I recently went on holiday to Greece with my family. Travelling with a 14 month old who’s just learnt to walk meant the trip wasn’t that restful, but it was lovely to get away nonetheless. Although I wanted to focus on enjoying time with my son on our first holiday together, I found my attention being drawn to how I felt in a bikini and comparing myself negatively to other women on the beach. I was frustrated with myself for wasting energy and time on the toxic disfunction I thought I had recovered from. I should emphasise that this has nothing to do with how I actually look, and everything to do with a warped perspective of myself; a hangover from the eating disorder that developed in my teens.
Although my particular circumstances are not universal, I know I’m not alone in feeling insecure about my body. Stripping off in public is nerve wracking for lots of people, regardless of how they feel about their physique while at home. Fortunately, the way women are represented in the media is changing and we’re being exposed to more than one body type. This is important as it goes some way to validating anyone who doesn’t fit the impossibly young and skinny beauty ideal. This is partly thanks to the Body Positive movement on social media, which celebrates bodies that society has told us are unacceptable for a variety of arbitrary reasons. The mainstream media is gradually following suit with editors like Edward Enninful featuring a more diverse group of models on the covers of British Vogue.
The movement has taken strides in the right direction, in terms of encouraging women to embrace their natural shape and to reject diet culture. By diet culture I mean the toxic messages peddled by the diet industry, insisting that your body needs to be altered in order to be worthy. This results in a negative cycle of buying into weight loss programmes which are doomed to fail, leaving the consumer feeling dejected, worthless and heavier than they were when they started. I support Body Positivity and its collective advocacy for diversity and eating disorder recovery. However, I think that the movement has inadvertently created another form of pressure with the potential to be destructive. It has become a taboo to admit that you want to lose weight and doing so is a betrayal of feminist values and a slavish devotion to diet culture.
After having my son, I wanted to lose the 35lbs I’d gained and I’m not ashamed to admit that. I started the Body Coach 90 day plan six weeks after giving birth and I was particularly desperate to start exercising again. I rely on cardio to help manage my bipolar disorder; when I’m low the endorphins provide a natural high and when I’m manic I’m able to burn off my excess energy. It took longer than 90 days, but I did eventually get back to my pre-pregnancy weight. While I was losing weight, I would look back on old photos of myself and I vowed that if I ever looked like that again, I would never give myself a hard time for the way I looked. This is partly why I was mad at myself on holiday, as I did not manage to live up to my promise. I am mostly recovered from my eating disorder but the negative thought patterns still linger. Although Body Positivity is helpful, it is not a cure for illnesses as tenacious and insidious as Bulimia, Anorexia or Binge Eating Disorder.
I don’t intend to be a role model for weight loss, or even an advocate for body positivity or eating disorder recovery. I’ve managed to find a reasonable balance with my diet and exercise. Although it’s far from perfect, it’s my version of recovery. I don’t think that eating disorders ever really go away. Recovery is much like managing an addiction to drugs or alcohol; you’re always an addict, no matter how long you’ve been sober. I think the Body Positivity movement is well-meaning and intended to be a genuine force for good in the world, but depicting dieting as something shameful is not helpful. I have huge admiration and respect for the women on my Instagram feed who celebrate their natural shape. I’m not quite there yet and that’s ok.