“We need to buy you your first bra,” my mother said to me, smilling with glee, while I stared back in horror. I was around 11 at the time; my breasts, it seemed, just couldn’t wait to inflate. And while my mum was all smiles, I just wanted the ground to quickly gobble me up. A bra? Hell, I didn’t even want to admit I was growing boobs in the first place.
My teenage ‘Puppy Fat’ years
Unfortunately for my pre-teen self (I still pity her), I was a fast developer in all areas. Soon enough, I had an ass to match the inflated boobs. Meanwhile, all my Cypriot classmates were stick insect thin; they were all bones and I was all puppy fat. As a result, I grew conscious about my curves at a very young age, and found the answer to hiding them – baggy t-shirts and trousers.
And despite feeling awkward about my size, I wasn’t exactly big in my teens – I was just bigger than most girls my age in both height and width. Couple this with having blonde hair in a country swarming with brunettes, I stood out like a big, plump tomato in a crate of lemongrass.
Couple this with having blonde hair in a country swarming with brunettes, I stood out like a big, plump tomato in a crate of lemongrass.
So I was walking ball of awkwardness. We moved back to England in 1999 where I became reacquainted with fish and chips, Irn Bru and apple pie smothered in custard. Yes, I’ve always loved to eat, but a healthy Mediterranean diet in Cyprus kept my fat gene in check. Back in England, I feasted on all the wrong food, as I had zero awareness of how to eat healthily (we’re Greek Cypriot – we don’t do portion control). I was also busy being a geek and trying to complete two years worth of GCSE work in one, which led to a lot of chomping on Munchies while I studied late into the night. I passed my exams with flying colours and gained 10 GCSE’s – along with a couple of stone in weight.
By this point the cute puppy fat had morphed into something rather larger (and less cute). Still not exactly obese (to this day I thank the universe for making me 5’8 – weight distributed over that kind of height is easier to hide), but not exactly svelte like the pretty women in the magazines. Yes, women’s magazines were the bane of my existence from the age of 16. The ladies that were pictured in these rags looked so impossibly beautiful to me – all flawless skin, endless legs, tiny waists and shiny hair. It’s only now that I’m well into my 30’s that I realise that all those images that were being fed to me were an illusion; a product of an increasingly airbrushed age.
I was nothing like the slim women in the magazines. Did that mean I’d never get a boyfriend or get promoted at work?
I quickly started to self-loathe. I’d flick through the magazines and feast on titles like ‘Slim your Way to Success,’ and ‘Look Gorgeous and Find The Man Of Your Dreams.’ I’d then look at my ever-expanding waistline and feel sick to my stomach. I was nothing like the slim women in the magazines. Did that mean I’d never get a boyfriend or get promoted at work?
Sounds overly simplistic, but thoughts like these really ran through my head, which is why I hate women’s magazines and the garbage they fill impressionable young girls’ heads with.
When I was in sixth form, my dad and step mum told me in a not so subtle way that it was time I lost some weight. They were concerned that if I carried on gaining I’d be putting my health at risk. And while I’m grateful to them for teaching me the art of moderation – moderate eating, moderate exercise (I needed it, after all) – I wasn’t mature enough mentally to deal with the awful questions running through my head. I honestly felt like I wasn’t good enough the way I was. In my mind, for my own loved ones to tell me that I needed to lose weight, I clearly wasn’t very desirable.
In my mind, for my own loved ones to tell me that I needed to lose weight, I clearly wasn’t very desirable.
But I did lose weight. I started walking to school instead of being dropped off. I also started working part-time at my dad’s shop, so I’d be on my feet for most of the weekend. I swapped caramel popcorn for raisins, fish and chips for steamed fish with veggies, and dessert for fruit. I still ate my favourite junk food, but it was a once a week treat rather than a daily occurrence.
As a result, the weight dropped off. I got compliments in school from classmates who had never even spoken to me before. I started to feel noticed. And it turns out this was a dangerous equation. You see, if you spend a good few years feeling like an outcast because of a few extra layers of fat (and the crappy magazines that you used to read echoed what you believed – to be skinny meant to be desirable), and then you shed those pounds and suddenly get attention from guys and girls alike, what you get is a young woman who is now set up to hate herself every time she gains a bit of weight in the future.
And so that’s what I did for the next ten years.
The university ‘Borderline Bulimic’ years
In my second year of university I was living away from home so I was finally able to control every single thing that I ate. It started out all well and good – I’d eat loads of grapes instead of grazing on chocolate, I swapped meat for Quorn, and I tried to eat healthily. But eventually it turned into an obsession. I was a healthy size 12 at this point, but it wasn’t good enough – I wanted to be slimmer. In my head, being thin equaled to being happy. I started skipping meals whenever I could. On some days, I’d do ‘juice only’ cleanses, where I basically drank a smoothie and some apple juice during the entire day. I was hungry most of the time, and to this day only a couple of people know of how bad my calorie counting obsession was.
Then, inevitably, I’d also binge. After depriving myself of food for weeks, I’d sit and eat everything in sight until I felt sick. I tried to make myself throw up a few times but was never successful. That stomach of steel of mine is a tough one to crack. But I vividly remember being in our dingy bathroom in the house that I shared with five friends, toothbrush in hand, trying to be sick. It still fills with me with sadness to this day.
But I vividly remember being in our dingy bathroom in the house that I shared with five friends, toothbrush in hand, trying to be sick. It still fills with me with sadness to this day.
This went on for the best part of a year. If it wasn’t for one of my housemates and close friends at the time, I wonder if I would still be the same self-loathing mess that I was. My housemate Sophie was beautiful and curvy – and happy to be curvy. While I’d be counting the calories in my salad, she’d be busy cooking up Bajan macaroni pie and Jamaican jerk chicken.
