Fighting the demons: Becoming body positive.

Fighting the demons: Becoming body positive.

November 22, 2016 0 By oliviazao

A collection of stories and personal journeys on battling body image doubts and achieving self-love.

A few weeks ago, I came across a photograph that had been taken of me in February last year and I was taken aback when I realised just how significant a change I had undergone…both physically and mentally. Below, is said photograph and below that, a photograph from August of this year.

February 2014

February 2014

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August 2015

As you can see, in the past year and a half, I’ve gained a lot of weight – something that’s not easily noticeable had you known or been around me during this time. My journey towards becoming healthier and, as a result, much happier has been a volatile one.

I first began to develop insecurities about my body at the tender age of 11. I was never exactly “fat” or overweight but for a number of years I had felt I was very chubby. A number of comments made by fellow students stayed with me: “Why are your thighs so big” and “You look pregnant”. I even remember being told when I started secondary school, that I’d be good at hockey because I was “big”. I never let on the effect these words had on me. Even if harm was unintended, they can sit and manifest in your mind and have a huge impact on your self-confidence.

I would say I lost this “puppy fat” around the age of 13/14 and for a long period, I was relatively indifferent to the way I looked. Once puberty hit, my main hangup became my behind; I was always incredibly embarrassed with how big it was and would do everything I could to try and hide it. I was a size 12 on the bottom and the old insecurities began to crop up again. During sixth form, I decided I simply had to lose weight. I used the school gym in my study periods and greatly reduced my calorie intake and…it worked. I got down to a size 8/10 and was relatively happy.

Things took a more serious turn in late 2013, after the breakup with my first ever boyfriend (I know, I know!) and I found myself in a very low period. My eating habits deteriorated rapidly; I never finished meals and would avoid eating out at all costs. It was during this same time that I became a regular Tumblr user. For anyone who has used the site, you will know that, whilst it has its merits and wonderfully pretty pictures, it’s not the best place to be when you have body image issues. I was constantly seeing images of pretty stick-thin girls with “thigh gaps” and I vowed to get one too. My goal weight was 7st 2lbs…100lbs. (Typing that out, has brought back a whole host of memories.) Now, even for my very petite height of 5’1, this goal weight was incredibly dangerous and unhealthy. My pursuit towards this goal resulted in the February 2014 image…lollypop-headed, frail and clearly underweight.

Another comment stuck with me, something along the lines of “She has the body of a 13-year-old boy” and it was around this time that I realised just how unhealthy I was. I began to go to the gym, doing a lot of weight-based training. I no longer played excessive attention to calorie intake and instead focussed on looking and feeling healthy. In September 2014, I moved to Italy for my year of study abroad and, inevitably, gained a lot of weight. I would say that a key part of “allowing” this to happen was the fact that, for the first semester, I didn’t have weighing scales. I was physically unable to meticulously weigh myself every day. Without this compulsion, I was actually able to enjoy food without constant worry. I also joined a gym in Italy where I continued with weight-based training.

After my year abroad, no longer surrounded by pizza and pasta, I almost slipped back into the old habit of body negativity. The thought of going on our usual family holiday in August and wearing a bikini filled me with dread. I lost a few pounds in the lead up but in a healthy way, cutting back on carbs and eating a lot more protein-rich foods. And, for the first time in a long time, I was genuinely happy with my body. That smile on the beach was genuine – a sign that I’d finally achieved the body confidence I had needed.

I’m now a healthy 8st 10lbs, though this fluctuates, and (though my nurse would like me to put on a little more weight still!) I am the happiest I have ever been with my body. I don’t weigh myself every day, there’s no need. I eat well but also indulge in treats, and, I plan on joining a gym again soon. Of course, I still have those days where I feel negatively about my appearance. At my age, in the world we live in, it’s inevitable. But I am no longer aspiring to an unnecessary extreme. You should only aspire to be the best version of yourself.

Love your body. Study it. Take care of it. Realise you are a work of art.

My story is just one out of millions of people battling issues with body image and self-confidence every day. I spoke to a range of people about their experiences and how they fought their demons, or if they’re in the process, their next steps. I hope you find their stories as inspiring as I did.

Iman’s Story:

I was never a fat child. Farrrr from fat. I was very skinny, thigh gap with nobbly knees. However my fascination with being ‘thin’ started once my interest in fashion started. I’ve always been in denial about my ‘body image’ problems, only recently I’ve been true to myself and acknowledged the fact I did have a problem. I always thought people like Beyonce, Naomi Campbell or Chanel Iman didn’t have stretch marks. In my eyes they had immaculate, smooth skin, no lumps and bumps. At a very young age I started dieting, obsessed with new diet fads. Eventually I stumbled across ‘pro-ana’ sites, websites dedicated to young girls who had eating disorders.

At this point I was 15/16 . I was very self-loathing. I had perfected the craft of hiding my feelings and not eating. Initially, I believed losing weight would make my stretch marks go away. something which I used to get constantly bullied about by ‘friends’ and even family. But, of course, my yo-yo dieting meant that I had even more stretch marks.

