I’m exhausted. I really am. Although I’m generally quite an optimistic and positive person, I’m also a complete realist; I know that we all have good days and bad days, that the internet is full of bitter and lonely people that have nothing better to do than pull others down, and that sometimes drawing a line and moving on is the best way to deal with situations. But in the last couple of weeks I’ve felt myself falling deeper and deeper into a pit of despair that’s just left me mentally drained. And the source of this exhaustion? Continual comments about my appearance and weight.
I’m sick and tired of strangers feeling the need to tell me I need to go on a diet, that I’m going to die prematurely, or questioning why I’ve ballooned so much. I’m exhausted with the fact every time I go to approve my comments, there’s another anonymous hate-filled observation or criticism about why ‘fat people always have bruises everywhere’ or that ‘you better marry him fast, before you peg it’. I’m over the idiots that make it their mission to prove that I’m lying about my dress size, and spend their days leaving horrid essays on every one of my channels. The worrying thing is that this is just the tip of the iceberg: so many other women are on the receiving end of online hate that eats away at them until their confidence is in the gutter. So many gorgeous individuals are being told they look like a beached whale, that they’re costing the NHS too much money, or that they should just hurry up and kill themselves so other people’s eyes aren’t so offended. It’s horrific. It’s unacceptable. It needs to stop.
To help you understand where my head is at, let me tell you my story… I’ve not necessarily ‘struggled’ with my weight, but I’ve always had issues with my appearance and food in general. As a child I was always the little one that was cute and pocket-sized, helped by the fact that I used to have at least three dance lessons as week and spent many years performing on stage. When I hit my teenage years I started to fill out in places that made me feel awkward, taking to hiding my changing figure and facing comments from other girls about my boobs every time it was PE class. I remember thinking I was so much bigger than everyone else (I wasn’t at all, I just had puppy fat) and would always tie my jumper around my waist to help conceal the fact that I wasn’t as super skinny as the other kids. During the next few years I developed pretty horrendous eating habits due to the influence of my parents, who loved biscuits and chocolates like nobody else I’ve ever experienced; to this day we still joke that my mum was never able to eat just a handful of After Eights at Christmas – before you’d had a chance to take one, she’d devoured the whole box.
Those bad habits rubbed off, paired with a complete lack of food education that lead me to think nibbling on a slab of cheese was actually healthy. (True story, I used to cut off a slice before dance class as I thought it was better than a bowl of Frosties.) But what made it worse was the constant criticism I received during the most fragile years of a young girl’s life, which just made me even more insecure about my appearance. Some of my earliest memories include my Year 7 teacher telling me “Hayley, you do know just because you eat three donuts followed by three apples, it doesn’t make it healthy?” as a way of explaining how our body works; rather than helping, she just made me want donuts as a way to comfort myself after feeling completely pinpointed and ostracized.
My games teacher throughout secondary school used to deliberately put me in positions I wasn’t capable of, just to make me run about a bit (I can vividly remember running up and down the hockey pitch with little purpose and feeling like I was being made a fool of,) rather than allowing me to play to my strengths. My gym teacher made me feel like an idiot because I couldn’t do a roly-poly very well, when actually my main priority was trying not to look like a fat lump in my gym pants and t-shirt. (Seriously, who thinks that’s a good uniform for growing young girls?) Even my dance teacher used to criticise my weight and make me take my baggy tee off, so I found myself standing in front of a room of other kids wearing nothing other than a glorified swimming costume in order to do shuffle-ball-changes. It was all about control and shaming me into slimming down.
My entire school years I was made to feel less worthy, like less of a human, because I was a bit tubbier than the rest and not at all athletically inclined. Your entire value was placed on the size of your waist and how fast you could run the 100 metres, when all I wanted to do was write an essay or research what happened during Henry VIII’s third marriage. (The irony of the fact I was always top of my class and academically ‘excellent’, but this was of little value if you couldn’t take part in the swimming relay.) Unfortunately rather than helping, all these righteous teachers only exacerbated the problem that was there in its infancy; I turned to comfort eating and hiding myself away, unaware of who I really was or why anybody would ever like me. The weight piled on, the bullying started, and before I knew it I was a size 18-20 fifteen year old whose mother was frequenting the head’s office to find out what could be done about the fact I was clearly blooming miserable. One of the most embarrassing experiences of my life was being so big I couldn’t even fit into our regulation school skirt, instead having to wear a navy pencil skirt from Evans and carry around a note with me in case I was stopped by a teacher who wanted to know why I wasn’t in full uniform. Can you imagine?
