Growing up, I had absolutely no issues with my image whatsoever; when my dad told me that Prince had written Most Beautiful Girl in the World about me, it was simply a given that he was absolutely and unwaveringly correct, so my incessant swaying whenever the song came on, purely made sense. I was thanking Prince through the method of sway-dance for writing a pretty accurate song about me. Every day, my parents would grab me in their arms, hug me and tell me that I was beautiful, something I accepted willingly – I guess I was really beautiful! I had no other means of comparing myself to anyone and I didn’t think of ever doing so and I don’t think that anyone ever compared themselves to me, it was just something that wasn’t done in the nineties, I guess; we spent more time playing games and deciding which Spice Girl we were, rather than worrying about who’s body was better than the rest. Truthfully, it took me a very, very long time to develop any form of body issues and think that it was my later teens that triggered the insecurities I cling onto now.
I was a teenager in the early 2000s and I’m not sure if something happened during this time that resulted in an entire generation of young girls suddenly loathing themselves, or if body confidence issues have been a popular bone of contention for every girl of every generation since the beginning and we were simply receiving the baton from those before us, but to me, it just feels like body confidence is a very modern issue affecting women these days and that my generation were truly the first to feel the bitter sting of self-doubt and loathing. I’m not sure about anyone else, but to me it felt like almost an immediate thing; one day I was simply me: a girl who wore clothes and did things with her time, wore shoes and sometimes wore a ponytail in her hair, and then all of a sudden, I felt that I was too tall, that my breasts were deformed; I felt dorky and plump, dreadfully awkward in my own too pale skin. I’m not sure where this idea came from, because I had gotten through the early part of my teenaged years quite easily and back then I had been covered in spots and my skin was greasier than a takeaway pizza, my limbs growing longer than the rest of me… I had no issues then. I still thought that I was simply a human, existing in society, maybe not the most beautiful girl in the world, because I found out that my dad liked to extend the truth a lot (like, who knew that dads didn’t give birth to boys?!), but I didn’t feel monumentally grotesque or anything else of the sort.
Growing up, role models were never really my thing and I never felt that I wanted to model my appearance on anyone in particular. There aren’t really many women from my childhood that I remember being obsessed with, other than potentially The Spice Girls as a collective and Ethel from The Worst Witch, who just so happens to play the bad witch making the protagonists life hell, but she wore really fierce boots and was top of her class at everything, a total teachers pet and I loved her. If you haven’t seen the film, you can find it all on Youtube and below is a picture of my favourite character from the movie:
In spite of all this, I didn’t emulate anyone in particular and this adoration of Ethel the bitchy witch didn’t extend further than asking my mam if I could have boots like hers for school… And I did:
The same could indeed be said of my earlier teenage years; most of my heroes were male musicians from the punk scene or in some cases, incredibly pale, long haired, piercy blue eyes Finnish metal gods. I did love the screen sirens of times foregone, such as Doris Day, but not in the sense that I looked at my body and thought that I needed to change it, or that it was inadequate in some way. I can’t really pinpoint the exact moment, but it began to fester within me, I guess, when I started watching The OC. At the time, I’m pretty certain it was a cultural phenomenon and everyone was affected by it and loved it; I was so in love with Seth Cohen that I genuinely typed, Curly haired Jewish boys in Newcastle, into Google and hoped I would find him staring back at me with comic book t-shirts and great taste in music. When Anna was introduced, she could have been, arguably, the first person I ever wanted to emulate as a teenager. She was so cool and adorable; I cut my hair off to look just like her and for the first time, I began reading comics and fell in love with Betty White. All I really managed to do was look like a pixie boy and prove to people that I was a weirdo obsessed with old people, but she still embodied a lot of the characteristics I recognised in myself as a teenager at the time; I was quirky and wise beyond my years, or at least I thought so and her wardrobe was enviable to the point I began dressing like her too, much to the chagrin of my poor mother who had no idea what the fuck I was trying to accomplish.
