(Editor's note: This wasn't the post that I had planned for this week's From The Editor. Some of you may or may not know that, for the past fortnight, I've been running The Unedit from a poolside on the Costa Brava. Yesterday, I saw something that reminded me of why The Unedit exists and who it exists for. This is for her, The Girl In The White T-Shirt.)
To The Girl In The White T-Shirt,
I'm sorry I don't know your name, but we've never officially met.
Having said that, you impacted me in ways that I can't even seem to describe. I saw you yesterday, laughing and smiling, entering the pool area with your family. I distinctly remember that you were wearing a gorgeous red dress; I even told my boyfriend that how much the colour suited you and how wonderful you looked. I turned away for a few minutes to top up my sunscreen, and when I looked back, everything had changed. You were sat with your feet dangling over the edge of the pool, with no sign of a smile, wearing an oversized white t-shirt.
At first, I thought you may have been a bit sunburnt and wanted to keep cool but keep your skin covered. Then I realised that I was in fact lying to myself, that you weren't sunburnt; that I'd seen it all before. The nervous look on your face as you were looking around to see who's watching. The constant pulling of the shirt so that it never clings to the curves of your stomach. The desperate attempt to stretch the fabric over your knees to hide your thighs.
What I'm trying to say is I'm writing this letter because I was like you once upon a summer. On holiday in scorching temperatures, too scared to show an inch of my body. An oversized t-shirt was my ultimate companion and followed me everywhere I went. Not because it was some sort of fashion statement, but because it covered all the lumps and bumps that would otherwise be on show, disgracing myself and, in my mind, disgusting others.
Seeing you do exactly what I did all those years ago brought me close to tears. I'm not sure whether it was because it brought back lots of emotions, or because in years since, I've learned to love my body. It could well be both. All I know is that I just wanted to walk over and sit down by you, tell you how beautiful you are and give you a big hug. Seeing the look on your face, the way you hid your body so ashamed of it. The sadness and hatred that you had for your body was written all over your face. It truly broke my heart.
Your little brother asked you to play several times, but you avoided it; every time your hands were free of the beach ball he asked you to throw, you returned them back to the same place, in your lap where you could keep control of how much flesh you had on show.
Knowing that I couldn't actually approach you - what with language barriers and so on - I desperately tried to think of ways in which I could possibly help you to feel more comfortable. With that, I decided to sit up, mirror your position on the opposite side of the pool and let you - and the rest of the people around the pool - see me embracing my bikini body. My stomach rolls, my fat thighs, my cellulite.
After a while, you got up, walked to the very edge of the sunbathing area and (very discreetly) took off the white t-shirt. By this time, I was floating around in the pool, and out loud (but not too loud, nobody heard me), found myself cheering for you, good girl! Not because I was trying to be patronising or to make a big deal out of your shirt coming off, but I knew what fear and self-consciousness you were conquering in doing that, regardless of the fact that you were facing the wall in an attempt to hide yourself away. I was so proud of you.
Even then, to me, your anxieties shone through. You kept your shorts on, you pulled at them to try and make them cover more of your thighs. I've been there. Maybe if I keep my shorts on and make them sag around my thighs, my legs will look smaller. I just wanted to come and tell you that it's okay, and you don't need to hide yourself from anybody.
I stayed around the pool for as long as I could, and when it was time to leave I was reluctant. Despite us never even exchanging a single word, I found myself protective of you, like I needed to be around to keep you from any negative experience that could make you fall deeper into hatred with your body.
I just want you to know that whatever person/boy/magazine told you that you weren't enough - that you weren't pretty enough, thin enough, or made you feel like you were nothing - they were wrong. I don't know much (i.e. anything) else about you, but you are not only beautiful. You are smart. You are funny. You are a good friend. You are loved. You are worthy... I could go on.
To you, us crossing paths was likely nothing, I was probably just the fat girl at the swimming pool. To me, however, it was significant. Seeing you reminded me of my struggles for my own self-acceptance, of the reason that I left high fashion, of the reason that I started up The Unedit.
The love story between you and your body has barely begun; you're all each other have, so it's best to be in it for the long haul. You deserve to spend your days freed from that white cotton prison, and I hope one day you find that not only do you not have to hide away, but you don't want to, either.
I pray that one day you can look at your body and make peace with it, and celebrate everything that it offers you: life, movement, incredible experiences. Until then, I hope that you at least allow yourself to enjoy the memories that you're making right now, even if you're finding it hard to love the skin that you're in. There's more to beauty, or to life for that matter, than a tiny waist and a thigh gap, even if it doesn't seem that way at 16.
All my love,
Founder and Editor of The Unedit