Just before my sixteenth birthday my parents split up. Maybe that’s a story for another day, and one that’s had a profound impact on my future relationships and reliance only upon myself, but what that did trigger was the need to change something. My mum decided to lose the weight that had crept up on her over the years (she went from a size 24 to a 16 within a matter of months,) and I followed suit – I went from a size 18-20 to a size 10 over the course of six months and had never felt better. When I went back to school it was like I was re-born; everyone wanted to be my friend, everyone wanted to hang out and everyone wanted to introduce me to the boys at the bus stop after school. I’d gone from being the kid at the party that was called names behind her back, to the one all the boys wanted to talk to at the disco. Unsurprisingly, this change in attitude towards me lead to a really unhealthy association that took the best part of a decade to break: that my value was intrinsically linked to my appearance. Can you blame me? When I was fat I was shamed and picked on and treated like less of a human, but when I was slim I was all of a sudden one of the most popular girls in school.
Over the next ten years my obsession with controlling my weight and intake of food got dangerously close to an eating disorder. Although I would never have considered myself to have a problem at the time, in retrospect its clear that I had some serious issues. While at Uni I’d happily skip meals and spend my money on alcohol, keeping a lid on any weight gain while filling my diary with fun things – two birds, one stone and all of that. Post Uni I’d frequently go on the Slim Fast diet for weeks at a time and survive on little else other than a couple of shakes a day and possibly a salad; this wasn’t helped by a boyfriend who’d subtly criticise everything from the outfits I wore to the size of my backside, which unsurprisingly lead me to start religiously counting every single calorie that was being consumed and burned during a daily basis. This went on and on, until one day I just had enough. I don’t know what clicked, but it was a light-bulb moment that left me wondering why I’d spent so much time worrying about my weight when I had far more important things to focus on.
I was finally able to stand up and say, both to myself and others, “I’m far more than the label in my dress.”
Although I finally found my inner as well as outwardly facing confidence, the bloggersphere has definitely opened up old wounds like I never anticipated over the last seven years. It’s a funny old place, with so much diversity and so much talent, but most of the time there’s very much a certain ‘type’ of blogger that’s most visible and commercial; as long as you’re young, pretty and slim, you’re in. If you’re not, then too bad. I spent such a long time being self-deprecating and hiding behind a flat lay, because when I dared to show my face or be part of a YouTube video I’d get comments along the lines of “I didn’t realise you were so fat.” No matter how confident you are in yourself and your abilities, it hurts; it stings when someone points out your own insecurities and turns them on you, and no matter how much you tell yourself to ignore it, it’s far easier said than done. I’ve had sleepless nights pondering over comments I’ve been left or hurtful messages I’ve received, when I really do know better than to do so – but we’re only human and it’s easy to take things to heart.
Four years ago I met a guy that instantly felt like my soul mate; he loved me unconditionally for who I was, not just what I looked like, and made me feel like the most beautiful person on earth. Josh has done incredible things for my self confidence (even if I’ve never really spoken about many of my issues with anyone until now,) and without his support and love I would never have been able to start putting more of myself on this blog. He’s given me the inner strength to brush away those criticisms and nasty comments and focus on doing something great: although it was awkward and uncomfortable to start with, now I love creating outfit posts and sharing with you what I’m wearing; I love being able to showcase my new favourites, or the way I’m styling up a pair of shoes. A year ago I really wouldn’t have been able to do that, no matter how confident I may have appeared from the outside. However, with putting myself ‘out there’ comes the inevitable criticism and those online trolls rearing their ugly heads once again.
I don’t see myself as fat. Yes I’ve got fat bits (hello bingo wings and sticky-out tummy,) but I see myself as a curvy size sixteen woman who’d rather put her efforts into enjoying life than saying no to a slice of cake. I’m healthy and active, I’ve never taken drugs, I rarely drink more than a glass of wine a week, I don’t eat dairy, I don’t binge on takeaways and pizzas, I go to the gym two or three times a week and I walk practically everywhere I need to go. My only vice is coffee. Yes my BMI may tell me I’m too large, but my smile and my outlook tell me I’m just right. I love my eyes, I’ve got a cracking jawline when positioned just right, and my hip-to-waist ration is like something out of a 1950’s pin-up mag. Looking back at pictures of me from my teens and twenties, I look worryingly thin and out of proportion; I was meant to have curves and wobbly bits, but most of all I was meant to enjoy my life and the slices of cake that come with it. Our time on this earth is too short to worry and say no to everything that’s good, just so our jeans can be a size or two smaller.
