In a society obsessed and unable to take the attention and (male) gaze away from women’s appearance, whether it be their body shape, clothes, hair styles, make up, legs, arms, body hair, fingernails, cuticles, pores, inner thighs, vaginas, phantom limbs… you name it, we’ve been scrutinised on it, so I thought this episode of A Series of Lamentations (said dramatically like I’m narrating Days of Our Lives) should cover the topic of body confidence. It’s something I’ve never written about, but write about sexual confidence freely and confidently. For me, the two are synonymous, but for so many women, the idea of being sexy is nonsensical; you can only be sexy if you look like the girls in the lad’s mags, right? Wrong… So very, very wrong, ladies!
As soon as I was catapulted out of the warm embrace of childhood and puberty rolled in like a thick, black cloud, catapulting my idea of self into a state of perpetual doubt, my beanpole limbs suddenly bending and stretching, pimples exploding onto my face like a surprise hailstorm in summer, I would cry and for years, enormous, fat tears would roll down my cheeks and sobs would escape my mouth as I looked on in horror at my naked self in front of a mirror. In spite of being born gloriously tall, I had a perpetual hunch in my shoulders, forced as a result of trying valiantly to appear small, petite and perfect like all of my friends were. I would take one of my long, bony (elegant, maybe?) fingers and prod at the almost non-existent pot belly that I had and wail that I was enormous, cursing my hips and size fourteen jeans that hung off my hips and perpetually retreated down my legs, as though wanting to rest around my ankles, a non-existent arse unable to keep them upright. My breasts, a reasonable D cup from the moment I hit puberty and further growing to the exponentially larger cupsize they are today, were far too small, too strange, too saggy and unappealing. I didn’t look like the girls in the films, or the magazines or the music videos; I wasn’t, as my mother described perfect and she was a proven god damn liar, if only she knew what I saw when I looked in that mirror…
As I got older, my metabolism abandoned me and all those nights I would order takeaways or eat convenient packets of party size crisps, huddled over a laptop writing essays, my body shape changed; it became softer, more round, my hip bones lost their definition altogether, replaced by rolls of extra skin that stretched violently, erupting in marks that highlighted my new body shape with sickening candour; my dress size soared through the roof and I looked at my jeans mournfully, longing to be able to get those size fourteen skinnies beyond my fat knees. Elasticated waistlines and baggy, loose fitting dresses became my staples. Jeggings were my saviour. When I went out, I wore black, thick tights, multiple pairs of spanx, anything that would slim me and make me look like the other girls in their crop tops, bare arms flung in the air, moving to the sound of the music; mine, shoved inside a cardigan, sleeves pulled over my sleeves, shuffling from side to side, hating them, hating me.
I fought with my body for so long, I became resolute that I was too fat, too unattractive, too boring to be anything other than the person that I was; I hated myself and it was a recurrent, constant theme in my life. I struggled with my body confidence until this year, twenty five years into my life. But it took me a while. When I first became single, my dad, bless him would say things like ‘lose a few stone, get your high heels on and go down to the rugby club and bag yourself someone who can throw you round the bedroom, even if you’re still a bit heavy!’ thinking that I would laugh and agree, which of course I did, he meant well and thought I was the most beautiful girl in the world even with an extra three stone strapped to my body, but it didn’t make me feel great. I didn’t want to be the person who people would look at for her body and then decide whether or not to have sex with me; I wanted someone to engage with me on an intellectual level, someone who would drink wine with me and stay up until the early hours of the morning talking about a stupid piece of music we both obsess over. I wanted someone to wrap their arms around my stomach and not be revolted that I don’t feel like a model, or someone who goes to the gym. I didn’t want to be someone who relied on their appearance to feel beautiful, I wanted to feel beautiful inside and out and be with someone who agreed.
I don’t feel too self conscious anymore; I have my moments and I sometimes ask my boyfriend to close his eyes if I’m leaving the room naked or with my stomach on display. For months I didn’t let his hands wander anywhere near my stomach and now his hands will wander and touch the ridges of my stretch marks; nonplussed that i was once a significantly larger human. I guess it’s a bit ass-backwards to say that Brain gave me body confidence, because he didn’t. I think it was the moment that I realised he liked me and I wasn’t a stick thin model I thought hmm, so to be attractive, I don’t have to be wearing matching underwear or look like an on-screen siren? I can just look like me? Okay… and I guess he helped, but to me that isn’t really the problem; if you have someone who helps you feel body confident that’s so great. But what about if you don’t?
When you’re single and reading articles on how to be great in bed or how to dress to impress, there’s the overwhelming, choking feeling of expectation and I think that’s what prompts so many fits of self-doubt and loathing within female society and if you’re reading this and thinking ‘I feel so unconfident in my appearance!’ then nothing I say will make you feel any better, it’s one of those things that creeps up on you like old age, or ill-fitting underwear; it’ll happen one day and you’ll just feel and act differently to the way you did before. When I realised that I was funny, smart and that my words had prompted someone to fall in love with me, I realised that no one actually gave a fuck about my stomach or the fact that I have a severe aversion to running or sit ups but me. I stopped caring what other people thought of me and started focusing on what I like about me. So what do I like about me? I like everything. I like my hair, I like my overly large eyes, I like my teeth that look like pegs and my nose that is slightly upturned at the bottom so that it looks like, as my dad lovingly describes, a ski jump. I like my sticky out ears and my hair that has no style other than the fact that I own it and no one else does. I like my breasts and my legs and my flat, long feet. I like everything about me and that’s something I never thought I’d feel. I stopped giving a shit about what society deemed sexually attractive or acceptable and I just embraced myself for being exactly who I am.
Now, thinking back to how unconfident I was, I feel sad that I spent so many years restricting myself and not doing things out of fear of being the fat one, that people would realise that I was fat… as though people didn’t already know… I wish I’d gone with my friends to Greece and finished my application for Camp America and went to New York to study when given the opportunity, but didn’t because I thought my appearance wouldn’t win me any friends. I regret that, I’m sorry about that and I lament it, as expected.