In 2012 I met my boyfriend. I had never ever dreamt of the idea of being with someone that would love me for every flaw. I never liked the idea of any man touching me, hence why I avoided relationships and intimacy. Whilst my friends were loosing their virginities, I was more concerned about someone actually seeing me naked. I don’t want to say my boyfriend made everything go away in an instant but for girls out there that think that having scars or “tiger stripes” as I like to call them, will prevent you finding love? I believe a MAN will love you for whatever flaw you have. A true man will help you overcome those fears and battles.

My battle with my body isn’t over but I no longer aspire to be size 6. I have days where I wish I could be a size 8 again (finding jeans with a big booty is hard) but nowadays I want my ass to be even bigger, a smaller waist maybe? Bigger boobs? As you can tell I’m not 100% satisfied but I’m so much happier.

The girl who used to cry and refuse to wear low-cut tops because of her stretch marks on her chest is now wearing bikinis freely on the beach.

Iman is a style blogger, YouTuber and Fashion Content Creator. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram: @ImanLeila !

Jacob’s Story*

The main issue I had was initially with my thighs being large. I don’t like being gender-biased, but for a female, it may be seen as more acceptable (I guess that also depends, though) but being a lad: it meant I had a large backside too.

This didn’t mean much to me at the start, as I wasn’t really insecure but my upper body was disproportionate in the sense that…my top half was too skinny. One day, on the way home, I was teased about my thighs and told “I have a really, really large bum”. This didn’t initially strike me or piss me off, or anything but it was one of those comments that stuck with me. It’s the curse of having a thought process that thinks / memory that remembers too strongly.

My weight spiralled out of control after that, just because of painstakingly trying to get the right proportions. Then, everyone just suddenly started asking why “I became so fat”.  I think that was the turning point for me:

“They will always have something to say, so take no notice & embrace thyself”. 

I wouldn’t say my body’s perfect now, I am around 75 kg, yet I feel I could be much healthier. It just stemmed from ‘feeling ugly’ inside…not even because of how my weight changed, but because of falling into the trap of listening to the vile words of others.

God creates us as us, and it’s such a beautiful thing loving who we are. Once we take that step forward, who can defeat us?

My next steps are probably to go to the gym and work on my body more. Not for others, though, but myself. I feel a proper exercise regime will help me get in the groove of keeping on my toes a lot more often, improve my work ethic through all channels.

Vicky’s Story

“Skinny bitch,” that was the last comment that was made towards my body and I assume from the tone that it was a compliment, but I’m not the ty

pe of tall and skinny that is paraded in magazines; that can effortlessly pull off the boxy shapes, bodycon and all things ‘skinny’ that dominate women’s clothing now. I’m petite with a distinct lack of everything I see integral to making a women’s form so beautiful, and attractive to men – the hips, the rounded behind, the defined waist – instead, I view my body from a place of ‘not enough;’ too small to be considered a contender, but not elegant enough for a enviable silhouette.

Since secondary school I’ve been acutely aware of, what was, a flat bottom, and slim hips, through comparison. Definitely not ‘black enough’ despite its slight athleticism, and since then I’ve become fixated on those features. Still now, at 25, I’ll stare at a woman’s hips with jealousy. ‘Man, she’s so lucky,’ I say in my head. Even in my diary, I must’ve been somewhere between 15 and 17-years-old when I drew a diagram of the shape of my stomach, thighs and behind in absolute disgust, with the desired picture next to it.

Although I’m older, those teenage insecurities haven’t left me entirely. With Instagram, the fitness community, and women of all ages looking, in my opinion, so close to perfect, it’s such a mental challenge to feel physically enough, and I’m aware that my body is perhaps not the ideal for guys of my age on first glance.

What I try to do is focus first on my wellbeing, that has been my priority for years and goes beyond squats and protein shakes. Avoiding images/ content which is going to make me feel less than is a must, which is why my Instagram was deactivated not all that long after I jumped on it, because it made me feel like shit! – in more ways than one. I still criticise my body (my breasts are the only part I stay in love with) but I know that when I eat well, exercise and am happy with life, everything looks and seems that much better in the mirror. Kudos to those girls with the master bodies, I honestly can’t see me working that hard lol.

Vicky Gayle,  of , is a freelance journalist and content writer. Connect with her on Twitter @Vi_Gayle!

Annabelle’s Story*

Issues I’ve had include anorexia and bulimia nervosa, bi-polar disorder and PTSD – as a result of sexual assault.

I grew up overweight. I would binge-eat. My family’s quite rough and when my brother passed away I started eating more. When I reached 15, I was displaying signs of bi-polar, started being bulimic, lost weight, and was really depressed.

