The Ultimate Diet.

Apologies for the lack of posting; new job means getting used to a new routine in a new phase of my life.

As I’ve said before it has been my own journey through body image issues and self-discovery that has led to me to this new place of positive body image activism. I only recently noticed that an old triggering point had arisen once again: gaining weight. I spent too much time in my teenage years and early 20’s battling my own mindset about how I looked, how I should look and struggling to disassociate my worth from my weight. So this now felt like a great time to test whether I could walk the walk, after I’ve spent so much time and effort on here talking the talk.

A UK size 14-16 is where I have averaged out throughout my adult life; I used to be positively ecstatic if I fitted into something smaller as the numbers meant a lot to me. Looking back now I can see just how much they dictated how I felt about myself at 18 years old, even though it’s so clear I have always been an average or below average size. But I was cross with my body because I felt it didn’t allow me to be the person I wanted to be.

I tried to stick to the ‘rules’ of how women considered ‘curvy’ should appear. Try to keep your hair long and full, it will hide excess chins and it’s more feminine. No boots, we don’t want to make those legs look bigger do we? Try a flared jean instead to balance out those proportions. Accentuate your waist as it’s the smallest part of your body, we need to see how small you can be! Try an A-line skirt to skim and cover your hips. Three-quarter length sleeves will hide any unsightly bingo wings. PUT DOWN THAT TANK TOP!

This kind of thing really annoys me. I’m not a piece of fruit.What it should say is: Are you human shaped? Then wear whatever the hell you want.

 

I was lucky I have family who tried their best to balance out the negativity I was picking up from outside, but those external influences are strong at a young age. The message I received from the media was that we must always try to be smaller, more fragile…

Women should aim to take up less space.

Confused?

Are you confused?

 

When actually, if pinterest had been around then, mine would have been filled with cropped hair, mini skirts, doc martin boots and skinny jeans. Now this isn’t to say I NEVER wore any of these things, because I did. But the point is how I allowed myself to feel in them, and if I had been brutally honest, I usually felt uncomfortable. Thankfully, nowadays I’m way more relaxed, so much so that I almost missed the opportunity to write about this, simply because it didn’t become a ‘thing’ in my life.

Until summer I’d spent a period of time being at the smallest I’ve ever been at a 10-12. It wasn’t something I’d taken much notice of because I no longer weigh myself or particularly pay much attention to what size I’m buying. I was eating on the go and exercising 6 times a week as a way to de-stress my way through my fourth and final year at college. Although I had no time to socialise and was in bed by 9 most nights; I wasn’t obsessive, I wasn’t restrictive or negative, it was just my life and routine at that time. The only other time I have been that size was in the end stages of my time living away from home; when I was devastated by bereavement and possibly suffering from a mental breakdown. Nevertheless, at this present time I was casually applauded for this change in all situations; at college, at the gym, at church and when I was out socially. Years back this used to make me feel really good; but now I just smile awkwardly so as not to be rude, but know that on the inside I’m eye-rolling. When one girl noticed my disdain for the ‘compliment’ of “you’ve lost weight, you look amazing now” I was told to “enjoy it” and that “you love it really, everyone likes to hear they’re thinner.” I’m at a point now where if that’s what you think I’m thinking, you really don’t know me at all.

 

Smaller, earlier in 2014. That skirt might not fit now…but it is JUST a skirt.

 

When I finished college everything changed. I had kept my head so focused on that end goal for 4 years, I really hadn’t thought of life beyond getting that certificate, because if you had told me 5 years ago that’s where I’d be, I wouldn’t have believed you. My routine changed; I was job hunting, writing, not working out much, happily spending time re-focusing on what the next journey could be. The whole rhythm of my life changed again. I wasn’t sad to leave college, I had gained everything I wanted out of the experience. It wasn’t all easy, as change seldom is but I’m focused on all the privileges I am blessed with in my life that some people don’t have, one of the biggest privileges of all: choices.

