The major problem with any mental illness is that there is never a ‘cure’ that will suddenly make all of your problems go away. It often takes years of emotional support, and possible medical intervention, in order for you to see any improvement. Even then, people seem to assume that ten therapy sessions later, you will miraculously ‘get over it’ and never face those issues again. But that just isn’t the case.
I have always been large for my age. In fact, my mum used to say that I looked like I was already three months old when I was born, full head of hair and all. Lots of medical issues have meant that my weight has never been stable, from having and overactive Adrenal Gland from a young age, to being diagnosed with Polycystic Ovaries and Insulin Resistance. But despite all of the medical reasons for my being overweight, it was always my fault. It was always a problem that had to be fixed, and no matter how hard I tried, it was never good enough. I was never good enough. One doctor even accused me of stealing other people’s food when I was only five or six years old. I remember the day they came to my school and weighed us. The nurses tutted as they looked down at the scales, and sent me home with a letter telling my mum to cut down my food intake and to get me to do more exercise; they didn’t care that I was the netball captain and taking part in other sports like cricket and tag rugby. Medical professional after medical professional told me to try harder. It felt like I had to stop eating all together.
So I did. At ten years old, I decided to try and take control, and I stopped eating properly. I would try and limit myself to only a few bites of each thing in my lunch box, then chuck the rest away. I was so miserable; I couldn’t concentrate and I had absolutely no energy. Eventually it got too much, and after a particularly upsetting day at school of being picked on for my size, I went to the shop and bought every sweet thing in sight. I spent all the pocket money I had on me. And I ate almost all of it, hiding the rest under my bed. It began a cycle of binge eating and yo-yo dieting I continued all through my teens.
It’s true that children benefit physically and mentally from an active lifestyle and healthy eating. But there is a balance, and I think people forget just how impressionable young children are. When you're filling their heads with diet talk from such a young age, you’re pre-disposing them to an unhealthy relationship with food. When you tell them to lose weight, you’re singling them out as different, and telling them they don’t measure up to their friends and peers. By putting such huge pressure on children, we are asking them to grow up before their time. There is so much more to childhood than focusing on weight, such as giving children the emotional security they need to become well-adjusted young adults.
It was only a few years ago, when I first heard of Tess Holiday, that I discovered the body positive movement, and I cannot begin to tell you the amazing affect it’s had on my mental state. In fact, it’s only as I’m writing this that I am recognising just how much of a change there has been within myself. Seeing all these absolutely beautiful, diverse people made me believe that for once, I might actually be enough. I see now that I do fit in, because I’m not constrained to trying to be society’s version of ‘acceptable’ anymore. I only wish that I had been exposed to such a positive influence from a younger age.
I’m not saying that the body positive movement has somehow ‘fixed’ me. I still have depression and anxiety, and I still binge eat sometimes. But it has given me the confidence to fight back against my body issues. When those voices in my head scream you are not enough, I’ve learnt to shout right back, says who? After all these years, I finally recognise the destructive behaviour and I know that, for the sake of my mental health, I need to stop and re-evaluate my thought processes.
Thanks to body positivity, I know that my size does not define me, and neither do my mental illnesses. We are all worthy. We all deserve respect. We all deserve to love ourselves and be happy. I fully believe these are the principles that we need to be instilling in the children around us, instead of forcing ideals of weight loss on to them.