I attempted suicide at 16, lived in a ward for 2 months and 2 weeks. I was then diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (which was later contested). I left, did my A levels, did rather well, then travelled and worked part-time for a couple years. I was sexually assaulted one evening. I was in an unsafe area of Johannesburg with a friend. She went to buy coke in some dingy rundown building, I stayed outside smoking, guys came and attacked me and dragged me off and yeah, whatever. So when I came out the hospital, I felt unable to eat. My metabolism was so weak then that I only dropped 12 more kilos in the months I’d eat 3/4 times a week. I was abusing my anxiety medication and drinking a lot and going out a lot and eventually, before uni, went to rehab. It was pointless, no one took me seriously when I said I had a food addiction they just said ‘stop the drinking’ (which was never a problem…unless i got drunk on dry, clear spirits to avoid eating) and stop the pills (which I was abusing). So I stopped, started uni, became a little happier I guess. Well, I learned to forget things and attended online support groups for people living with ED for like a month. Started putting on weight. (a lot)
I have not overcome it yet, if anything I’m starting to be unhappy again. I know that happiness is in balance but with my build, I was never made to look ‘skinny’ whilst healthy. I’d always be the chubby girl, or the one that’s a couple sizes above her friends. That’s just my constitution, so I need to learn to come to terms with that. I’ll see how it goes. I just want to finish school and feel like I’ve accomplished something away from all that crap.

Gav’s Story

Ever since I can remember I have always been thin for my height, I’m currently 6ft1 and 35 years old. I never really had an issue with my appearance when I was a child and growing up. Being a teen in the 1990’s obesity was not as common as it is now and I was not subjected to all the propaganda that seems to be rife online and in the media.

After going through issues with a head injury in 2004 and suffering life changing injuries, the fall out as well as having to learn to walk, talk, read and write again, I was also diagnosed with PTSD – post traumatic stress disorder. I received treatments for this but it was a long and laborious process. The full story of the accident I had can be found here:

During 2012 I had a lot of issues with my teeth that had occurred from the accident I had which I left to get worse, mainly due to all the other medical issues that where going on. This lead me into having a lot of work done on my mouth at the dentist, the wait for this work to be done caused my already thin self to lose more weight, mainly due to the not being able to eat properly.

Going through all of this made me more self-conscious and I became more aware of my outer appearance. The main issue with that appearance was how thin I was, in 2013 the lowest point of my weight issues, I was 8 stone, being 6ft1 I felt so self-conscious and would look in the mirror so much and not like what I saw, didn’t like friends taking photographs and if they did they would have to be at a certain angles as to hide how I looked. I would feel paranoid when walking down the street, thinking that others where looking at my thinness, laughing and sniggering as I walked by. Even though this was not the case, those are the thoughts that I had in my head. Once you have thoughts like that, they are hard to eradicate.

The pressures of the media and the focus on obese people made it even worse for me, as there was not much help around for people that where suffering like I was. Where do I turn to? Who do I talk to? I didn’t want to cause a fuss or keep going to the doctors, since I had been relying on the doctor for a lot of support with other issues I was going through. I didn’t want to be more of a burden that I already was, I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone about the issues I was going through. Eventually after hitting an all time low, I saw my doctor but to no avail he just told me to focus on getting better from my accident. I also took to speaking to councillors that had been assigned to help me through the PTSD, they where no help at all. So where should I go to get help for the issues of putting on weight? There was plenty of help for those that needed to lose weight, so why not for the opposite? Why is it such a taboo subject and not given even coverage in the media.

The pressures I felt where immense and I desperately wanted to gain the weight that was right for my height, 13 stone was the target. Currently I have managed to reach nearly 11 stone and I am a lot happier with where I am at now with my weight, I implemented a lot of changes from changing my diet, taking regular exercise and forcing myself to go out to places more, even when in my head I would be saying “I don’t want to be seen out” Breaking the mental barrier I had put up was extremely difficult.

Its not been an easy road, having to deal with so much but I have been progressing, even though the progress has been slow I can still see the good steps forward that I have made and that’s what I focus on now, the progression. That’s also how I know I will reach my target of 13 stone soon.

Now all we hear all the time is obesity this, fat that and the other, tax fatty food, stop people being overweight etc. But what about those that struggle to gain the weight through no fault of their own, what about us that have a high metabolism and need certain foods that are deemed to make us “obese” I find that I need those foods to help gain weight and to keep the weight. The system here in the UK doesn’t seem quite fair to me. I need so much of what is said to be the “wrong food” to be classed as a “healthy” weight.

I feel it’s wrong how the media is portraying what we eat in regards to our weight, everyone is different, different things work for different people. I feel that how obesity is “advertised” in the UK causes mental health issues that are deeply routed in our minds. Our focus is strayed away from the important things that could help us, more so we are directed to the things that keep businesses profiting from our issues or illnesses, thats what it seems to be through my personal experience. Even though now I have got through my serious issues with the weight or lack of weight, I do feel that there needs to be more real, honest help and support for those that have suffered or are suffering like I had been.

Gav Pauze aka DJ Pauze is a DJ, producer, poet and songwriter. You can find him on Twitter @PauzeRadio. 

(*Names and details have been changed.)

I hope that this post has been a useful insight. As always, my direct messages on Twitter are open and I’m always happy to have a chat if you need.

There are also a whole host of organisations and charities that offer help and advice with eating disorders, body image issues and mental health issues. For a comprehensive list, visit: It’s Good To Talk.