My positivity and happiness right now comes from a place of despair and discontent; after many years of struggling with my own value and self worth, I finally feel like I’m in a place where I can shove two fingers up at those in the world that have ever put me down. So it’s typical that it’s when I finally feel at ease that I’m on the receiving end of comments that once again criticize my appearance. To give you a few examples of the kind of things left for me…
“Why have you put on so much weight recently?”
(I haven’t, I’ve actually lost a bit. But not every outfit I wear is going to be super slimming – who cares.)
“Eugh, are you marrying him quickly before he changes his mind?!”
(We’re getting married quickly because we have the money to do so and I’m an organisational master.)
“Why do fat people always have bruises all over their bodies?”
(Ironically it’s because I fell off a machine in the gym while concentrating more on my crime podcast than workout.)
“I’m so glad you stayed under the pool for that shot!”
(I stayed in the pool because I’d been ill for three days and it was the only way I felt better.)
“He wants to marry you for a long life together, which won’t be the case if you stay at that size.”
(I’m healthy and happy. My lifespan is not being shortened by anything, thank you very much.)
“Size 16?! Haha, more like a 20 at least…”
(Not that I need to justify myself in any way, but I’ll happily do a live stream from my wardrobe.)
“I didn’t realise you were this fat. Your profile picture is deceptive.”
(Oh bugger off you bitter and twisted loser.)
It’s exhausting and it’s starting to take its toll. I’m not alone in experiencing this at all, if anything online abuse received by women is so prolific that it’s actually unusual if you’re not on the receiving end, and I’m lucky (if you can call it that) that the comments left for me are ignorant and unnecessary rather than downright abusive or illegal. Recently a fellow blogger and ultimate babe Callie Thorpe received hundreds of comments about her appearance following a groundbreaking appearance in Vogue; she was pictured in her bikini alongside supermodels, and celebrated for her effortless style and general sass. However, rather than allowing her to take this moment in and remember her amazing achievement, those little online balls of hate proceeded to leave some of the most horrific things I’ve ever read online. In response Callie recorded a hugely emotional video (which has now been viewed over 85,000 times) where she quite bravely called those ugly humans out and said something needs to be done. That these comments are not acceptable and those that leave them should be held accountable.
Callie is an inspiration to so many women and proves that you can be happy, healthy and successful whatever your size – and that you can look good in a bikini whether you’re a supermodel or twenty-something girl from Wales. She does so much good and is a positive force for change amongst the constant negativity women online face today. I’m hugely proud of what she’s achieved, and even more so of what she will inevitably achieve in the future, but it shouldn’t take so much hate for the conversation to start. Vogue have been hugely supportive of her during this rollercoaster ride (she wrote a response to the hate here) and should be applauded for their commitment to showing women of all shapes and sizes across their channels and in their pages. (More sooner rather than later please!)
But it’s not just me and it’s not just Callie. On my recent podcast episode with Emily Clarkson of Pretty Normal Me, we discussed the online abuse she received as a vulnerable teenager about her weight and appearance purely because she had the audacity to be born to a famous father. (She’s also written about why we need people like Callie to keep fighting for girls everywhere.) Grace Victory has spoken out about the attitude towards women and the obsession with size across her blog and social channels on so many occasions, and Georgina Horne openly shares comments left on her social channels as a way of illustrating its not ok. (Both of these ladies discuss it on my podcast too if you fancy listening to their episodes!) The list goes on and on – it’s never ending. Ironically it’s been proven that fat shaming doesn’t help people to lose weight or become healthier (read this article if you’re interested in finding out more,) but does in fact the opposite, so what do these online haters think they’re achieving?
Why are we so obsessed with the appearance of other people? Why are so many members of society more offended by fat than they are by racism, homophobia, sexisim or inequality? Why do people feel that it’s their right or job to point out what they deem to be ‘health issues’, but would never dream of criticizing a smoker in the same way? Why do we think pinpointing someone’s insecurities will give them the motivation to change them? Why are we so interested in strangers dress sizes or what they’re doing with their lives? Why, why, why have we ended up this way?
I’m not really sure what I wanted to achieve with this post, and it’s certainly not ended up the way it started, but I just feel like the more we talk about this and the more we say it’s not ok, the more likely we are to see change. I’ve no doubt that those ugly little weasels who love to leave me anonymous comments will rear their heads in anger once they get to the end of this post, but on the positive side every page hit is a hit I’ll take – those nasty humans just keep helping this girl on her way to success.
So to every one of you that’s ever left a nasty, hateful or unnecessary comment or dared to criticise a woman’s appearance… Here’s a picture of my fabulous ass. Kiss it.
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