And as I contemplated all the things I have achieved so far that I am actually proud of and all the things I still hope to achieve, I wondered how they could link in to my blogging experience. I got my answer when I was getting dressed later that week; a proportion of my clothes no longer fitted and I found myself just casually tutting instead of blind panic. Sure, it was annoying, those skirts my mum had taken in would need letting out and still might not fit, I even hulked out of one of my favourite shirts…

I lift weights at the gym to be strong not to make myself small, so feeling a bit she-hulk was kind of awesome.

I lift weights at the gym to be strong not to make myself small, so feeling a bit She-Hulk was kind of awesome.

 

But I didn’t freak out. I just adjusted my diet a bit and aimed that I’d stick to 2/3 workouts that I enjoy a week whenever they fitted into the rest of my life…but my size didn’t change. And I finally got it, that this is my natural shape. The thing that so many women fight a daily battle against. Because you can never win when you make yourself the enemy. As long as you’re healthy (whatever that is for you as an individual) and happy you are winning. I may have gained physical weight, but I realised I’d finally lost what I had needed to all along, I’d lost the emotional weight. Don’t underestimate it, that’s a lot heavier than you might give it credit. You’ll be so much lighter to do all the things you want to do, to dream all the things you might do. Lose the guilt associated with taking up more space in the world. Lose the shame that you’re ‘letting yourself go’ if you skip a few workouts. Lose the fear of being less attractive because in real life you can’t Photoshop yourself to perfection. Lose the hate that you will be worth less because you weigh more.

That is the only diet you will ever need. Lose your emotional weight.

This will mean so many different things to people, that I couldn’t begin to cover it here, but start the ultimate diet by focusing on the achievements in your life that have nothing to do with your weight and appearance. All the positive things and things I am most proud of: finishing school, travelling, always working at any job I could find, re-discovering my christian faith, having wonderful family and friends, overcoming depression, supporting gender equality and gay rights, getting my degree, appreciating what I have, always keeping hold of my dreams…you wouldn’t need to know the number on my scales or the number in my waistband for any of those things.

 

 

So what have you done?

Found out who your true friends are and cherish them?

Made peace with something or someone in your life?

Studied towards something that means a lot to you?

Fallen in love?

Have a wonderful family?

Got a job you love?

Left a job you hate?

Travelled alone?

Faced your fears?

Stood up for what you believe in, at all costs?

Always remember those things. The positive and negative, the light and shade in your life is who you are; your spirit, experiences, memories, choices and changes. Not your physical body.

 

We will all be smaller and larger at different times in our lives but we must never let it dictate our worth. I will keep saying this, over and over: your weight has NOTHING to do with your value in life. If you’re a size 6 or a 26; you can be whatever you want, your dreams are just as valid and attainable as the next persons and you can be beautiful and sexy. So don’t wait to lose weight, or gain it, before you start living your life and being you. It goes by so quickly, there’s only one you, there will only ever be one you. So make it count.

Oh and stop being an apple, rectangle or pencil and wear what you want. Your ‘bony’ legs or your ‘spare tire’ aren’t going to kill anyone. And just FYI, I recently graduated, bought more miniskirts, now own multiple pairs of boots and chopped my hair off…and it feels great.

Thanks to Beauty Redefined for the celebrity quotes.

Advertisements

“If not me, who? If not now, when?”

It’s only in recent years I have been identifying myself as a feminist. Not because of a lacking belief beforehand but simply because I was unaware of how oppressive some ideals in society still are; how certain limiting expectations of gender have become so normalised only a small proportion feel the urge to question their effect.

When I went back to education at 23, I really began to open my eyes. Perhaps I was ‘maturing’, perhaps it was that I felt stronger for getting through some tough times, perhaps it was that I was nurturing a healthier view of myself and an appreciation of what I have. Whatever it was, I began to crave that sense of inner strength and empowerment.

