Thursday, 20 November 2014

Ode to My Tummy Part 1

Today I read this great piece by JessicaSays which is a love letter to her legs. At the end she invites her readers to follow her lead and write a love letter to a part of their body that they've always felt uncomfortable with, so that's what I'm going to do today! I really empathised with Jessica's post because I've always been iffy about my thighs, but seeing as I've already written something about that, I thought I would tackle another area of insecurity, my tummy! I think my legs and tummy have always been tied for first place in my insecurity Olympics. Now I think about it, that's an awfully large percentage of my physical mass that I've spent time disliking. I'm actually going to split this post into two because as I'm writing it I'm exploring the attitude I used to have towards myself, and I feel like I have quite a bit to say. So this part is going to involve unpacking the negative feelings I had towards myself in general, and then part two can be a much more positive celebratory love letter to my tummy. 

Ode to My Tummy

Dear tummy,

First things first, I do love you really. I know it hasn't always felt like it but I do, honest. It's just taken me a while to accept you.

See, sometimes I feel like I'm just big. And I don't mean this in a fat or heavy way (although we will be getting on to that topic at some point) but just in a generally physically large way. As weird as this sounds, I don't have a small skeleton. (But hey, this will be an advantage in the skeleton war I'm sure!) But when I was younger most of my friends were a different build than me, which meant that sometimes I irrationally felt like a little bit of a giant. The picture below is one that I remember really disliking at the time it was taken, because I felt like I looked massive in it, but I look at it now and all I see is a really lovely moment with my friend.

The result of being friends with a lot of naturally skinny people was that I zoned in on my tummy as a problem area. See, to me, my friends were these wonderful, beautiful people and they had all of these positive qualities that I aspired towards. So I think I sometimes wished that I looked more like them too. I've mentioned before that I was a very chunky baby, and I think I can safely say that I was not a good looking baby, but I was a good looking child. I was freaking adorable. Seriously: rosy cheeks, cute fringe, always running around in some form of fancy dress; I was precious. Right up until I was in about year 5. I still refer to this phase of my life as my "chunky phase" and I do so in a jokey way, but actually I've always hated seeing photos from that time. It lasted until probably early year 7 when I did that thing that kids do when they suddenly stretch out into a teenager. I have some weird hang ups left over from then as well. I used to wear a lot of track suit bottoms at that time, and to this day whenever I put on a pair I immediately feel uncomfortable and huge. Now that I'm thinking about it more, I find this attitude towards myself really strange. Like, I was what, nine or ten? Why on earth do I feel bad that I wasn't a pretty ten year old? I was ten! It shouldn't matter if I think I looked ugly! I can't even name what I should have been worrying about at age ten, because at ten years old I really shouldn't have been worrying about anything. This is ridiculous! But when I was looking through photos of myself to write this post I found this:

And actually this photo makes me feel really emotional. Because this is a group picture of my last day of school in year 6, and I clearly felt so insecure about my appearance in it that rather than just labelling myself like I did everyone else, I scribbled myself out completely. I was eleven years old and I disliked my appearance so much that I took the time to scribble myself out, and I didn't think this was weird. How fucked up is that? And the reason I so hated seeing pictures of myself is because I felt like I was fat in them. And I mean, objectively yeah I was. I believe I was going through the phase which people affectionately term "puppy fat". 

despite all of the camouflage I am still very visible

But I mean, so what? I was a chubby ten year old. I was also a very selfless ten year old who was determined to help others and be as kind as possible. I was a creative ten year old who loved dressing up and putting on plays for family and friends. I was an intelligent ten year old who did really well in their SATs and enjoyed helping her teachers after lessons. Looking back, I was an amazing ten year old. So why is it I only have three pictures of my ten year old self on my computer, when I have loads of pictures of all the other years of my life? Why is it when I looked back at my last day of primary school, I decided to violently scribble myself out of a picture, rather than leave it intact as a memory of how great that day was? Because I was chubby. Because to my younger self, being fat was so negative that it cancelled out all of those other wonderful qualities about myself. And that is really sad. There's a really great quote from JK Rowling that sums up how I feel about this now:

"'Fat is usually the first insult a girl throws at another girl when she wants to hurt her. I mean, is 'fat' really the worst thing a human can be? Is 'fat' worse than 'vindictive', 'jealous', 'shallow', 'vain', 'boring', or 'cruel'? Not to me."

There is so much negativity surrounding the word 'fat', it's completely ridiculous. I'm so happy that I can now look past all the poisonous associations that are carried around with that word, and look at old pictures of fat little ten year old Sophie and smile and remember how great I was.

But getting back on track, and back to you, tummy, I think it's clear that I had a whole bunch of issues with you! And sadly, they continued throughout my teenage years. In fact, I think it was actually when I stretched out that I started to have an issue with you. When I was a chubby ten year old, I didn't actually care that I was chubby. It was when I was eleven or twelve and stretched out that I developed all of this negativity that caused me to scribble myself out etc. And now I think about it, it's definitely moving to secondary school that caused this attitude change. Which isn't surprising really! When you're in primary school you're surrounded by people that you've known since you were a snotty little kid. You've played tag with them, worn stupid fancy dress for school plays, sang along to Britney Spears on the final day of school. Whether or not you're close friends, you all know each other really well. Then you move to secondary school, and there's all these people that you don't know, and although you'll have some old friends with you, you have to try and make new ones and get to know new people. And some of those new people are assholes. 

