This post is inspired by Buzzfeed’s Body Positivity Week; more specifically, this post by Dan Dalton.
I’m out shopping with my parents because they’ve booked a summer holiday. We’re in Primark. I’m 10, the youngest in my class. I’m excited for summer because it means a break away from school and I’m dreading starting secondary school in September. We’re trawling through the aisles of the shop and I become conscious of it for the first time because we walk straight past the children’s section and into the women’s section. Mum frames it as ‘well you’re all grown up now! So now you can wear proper clothes like mummy’ with her sweet smile. Later, at home, dad retorts ‘she’s bloody obese, she needs to diet. She’s so fat!’ I drag myself up the stairs into my room and cry.
‘Can we keep it a secret?’ I’m 12 now and I have a boyfriend. It’s silly really. We sat next to each other in Maths and we discovered we had a lot in common. Whatever it is, I feel butterflies for the first time because someone likes me back. I agree to keeping it a secret and we sneak off here and there after school for a hug and a kiss. We spend all our time talking to each other. One day, all hell breaks loose and everyone in class finds out. He tries denying it until he’s red in the face. He simply says, ‘I’d have to be blind to go out with her, she’s a fat pig’.
My depression was diagnosed at 14. I was tormented every day at school and it took its toll on my mental health. I started going to the gym and slimmed down a dress size. I looked better. I felt better. But I was still called fat. So I exercised more. I was 15 when I picked up a knee injury but I knew I had to keep losing weight because otherwise, the bullying would never stop. So I restricted what I ate. I did my Drama GCSE and my best friend lashed out at one of the perpetrators, saying that I was a size 8 now and I was smaller than the girl who was bullying me. She said, ‘fine then…she’s an anorexic rat’.
I’ve started a new school for sixth form. It’s only across the road from my previous school, but it may as well be a million miles away. Everyone is so friendly. By now, I’m in the throes of anorexia. I’m deadly thin but whenever I catch my reflection and can bare to look at it before wanting to cry, I just see a beached whale. My thighs are huge. My tummy is still there, protruding as ever. The doctor diagnoses me with body dysmorphic disorder. I go shopping for a school skirt and the size 6 slips off my hips. I ask for a size 4 — a size zero — and the shop assistant looks mortified but politely informs me that I need to go to a specialist shop for that.
I’m excelling at school. I’ve just sat my AS Levels and I’ve told myself I’ll beat the anorexia. I’m not stressed out and I’m in a better place, mentally. So I start eating, with the support of my mum. Then, tragedy strikes and I get the refeeding syndrome, so they hospitalise me, threatening to section me if I don’t go ‘willingly’. They don’t let me walk. I’m put in a wheelchair so that I don’t use up any energy. My weight plummets to 5 stone. I look like I’m about to die. Sure enough, the doctors say that the anorexia has eaten away everything in my body and that I only have two weeks before my heart fails.
I’m not a quitter. Despite the death sentence, I make a full recovery. By the beginning of the next year, I reach a BMI of 18.5 and I’m officially discharged and cleared of anorexia. I start living life like the next teenager. There’s a glimmer of hope. I’m not at ease with this body that I call home just yet…but perhaps I will be.
Years pass. I go to university and graduate. I make some terrible choices in my love life. I go on holiday, out with friends and see a bit more of the world. Before I know it, it’s been five years since I recovered from anorexia and 13 since my dad called me fat. It’s all still very real. It happened to me. I know it did. I can’t ever erase that. But I’m past it now. I adorn my body with metal and ink, expressing myself outwardly. I’m no longer ashamed. I’m no longer at war with my body. The skin I wear is all I have in this life. Nothing else is guaranteed. I don’t know what will happen to me in the future, but I’m at one with my body. After all, it’s the only home I’ll ever know.