 

What really got the ball rolling for me was watching a clip from the 2011 documentary Miss Representation in a contextual studies class. It aims to disseminate issues of gender inequality, particularly towards the media’s portrayal of women but also how this affects men and boys. This is something film maker Jackson Katz highlights:

“We are socialising boys to believe that being a man means being powerful and in control.  Being smarter than or better than women. That our needs get met first in relationships with women. That’s not genetically pre-destined. That’s learned behaviour.” (2011)

 

It made me realise just how important feminism is for both sexes. The choice to be free to be yourself without the restraints of gender roles and expectations which are enforced for power and profit.

I read up on the subject, focusing first on attitudes to appearance and beauty, because this is where I have felt personally effected most in the past. It even became the focus of my dissertation.

I felt very privileged to be able to spend so much time writing about something I felt so passionately about and it only fuelled the fire as I delved deeper into this arena of struggle and triumph.

It changed me. Those books and articles cannot be unread, the videos and documentaries cannot be unseen. And it’s when you start speaking up and tuning in to all the daily occurrences that would come with the hashtag #sexism that you start to feel the boundaries, suddenly they become acutely visible. Certain off-hand remarks would have gone over my head years ago but now they knot me inside because I know comments like “You know what women are like” or “Man-up and don’t be such a wuss” only serve to reinforce gender imbalances that are systemic throughout all cultures and lead to much bigger issues like mental health problems and violence. I notice it everywhere from overhearing conversations on public transport to my favourite TV shows.

But with this new-found cause in my heart I’m often met with the same responses:

“Don’t you think you’re blowing it out of proportion? It’s just one little comment. Chill out.”

“Just calm down. It all sounds a bit aggressive for a woman.”

“You’re overreacting. It’s just banter.” …when stating how much I HATE rape ‘jokes’.

 

Suddenly you’ve become the killjoy. “Don’t tell that to Jenn, she won’t approve.” If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard that whispered…

Well you know what, that’s fine. Because I believe that women have to right to decide what they do with their bodies, that men should be allowed to cry without the fear of judgement, that sexual assault and violence against either gender is wrong and not great comedic material. I believe in equal pay, that pitting women against each other for economic profit is wrong, that cat-calling is abusive and not something to ‘be grateful for’. I believe that women should not be asked “what were you wearing?” when reporting an attack, that men should not be forced into hyper-masculinity to prove themselves worthy of their sex, that women have the right to be comfortable with their bodies at any size. I believe that men can be incredible allies in the fight against gender inequality and that feminists are not ‘man haters’. And a whole host of other things. And if that has made me a killjoy then so be it.

It’s true that once you become more conscious of these things, these systems, these social structures, they have less power over you. And for a while I considered just going about my life ignoring the foolish things that try to undermine our choices. I could do it, stop reading the articles and just live my life not noticing these things (even though they would still inadvertently affect me). But I am blessed to be in a position to make that choice…a choice that not all people have because of inequality. And THAT is why it matters. Those people who say we “don’t need” feminism anymore or that it “doesn’t effect men”, you are wrong.

Feminism, gender equality, they are such multi-faceted terms. I’ve seen many debates online about the importance of one particular topic over another; that aiming to change perceptions of beauty is ‘shallow’ and that media literacy classes for children are ‘unnecessary’. What I have learnt is that all aspects are intrinsically linked and all have important roles to play in creating a more balanced world. It is a vast topic and subsequently could never be covered adequately in a post like this. But just to start participating in conversations and changing attitudes should not be played down as each positive step is advantageous.

 

When U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson spoke this week about launching the HeforShe campaign, I can’t deny I had a lump in my throat. From all I have learnt in researching and participating in my own small way to this cause, I know how incredibly important this work is. How there is so much need for change still. We can each find our own way to respond to feminism in a positive way. Despite what the media is attempting to churn out, there is no wrong way to be a feminist because at its heart it is simply a belief. A belief that gender is not a limitation and that we all matter. Equally.

I urge you to watch this. I thought she was incredible.