The skin I’m in

Been involved in some conversations recently about body image, and trying to practice a little self love. I find it utterly remarkable, whilst unsurprising, how difficult women seem to find it to say anything positive about the way they look. Now I have been in the overweight BMI category for as long as I have known about BMI, and to be perfectly honest, I’m ok with that.

I come from a family of food lovers, and I am the thinnest of them. As a young child I was perpetually ill and dangerously underweight. All the photos of me show bones sticking out all over the place.

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I spent quite a lot of time in hospital. Around age nine I had surgery which seemed to cure my health problems overnight, and at the same time I put on a lot of weight. Looking at photos of myself now I was still a perfectly sensible weight, but as a teenager I suddenly became acutely aware of my weight, and that I wasn’t as skinny as some of my friends. I had a couple of tricky years where I fasted, then binged, and would frequently make myself sick.  It was a big part of my teenage angst years. Then for some reason I just stopped.

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Since then I have really paid very little attention to my weight. I think I went around fifteen years without weighing myself once. There were other things about my body that bothered me, the fact my feet were too long to fit into most shoes, that I could go to a shoe shop and not find a single pair in my size. The same with my crazily long legs, trying to find trousers that actually reached the floor was an absolute mission. These concerns were more logistical than actually disliking my body however, and only reared its head when shopping time came around.

Despite growing up with a mother who was always on a diet, who went from fad to fad to fad, who was sometimes only taking liquid food, or calorie counting or cutting out huge food groups, somehow I managed to avoid it all. I saw her getting larger and larger despite the dieting and she would repeatedly tell me that “diets make you fat”. It seems she was unable to truly absorb her own wisdom, but it definitely sunk in for me.

So my weight has naturally fluctuated over the years. As a very junior doctor, working crazy hours, running between five floors of patients and on a constant rush of terrified adrenaline I never found time to eat really, and consequently became my thinnest adult self. In the flushes of true love and contentment, a very dull job where I sat in the mess for days on end, and had a hormone implant sat in my arm, I became quite a bit rounder. Within days of taking the hormone implant out weight started falling off me, and I continued to get thinner and thinner until the removal had its desired effect of becoming pregnant! Following both my pregnancies I find that around a year after giving birth all my baby weight, plus a little extra for luck, just disappears, I stay like that for a while and then it slowly starts going up again. I seem to be at the beginning of that going up stage now, two years after my son arrived, and I’m not massively concerned. Not enough to diet or beat myself up that’s for sure.

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Instead I hope to continue enjoying my life. Spend time digging in the garden and playing with the kids. Going for long walks in the woods or across the beach, often with a little extra weight to help me burn calories!

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We now have an hours walk to school and back on a regular basis, which I have really enjoyed. Me and my daughter have conversations on a daily basis about foods that are good for our bodies and foods that are good for our souls, and that we should have both. It’s just about getting the balance right. Most of our food is cooked from scratch, some of it is even grown from scratch. My children can identify a wide range of fruits and vegetables and have at least tried most of them. They also have a packet of crisps and a biscuit each every day, which I resisted for a long time, but now accept as fine, all part of living in moderation and not demonising food. I definitely don’t think fat is the devil and even sugar has a pretty wonderful place to play in my world. We love food and most weeks will experiment with new recipes, new flavours and ingredients. My two year old will try anything, and my five year old, who once scoffed down absolutely anything you offered, now seems to be coming out the other end of an incredibly fussy stage. I have tried to just keep offering our wide range of food without too much pressure on her to eat it, and it seems to be working.

Maybe it’s because I’m a doctor, but me and my daughter have lots of conversations about our bodies and how they work, what they do. Nudity is not an issue in our house, particularly all sharing a bedroom it’s kind of unavoidable, but my children know just what I look like underneath my clothes, and that I’m comfortable with that. If they decide to have a little crazy dance and chase moment at bedtime (pretty much every bloody day!) then I try to join in, often half dressed myself with my soft, round, stretch marked tummy wobbling away, and that’s ok. We talk about how our muscles move to make our bodies dance and jump, how our food gives us energy and helps us grow and repair. We talk about how our skin needs room to stretch and move with us, how our faces show our emotions. We also talk about penises and vulvas, about periods and the very first chats on sex and procreation. We talk about illness and death. I try to handle all questions openly  and honestly at their level and as matters of fact, answering what they want to know without burdening them with information they can’t understand. We talk about consent, about them owning their bodies, that they can always choose what happens to their own bodies, and that they can’t do anything to somebody else’s body without their consent. With that comes the responsibility of looking after their body, washing, brushing, dressing, feeding and exercising it to keep it safe and healthy. At five my daughter definitely understands these concepts and my son is starting to take them on board too it seems.

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Don’t worry. If this is all starting to sound a little too happy and smug, believe me I do have all the required self loathing that females are expected to have. I guess I just focus the majority of that onto who I am more than how I look. I criticise myself and lack all the confidence that a woman is supposed to. I guess I’m just working to try and stop my children from feeling they need to feel that way too.

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