"Not feeling bad about my body is something I’ve never articulated because feels like such a defiance of convention."
I don’t feel bad about my body, though heaven knows, I’ve tried.
I’ve found myself splitting a bottle of wine with friends who get on to the topic of how they’re trying to change or improve their figures; I’ve remained silent. I’ve pored over fashion spreads that purport to offer the right swimwear (or dress, or jeans) for my figure, provided I can categorise my figure by what is wrong with it, the way in which it is too much or too little; I’ve failed. I’ve pondered whether ill-fated romances fell apart because of something repellent about my physique; I’ve concluded that while there are many reasons someone might not want to date me, they’re all more compelling than my being too tall or too short or too hippy or too anything.
Not feeling bad about my body is something I’ve never articulated because feels like such a defiance of convention. An utter subversion, when in the cultural narratives most familiar to me are so often focused on the problems that women have with their bodies – and that the rest of the world has with women’s bodies. From the hundreds of daily articles in the tabloid press breaking them down into a collection of inadequate parts; to the products endlessly marketed to help us conceal and improve and reshape them; to the perfectly well-meaning people we all know, who greet a woman they haven’t seen in a while with, ‘Oh, you’ve lost weight!’ because they assume it must always feel like a compliment.
I don’t feel bad about my body not because it’s a particularly outstanding one. In fact, it’s fairly average, a sturdy UK size 12 topped with a kind of enormous head that I suppose should give me a complex. I don’t feel bad about my body because I made a conscious decision not to. In the late years of my teens, with friends and classmates in the evil clutches of eating disorders, I decided that this was one area of self-abuse in which I would no longer be a participant. I stopped weighing myself, because I knew that whatever the number on the scale, I would want it to be smaller. I stopped reading magazines that attempt to explain to me how to fix my body through fashion or exercise or diet. I did start doing more exercise, though – not to lose weight, but with the aim of feeling healthier and more at ease in the body that I had so that I would not be seduced by the prospect of longing for a different one.
And for the most part, it worked: I am these legs and arms and back and bum and spleen, and I remain determined not to feel bad about any bit of it, even in spite of the plenty of things about my body that people have now and then pointed out to me as things that are wrong, because that’s just something that people feel they can do to women. The university boyfriend who told me that at first he didn’t think I had a pretty face, but that over time it had ‘grown’ on him. The lingerie saleswoman who screamed: ‘this is so weird!’ at the sight of my breasts, exposed for a bra fitting, because one is ever so slightly larger than the other. The gym instructor I shocked at my induction session when I declined her offer to weigh and measure me, because I wanted to use the gym to maintain my fitness level but not to attempt to fix things about my body that I hated (and also because I am not competing to be a prize farm animal).
Regarding our bodies as flawed things that need to be fixed is pretty much the reverse of the truth, isn’t it? They are the only things in life that we really can’t get rid of. Which makes them all, in their way, intrinsically flawless. Instead of despairing that we’re not good enough to fit into clothes or work as supermodels and blaming ourselves for these shortcomings, we should be blaming the dresses for being badly cut and the aspirations for being unrealistic. We can wear a different T-shirt. We can celebrate different kinds of beauty. But we can’t get a new body, not really, no matter what the plastic surgery ads tell us.
And that’s why I think it is time to admit that I don’t feel bad about my body. And I hope that more women will admit it, too – to encourage an interrogation of why we’re made to feel that we should consider ourselves flawed, rather than continuing to analyse how we can mitigate the so-called flaws. To stop assuming that as women, it is natural to consider our bodies to be flawed; that we need to be fixed. That anything can make our bodies perfect except loving them ourselves. Unless someone can recommend a bikini that will make my giant head look smaller. In which case, of course, I’ll take six.