I would like to make a confession to you today, readers. I, Amy Longworth, am a hypocrite.
I mean, aren’t we all, to an extent? We all give advice that we don’t necessarily take on board ourselves. But I’m a big hypocrite. Every day I write articles, tweet and blog about body image, preaching messages of self-improvement and self-love. I sound off about fat-shaming and thin-shaming and I lambast pro-ana blogs (which, to be fair, can only be a good thing). I also write about health and fitness, trying to somehow inject a little pizazz into protein powder and multivitamins and other related topics.
And yet, while it seems very easy for me to tell people—both friends and strangers—about the power of body acceptance and determination to improve one’s physique, I still struggle to accept my own body and find it painfully hard to muster the determination to make it better. However hard I try to practise the messages that I have preached through my many “cyber soapboxes”, I still feel an overwhelming sense of unworthiness and fear when I step on the scales and see, time and time again, that I am heavier than I’ve ever been. Despite seeing (and truly believing in) the beauty in all my friends of all shapes and sizes, I still look at myself in the mirror and see someone who ought to be better.
Is that acceptable? No. Am I determined to make it better? Yes. Have I made any progress? Barely.
This is why I’m a hypocrite. Because I can sit here and tell you these things, sometimes using myself as an example of someone who is “recovered” from an eating disorder, who has “found peace” with my body, when in fact I’ve become a shadow of my past self. I gained 20 pounds over a year, and, most of the time, I hate it. Despite all I say to other people about saying ‘no’ to the pressure to feel thin, I can’t do it myself.
And I just don’t understand it. After everything I’ve read, and everything I’ve said, why the fuck do I still give a fuck about body image?
I’m angry with myself. I know that perfection is unattainable, because perfection doesn’t exist. I know that. But pursuing perfection is what ruined me.
These are my illogical thought processes. For example: It stings when I try on new clothes in larger sizes. It stings when I try on my old clothes and they look wrong on me. It hurts when male friends ogle over women who are thinner than me. Every day I see literally hundreds of women in magazines, on television and online who are paid to make a dress, some jewellery or a new piece of technology look good, and I feel envious of them.
I hear other women make sly comments about one another, or strategic comments about themselves to gain a compliment, a validation, a tiny “one-up” to themselves. Worst of all, I hear beautiful women—again, friends and strangers—who dislike themselves because they don’t look like one of the Barbie dolls they played with when they were children. And then it makes me angrier still that I do these things, say these things, and act exactly the same, even though I know that the whole process clearly isn’t right.
This is my logical thought process.
A while ago I wrote an article about my love of weight training. I sent it to the editor of a women’s website (who never published it); she loved the article, but wanted some illustration, too. She wanted some ‘before and after’ pictures, but obviously anything less than a picture of a rock-hard stomach under a cute little Nike workout bra wouldn’t cut it. Despite the emphasis I placed on my fitness and how refreshing it was to gain pleasure out of feeling strong and fit (rather than agonising over getting thin again), it didn’t work from a journalistic point of view without a nice picture of how I went from looking like a sack of potatoes to a celery stick (or some other, more effective simile).
But why should that matter? Why should I have to have abs like a GI Joe, with 50,000 followers on my Instagram account to be credible in fitness journalism? I wanted to tell other women how finding a lifestyle—a fit, active lifestyle—that I enjoyed mattered more to me, for a while, than the figure on a scale. But it wasn’t enough simply to say that. I had to “look the part,” too. Because aesthetics are everything, in our culture; apparently we’re too fixated on looking at the pictures to read the words. Take that as you will.
I was also talking recently with a French friend of mine, who has travelled extensively across Europe (lucky lady). She was telling me how attitudes were different across the channel. She emphasised how, in certain countries she’d visited, women could walk around freely in changing rooms—stark naked, and not giving a damn. The women were all different, and they all didn’t care. They were comfortable enough in their own skin that they could walk around without sucking their tummies in or taking a sly glance in the mirror to check themselves every two seconds. They were happy as they were. Their secret? They embraced imperfection. They led healthy lives without being slaves to achieving a golden ratio.
It sickens me to live in a culture that is so hellbent on aesthetics, and it sickens me that I am just as entangled in that culture as anyone else. We all want to splash pictures of our stylish lives via Instagram and write the cutest blogs and have the best profile pictures. We “say cheese” for photos in the classic “skinny arm” pose because we know people will see it, and—whether consciously or otherwise—we know it’s a competition. We’ve just been taught, through a million cultural signifiers, that physical perfection is a prerequisite to happiness. And I am a victim of this, even though I don’t want to be.
Sometimes, I find old pictures of when my sister and I were small children and I feel sad. It saddens me that the two smiling young girls in these pictures will, as they grow older, be inundated with messages—blatant, subliminal, whatever—that they aren’t “good enough”. I constantly tell my sister that she is gorgeous, because she is gorgeous—and smart, and hilarious. I know she’s an adult now, but in my head she is still my baby sister, and I’m crazily overprotective of her. I don’t want her to turn into me. I don’t want her to go through months of ostracising herself because she thought her bum looked too heinous in jeans to go out and have fun with her friends.
And when I see those pictures of myself as a child, I feel protective of the little girl in those pictures, too. I want her to know she should look forward to growing older and meeting new people, going to new places and doing new things. I don’t want her to hold herself back because she hates what she sees in the mirror. One day, in the not-too-distant future, I’ll see the pictures of me aged 21 that I disliked because my arm looked ‘too fat’, or my dress didn’t look as good on me as it did on the hanger… and I’ll wish I had just cared a little less and let myself live a little more.
At the end of the day, I’m still only 21 years old and I still don’t have all the answers. I still flip-flop between rational moments and irrational pangs of self-hatred.
But I know that I will learn, in time, to practise what I preach, and I know that one day I’ll re-read these words I am writing to you without feeling like a hypocrite. Because I also know, deep down, that those immortal words of Audrey Hepburn’s are true: “The happiest girls are the prettiest.” I know that words and actions are what really remain—not only in other people’s minds, but our own minds. I’m going to push myself to be there for people, and experience new and exciting things for myself, instead of hiding away because I’m irrationally ashamed of my body. My body might be heavier or skinnier or shorter or curvier than another woman’s, but it’s the only body I’ll ever have. And I plan to use it well. I plan to be kind to it.
This is the promise I’ve made to myself: Remember, darling, you are a person, not a mannequin. Your body is your friend, not your enemy. Use your body to experience life; don’t let it hold you back.
Photo by Jano Silva[divider] [/divider]
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