For me, I think college was the first step towards me becoming the big ball of insecurity and anxiety I am today. When I started college, my parents offered to buy me new clothes and whilst I was incredibly grateful for their offer, I really regret the entire day, even now. It’s one of those memories that burns in my subconscious like a perpetual, horrific flame intent on ruining my life. You see, my dad insisted on coming with me that day and he hates shopping. My dad insisted on coming shopping with someone who loved the likes of Topshop and complained at everything in there. I can’t remember where I shopped in the end, but I dragged him around the shops for far too long, until he and my mam began to tell me what college was really like, so I had a better grasp on what kind of fashion ensembles to purchase. Turns out my parents were remembering their college years in the eighties as though they had gone to college in America in the sixties and what I ended buying made me look like the perpetually bare foot, long haired, bearded, hand-held drum playing marijuana expert; I was basically dressed in a Jesus t-shirt and khaki green combat trousers that my parents insisted were super-duper cool and that’s why they weren’t in Topshop, but at the back of a shop AND ON SALE. I also ended up buying a turquoise blue golf inspired jumper with other golf related colours on, which I wore ON TOP OF a shirt with FLARED jeans. I am so ashamed to admit that, until I started my first day of college, I thought I looked okay.
On my first day, the entire college was awash with really attractive, well dressed individuals. Women who looked as though they’d been up for hours perfecting their hair and picking out all the right accessories to go with their skinny jeans, heeled boots and cinched at the waist by massive belt style tops. I wore pink trainers with cherries on them, flares and the dork ensemble that made me look less like Anna from The OC and more like my parents had banished me from our Amish camp because they heard me listen to rock music one time. I was mortified. Even more so when I saw that there were people wearing the band t-shirts I so desperately wanted to wear, with skinny jeans, Converse and studs. I owned pink Converse! I could totally fit in! All day, I internally cursed my stupid parents for having such an influence over my fashion choices, because of their free admission that I had shit taste in clothes. Now, I realise that we were partaking in the eternal struggle between teenager and parent and that, for the first time in history, parents won and I allowed myself to be controlled by their ridiculously misplaced love. Arseholes!
Eventually, I found my own style and wore a lot of brightly coloured tank tops with t-shirts underneath, a lot of black and I eventually started buying my own accessories that made me look like I was trying to perform an African wedding ceremony on a daily basis, but it still makes me think back with abject horror at how bad I looked, but I still had no real issue with my body. Just my fashion choices… Sorry, MY PARENTS FASHION CHOICES. I then developed a distinctively 60s style, but a better one that seemed to be because of my burgeoning obsession with Ms Edie Sedgwick, out came the dramatic eyes and the big old earrings… Gone was the dorky girl who listened to her stupid parents!
The first time I ever felt horrible about how I looked, I was going into Newcastle for a night out with my sisters and one of my nurse friends. I was wearing grey shorts with black tights and a black top that fastened at the top of my neck, for some reason, with a black cardigan (I always wear cardigans!) my hair was tied up and my makeup consisted of the white eyeshadow with black eyeliner as I was going through my Edie Sedgwick phase and bright red lips. I remember standing in front of my mirror looking at my ‘then’ ridiculously flat stomach, before turning my attention to my round, seemingly pert derriere and thinking I’M A FUCKING WHALE I HATE MYSELF. I cried my make-up off and made it clear to my sister and mother that I didn’t want to go. Unfortunately, my sister really did want to go, so I had no choice. So along I went, in the clothes that I hated, my make-up reapplied and I sipped a few cocktails. Eventually, we decided to go dancing and went to a bar I haven’t been in since. On our way out, something hit me on the top of the head and when my sister turned around to see blood pouring down my face like I’d just stepped off the Carrie set, she began pushing and screaming to get me to safety. Someone had dropped a glass bottle on me from upstairs and burst my skull open, as far as I was aware. I knew I didn’t want to go out.
Now, admittedly, when I don’t feel that I look okay and have anxious feelings about leaving the comfort of my home, I think back to that night and realise that it was karma. I did look fat, I did look hideous and I should never have left the house. A broken head was my punishment.