key the entire time. This boy hadn’t done anything special to make me feel this way. It was how I thought about myself. At the same time, I also realised that I had become extremely unhealthy. I was tipping the scales at 20 stone, I was eating 3 takeaways a week. I was struggling to breathe, I was sweating constantly. I wasn’t just overweight but morbidly obese.
I have since lost over 5 stone and what has been interesting is how much of my lack of confidence is still to be shifted too. I feel more confident in how I look on the whole but I still carry those same fears. I may be thinner but am I actually pretty? Is my hair too thin? I’ve got stretch marks from losing weight, will anybody want to look at me? I now realise that I still have a long way to go truly loving myself and my body. But it’s happening bit by bit. With every selfie, I post where I actually smile because who cares if my teeth look a bit weird? With every crazy outfit, I wear because I’m still working out my style. I do things for me, I dress how I want to dress because I like it. And when I look in the mirror, I feel pride. I have moments of weakness, sure. And there are definitely still issues I have to face in that I still attach some of my self worth to the approval of men. But I’m working on it. Self-confidence is a matter of both mind and body. All I need is time.
So, here’s my advice. Tell the guy you like, you like him. Compliment someone on their outfit. And compliment yourself. It’s so easy in today’s gay culture to idolise “traditional” beauty but most of us don’t have the six pack and the thick hair and the flawless skin.
The first step to accepting yourself is accepting we’re all different. And damn it, being different isn’t a flaw… it’s a beautiful gift.
Writer. Pop culture & Politics obsessive with a prominent forehead.
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