I have no idea if she ever knew the extent of my eating issues – after all, I did my best to hide them – but she had a huge impact on my life. I saw how she wore whatever she wanted – she didn’t worry about whether her ass looked big or if she was ‘dressing for her size.’ She didn’t seem to give a shit. She also didn’t give a shit about calories. Being in her company really helped me to become more comfortable with the way I looked, and I started to relax my eating habits. The sad part is, when I look back at pictures of myself I realise there was nothing wrong with my weight.
The ‘I’ll Look Better When I Lose a Few More Pounds’ twenties
Fast-forward to my 20s. I was living in Dubai and drinking way too much. If I was ever unhealthy, it was during those first four years; I barely exercised and existed on a diet of Champagne and Nando’s (I’m all glamour, me).
I don’t recall ever being overly happy with my body – I always thought that I could do with losing a few pounds. And now that I look back on my life I realise I spent most of it wishing I was just a bit lighter – no matter how big or small I was at the time.
And now that I look back on my life I realise I spent most of it wishing I was just a bit lighter – no matter how big or small I was at the time.
In 2011, I got a new job which came with a gruelling three hour commute every day. Out were the midweek parties and in was Bikram yoga. One of the reasons I loved Bikram – a type of yoga that’s done in a room that’s heated to 40.6 degrees Celsius – was that it made me less prone to road rage (something that I needed on that daily commute to Abu Dhabi).
Soon enough, my diet began to change. When you’re in a Bikram studio, you quickly realise that what you eat matters – a lot. You cannot show up having just eaten a curry, for example. It will hinder your practice. So I began to eat very healthily without really meaning to – loads of fruit, steamed vegetables with chicken, and very limited alcohol.
The weight I had gained during my years of excess partying dropped off. Soon enough, I was the slimmest I have ever been in my adult life. But despite that fact, I still vividly remember trying on clothes and thinking I looked hideous in them. I now look back on pictures of myself at that time and I wish I could time travel and give myself a tight slap – I looked fantastically healthy and I had zero idea that I did. I was too busy wishing I could lose a bit more.
I spent most of my twenties single, too. It wasn’t that I couldn’t get a boyfriend – I had relationship issues that I won’t go into here. But I did have a warped idea of what I thought men found attractive. The truth is, we’re led to believe that thin equals hot. And having this thought in my head (coupled with this stupid idea that I wasn’t thin enough) made me always feel like I wasn’t good enough. Even when I’d meet guys who, looking back on it, were so blatantly into me, I’d think ‘well, I’m not slim so he cannot possibly like me.’
Now I realise that it was all psychological; the minute I felt that I had lost a bit of weight I’d feel more confident, which, let’s face it, is sexy. It’s as simple as that. It never had anything to do with my weight.
It didn’t help that I also felt that I got more attention from men when I was slimmer. Now I realise that it was all psychological; the minute I felt that I had lost a bit of weight I’d feel more confident, which, let’s face it, is sexy. It’s as simple as that. It never had anything to do with my weight.
The ‘Sod This, I’m Happy The Way I Am’ thirties
After I turned 29, I finally met someone. Yes, me – the eternally single ‘I just want to party’ girl. I met a wonderful guy who, hurrah, loves my curves. It’s taken me a good portion of this relationship to finally feel completely comfortable with my body and Ankit has really helped me with that.
I’ve gained weight over the last year or so – a combination of travel (I live to travel and I travel to eat) and the dreaded decline of my already dreadfully slow metabolic rate (even jump leads won’t make mine go any faster) has led to a bit of excess baggage. But for the first time in my life, I’m bloody happy with the way I look. I’ve slowly, over the years, come to the realisation that being thin doesn’t mean being happy; I’ve been thinner than I am now and totally miserable. Yes, I have a layer of flab on my belly that I don’t care much for, and my arms aren’t as toned as they were during my Bikram days – but this is my body and I’ve learnt to love it just the way it is.
Yes, I have a layer of flab on my belly that I don’t care much for, and my arms aren’t as toned as they were during my Bikram days – but this is my body and I’ve learnt to love it just the way it is.
Not being permanently hung up on the way I look is a liberating feeling that has come with age. It allows me to enjoy that extra helping of bangers and mash without berating myself about it afterwards. It allows me to say, yes, I’m attractive the way I am. I don’t have anything to prove to anyone.
It’s been a long and, at times, painful journey. I’m happy to be at the stage that I am now, but it saddens me to see so many beautiful women go through the same agonising journey. I hope that by sharing my story I can highlight that it’s a never-ending battle until you learn to truly accept your body the way it is. Don’t make the mistake that I made. I spent the best part of a decade agonising over my weight and I can tell you with confidence that being thinner doesn’t mean you’ll be happier. Happiness comes from within – not from a number that you see on the scale.
What have I learnt?
No amount of weight loss will ever be enough to make you ‘happy,’ so learn to love your body the way it is first.
You should aim to get fit for the right reasons – to be stronger, healthier, fitter. Not to get thin.
Yes, some men like slim women. Loads of men like curvy women, too. There’s no set rule for what’s attractive.
Moderation is the key – have that cake, just don’t have it every day.
We’re being sold a beauty ideal that’s impossible to attain. Learn to be you, not the model in the magazine.
Working on your mind is just as important as working on your body.
Discussing calories and how bad you were for eating that doughnut is tedious. Really.
Being confident and happy is attractive. Being self-conscious and miserable isn’t.
You only live once. Don’t waste your life worrying about how you look. Dance like there’s no tomorrow, read, eat great food and drink delicious wine, immerse yourself in different cultures, smile, and throw caution to the wind. There’s far too little time to do anything but.