side note - these people were not assholes

I feel weird insulting a bunch of eleven year olds, but it's true! I'm not in any way saying that people don't bully or be mean in primary school, but everything is on a smaller scale. Whatsherface might have got all the girls to gang up on you, but if there's only about 25 people in your class, it's a lot easier for teachers and parents to sort out the 7 people that are being horrible and get it to stop. When you go to secondary school, everything gets a lot harder to deal with. I generally try to avoid making sweeping statements about gender groups for a whole plethora of reasons, but in secondary school girls get mean. And in a circular fashion, they also get very insecure. Some people are just plain nasty, but I think a lot of high school meanness stems from people feeling shit about themselves and then taking it out on other people. So secondary school becomes a breeding ground for insecurity and this insecurity gets projected onto bodies. And I projected mine onto my tummy! Where I used to compare myself to people I loved, I now compared myself to the "popular" girls, most of which were very skinny and had belly button piercings and wore short little skirts. None of which I am bashing! But I couldn't help but look at these people and see the things that I wasn't.

Now don't get me wrong, I never wanted to be these people. One thing I like about myself is that I've always loved who I am. Whatever my issues with my body were, I've always been pretty unapologetic about who I am. I like the things I like and I'm not going to pretend not to just to impress someone. And it's not like I thought I was particularly ugly either. In fact, it's not until I started writing these posts about my body that I really realised how subtle my body insecurities were. It manifested itself in unconscious ways that I'm only able to identify now because I am much more informed about this stuff than I used to be. So, for example, I used to be firmly of the opinion that I was unattractive. It's not that I thought I was particularly bad looking, I just held this odd view that other people were gorgeous and attractive and I was just neutral or something. Which is strange because I don't remember particularly wanting validation from other people about my looks. And even if I had been, I spent the majority of my high school life in long term relationships (1 year and 5 years respectively) so I had definite proof that at least two people found me attractive. Yet I still had this weird thing where I just felt like I was nothing special to look at. I mean, it's good that I valued my personality but I do think it's a bit weird that I just accepted this odd kind of inferiority as normal. Especially because I was actually super cute. Look at this photo:

fucking adorable

I think my relationships definitely did help me to become more comfortable with my body. There's a whole load of things you do with your significant other that don't exactly involve a lot of clothing, and being with my ex for as long as I was meant that eventually I reached a point where I wasn't so bothered by my tummy any more. The thing I have had to learn more recently has been the ability to love myself independently of anyone else. I'm a very visual person and am really interested in art and fashion, so I enjoy expressing myself through my clothing and appearance. As I got older I started to realise how important it was for me to be doing this in a way that reflected me better. I used to do stupid things like not wear certain items of clothing because I knew my ex didn't like them, which now I think about it is completely ridiculous. It seems weird that expressing my authentic self through clothing makes me feel better about myself when I'm naked, but it really does! I've also stopped trying to wear things that I know will trigger my insecurities. Whether or not they actually look bad on me is irrelevant, I know that unless I'm feeling super confident that day, I need to wear something that comes in under my boobs and skims over my tummy otherwise I'm going to feel insecure and uncomfortable. 

Though I do try to remember that when I wear bodycons I look fucking fantastic 

I think another key step on my journey to loving my tummy has been to stop comparing myself to people skinnier than me. I look at all the slim people that I know and I think how beautiful they are. But just because they are beautiful does not mean that I am not. Shockingly, it is entirely possible for us all to be beautiful at the same time. The world is not going to implode. And this is something that it has been incredibly important for me to realise. My friend's beautiful, flat stomach does not make my wobbly, pudgy one any less beautiful. Add onto this that some of my friends are so fantastically body positive and I find myself in the wonderful position of having thrown out loads of my hang ups about my stomach. 

I'm still the biggest girl in my friend groups, but this doesn't bother me any more. For one thing, I don't view the descriptor "fat" as a negative thing any more. I might love fashion but I refuse to abide by those rules that state that if you're fat you must wear X Y and Z in order to trick people into thinking you're slim. Fat people can wear whatever the fuck they want, just like skinny people can. Plus in the grand scheme of fat shaming, I'm really not actually that big so am fortunate enough to not be subjected to a lot of the negativity that other people face. And on those days when all of this is irrelevant to me and I'm deep in the pit of negativity, I remember the words that my friend once said to me: "you carry your weight well". I just hope that one day I'm so confident in my body that this no longer serves as comfort to me because my weight will have no bearing on whether or not I feel good about me.

My dearest tummy, you're probably feeling quite ignored about now. I started this post with the promise of writing a letter to you, and instead all I've done is analyse and unpack a whole load of more general insecurity from my past. But you see, what I've been doing is laying the ground work! It's only by really examining the attitudes I used to hold that I stand any chance of being able to compose a truly sincere letter to you next time. I've gone far more in depth than I meant to when I began earlier today, but stripping back all those layers of insecurity has actually been very therapeutic. I'm so much better than I used to be but those insecurities are always going to have been a part of my life and will have shaped who I am today. Hell, they're the reason why promoting body positivity is so important to me today. So, I promise next time we speak I shall be much more gushing and complimentary, but for now ,thank you for putting up with me while I come to terms with how I used to view you. I'm so happy to say I love you now and I can't wait to express how much in my next post :)

Also shout out to Taylor Swift whose old albums have been helping me to remember what I was like when I was a teenager. 

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