I’m a happy-go-lucky kind of person, and I woke up this morning with a huge grin, sang The 1975 in the shower and put on a sleeveless top and shorts before leaving the house to go meet my best friend, I honestly thought today had started out great. Important point to be made: it’s currently 25 degrees in Milan, aka hot as hell — summer clothes are honestly the only choice I could have made today.
Fun fact? The rest of Milan apparently doesn’t agree with me.
Thing is, Milan is not a conservative city at all — it’s the biggest, most populated, most cosmopolitan city (for italian standards, at least) in the country. Under no circumstances, in a civilized western city in 2014, should me wearing shorts could have been an issue. Right? No, wrong. Completely, devastatingly wrong.
I’ve been stared at, snickered at, whispered and laughed about all day long, and the real reasons behind it are beyond disgusting. Yes, it might be a little weird to see someone walking around in shorts in March, but global warming is a thing folks, and I will not suffer any more than I have to because of it. if I want to wear summer shorts because according to the thermostat it feels like July, even if it’s not technically summer, so be it.
The real reason people were giggling as me and my friend walked by, though, is much more worrying. I am not stick-thin (I have been, and I do not ever wish to go back to that weight), but I could not be considered overweight either, or even chubby. I am just about average weight (what does that even mean?) and I look (finally, happily) perfectly healthy.
What people from this dreadful, obnoxiously narrow-minded little town (who am I kidding, Milan has over 1 million inhabitants) cannot even begin to imagine is that someone could be happy with the way they look and be able to proudly wear whatever the hell they feel comfortable wearing. The worst part is, I’ve spent 19 years of my life here, I’m supposed to know all of this already: how could I have forgotten that as girls here, our only purpose in life is to stand pretty, shyly and feeling uncomfortable under strangers’ gazes, so that they can all judge us all they want?
I’ve been living under this kind of pressure all my life, and believe me, it’s not a nice reality to grow up in. It starts eating you from the inside, brings out all sorts of demons no teenager should ever have to face, and leads to body image issues of the absolute worst kind. People staring at your thighs and laughing at you leads girls to think there’s something wrong with them, and maybe they should not wear shorts after all. And that’s sort of the whole problem, isn’t it?
A girl turned to her boyfriend to whisper ‘Oh my god, have you seen her? Who does she think she is?’ (No, I’m not making this up). Who do YOU think you are, acting like you have any right to judge a stranger by the way they dress? Don’t you have anything better to talk about than my exposed (touching, oh what a shame) thighs?
Today, I was not fazed. My self-esteem did not falter, and I refused to drop my gaze in embarrassment when meeting somebody’s accusing eyes on the street. Living in London for the past six months has made me a somewhat better person, a stronger person, and someone who can keep walking even if it means leaving a trail of snickering girls behind them.
Because London is a bit of a free spirit, you see, and what I’ve found is that people couldn’t care less what you wear as long as you don’t come between them and their 5 o’clock pint — which is kind of an amazing philosophy, if you ask me.
In London, you can have purple or rainbow colored hair if you feel like it, and you can wear shorts in mid-January, even, because people just will assume you’re Scottish and go on with their day. I’ve not once come home feeling unworthy, uncomfortable, inadequate or humiliated in any way in over six months, and that’s why I started to forget what life outside out my little bubble of paradise feels like.
The problem with this is that three-years-ago me, depression-stricken me, sticking-her-fingers-down-her-throat me, taking-any-glance-at-her-body-as-a-sign-of-how-disgusting-it-was me… THAT me would have reacted a bit differently. You would not believe how little it used to take back then for me to start questioning my recovering process and want to go back to that hellish place in my head where I used to feel so safe, and THAT’s what wrong with what happened today. The fact that it’s been driving me insane my whole life, and now that I’ve managed to disconnect from that reality it’s already trying to sneak its way back in in the less than two days I’ve been here.. THAT’s not okay. I’ll be on a plane to London on Sunday and it’ll be rainbows and butterflies once again, but there’s people staying back who I’m sure are experiencing the exact same things, and feeling as terrible and inadequate and undeserving of their place on this Earth just because of the way people make them feel about their bodies, just as I used to a while ago.
It’s to them that I say, don’t panic — it’s not you, it’s them. If the only way for them to feel better about themselves it to laugh at you for being brave enough to go with what your heart tells you, and do whatever it is that makes you HAPPY, so be it. Let them. Trust me, it’s their loss in the long run, and someday they’ll come to realize it.
It’s not you, it’s not you, it’s not you.
Wear that smile big and proud, and keep smiling. Keep that chin up and no matter what happens, no matter how malicious the stares or how cruel the comments, do not lower it for anyone. One day you’ll be so pleased with yourself for standing up to this whole ridiculous business, and we’ll be the ones laughing at them.
And we’ll be happy, and proud of it.