Here’s what’s happened with me: my doctor told me I was obese, I hadn’t felt healthy for a while, and this time last year I begin a terrifying and exciting journey to lose almost 38 pounds so that my weight could be considered “normal.”
I’d been gently accumulating extra fat. We could call it “softness”, “womanliness”, or “padding” but it wasn’t any of those things. It was fat. I feel comfortable using that word, and always have. I wrote a book called I’m Fat (and still get laid), as my own way of taking ownership of that word. I’m not afraid of it.
“But you’re not fat!” emails, Tweets, and well-meaning family would counter, because people are nice, and often we use that word as weapon, particularly against women, as another way of saying, “You’re not perfect.”
I am perfect – perfect as I’ll ever be. I was also fat. Those two things are separate, because the circumference of my thighs is not directly related to my worthiness as a human being, and I know that in my bones. I love myself, so incredibly much, and am proud of the work I’ve put in to being my best self. I meditate, I listen, I find the lesson, I share the story. I’m a good friend, aware sister, humble daughter, honourable employee, considerate housemate. But my Body Mass Index – an arguably flawed but NHS-approved general system for establishing an ideal weight range for one’s height – pegged me at obese. My belly rested on the tops of my thighs when I sat. My chin tripled as I looked down. My thighs applauded each other when I ran up the stairs.
I was genuinely, totally and absolutely fine with my body, with my health, with what I saw in the mirror… until I wasn’t.
I’d been researching and pondering on the things that keep us “small” – what we do to limit our potential. Irresponsible financial behaviour (check), stupidly smoking roll ups (check), taking shit from people who don’t get to tell you what you are (check) – these are all things I’d been trying to work out. And then it hit me: I limited my body’s potential by eating a shit-ton of crap and not working out enough.
I’ve spent years figuring out how to optimise my heart, my mind, and my soul – that determined awareness of self is how I get my kicks — yet I wrapped up all of that hard work in a body that I did not treat respectfully, and what’s more, that disrespect had become my identity. I hid behind being the one to finish the box of cupcakes, the one who’ll go back for seconds. “Laura can be such a riot!” was synonym for “Fucking hell, she packs it away!” I made being fat my fact, and accepted it as who I am. But what I see now is that in identifying that way I actually keeping myself “small”; lessening my potential.
It is such a fine line, wrought with gender politics and a complex history of emotion: the female form. Somewhere in my pursuit to eschew any notion of diets, of deprivation, of “you can’t tell me what the fuck to do with my body”, I’d gone the other way, deliberately made myself overweight and thus unhealthy to prove a point. I’d negatively abused my body to make a statement that we are more than our dress size, and bigger than our weight.
I wanted to change how I looked after my body. I wanted to feel strong, and sexy. I strived to feel a lot of things: sassy, accomplished, adventurous, competent – but I’d shied away from my own strength, and my own sexuality, I think because I’ve desperately wanted to prove that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. I was on the other end of that precarious spectrum for a destructive while, though – falling out of love with my body, which is as sad on counting on nothing but my looks.
I signed up for a 10K race, for strength, and a very revealing bedroom boudoir photo shoot, for sexiness, both on the same weekend. I made a plan, and for months chased strong, and sexy. Strong and sexy. Strong, and sexy.
I was terrified of the change, because so much of my sense of self was wrapped up in having thighs that chafed. I was worried that changing my body would seem as though I valued what’s on the inside less than I did before. But it’s totally the opposite. It’s because I needed to value myself that I knew my unhealthy habits had to change.