Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Wrong Scale

 "Our daughters have learned to measure their worth by the wrong scale"

That's not a painting, that's me in a bikini.

Ages ago I wrote a post called 'on a serious note', it was my argument for why everyone should learn to accept their bodies. In it I said "One day I might try to explain on my blog why I grew up loving and accepting the person I am and the body I have". I've not really thought about that statement for a while, and then I got an email that included this sentence...

"I’m so glad that you were able, for reasons you didn’t say (?), to have avoided the horror of self-hatred like that. It’s incredibly damaging and it leaves such a deep, ugly wound. I’m trying very hard to undo it all atm"

My big sis would probably describe me as a show-off!

It got me thinking. It's so hard to put into words, but I tried. I thought about it for hours, and really tried to look back and remember little moments of triumph and failure. I wrote an essay. It included lots of extremely personal details. It was like a mini autobiography about how I discovered who I am. It just felt self important and over the top to be honest! Then I stepped away for a while and when I read it back I realised that it was entirely unnecessary to go into such graphic detail. A few things became very clear when looking back at my life, the biggest one being that in essence I have always been pretty much the same person. I am older and wiser now and a little less of an attention-seeker (seriously, even though I have a blog where I am constantly taking pictures of and talking about myself!), but inside I am the same little girl who always thought she could do anything she wanted.

Me as a child

So here is the thing; I question everything (in quite an annoying way sometimes I'm sure!). I often disagree with other peoples opinions (sometimes openly) and I really don't like being told what to think, particularly by people or organisations that I dislike. Some people might have said I had an attitude problem when I was younger... my dad still thinks I'm argumentative, but others would probably say that I've always been a bit feisty. I can't even watch an episode of Horizon without asking 'but how do they know that?' because I really want to understand the process that has led to the conclusion. I think that is part of my deepest nature. I don't have any tricks up my sleeve, it's just the way I think about the world in general (and my life specifically) and that way of thinking does not allow me to go along with the idea that my body is unacceptable. 

Me as a grown-up

The other interesting thing about dissecting my childhood is that I have always been a feminist. Does that sound like an odd statement to make about a child? I believe it to be a true one. I believed I could be or do anything... my sex or size or looks never really entered the equation. Again, that's who I am.

 Funniness trumps everything in my book

My mum and dad were equal in my mind, and the idea of being a pretty little housewife was not something I ever aspired to.... my heroes were Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, my books were Roald Dahls Mathilda and Jill Murphys Worst Witch. My favourite historical figure was Elizabeth I. I didn't give two shits about their bodies or what they looked like. It was irrelevant!

From my early teens I have thought that women were holding themselves back with their ridiculous (and indoctrinated) obsession with thinness and beauty. It's bad enough that 'The Man' (sorry... tacky, but I couldn't resist!) forces these ridiculous ideals on us, but it's insane that we keep doing it to ourselves! The pressure on women to dress and look a certain way is immense and stifles our individuality, and it shouldn't be endorsed which is one of the reasons I started this blog in the first place!. Yes I like clothes and I like to look good, but good to ME. I do it for myself, it's an expression of who I am inside, and liking my appearance because of the way I choose to dress makes me even more confident. It's never been about being pretty for others.

I would hope that being a feminist makes it harder to obsess about the way you look. When you start to look at WHY so many women in the world are treated so appallingly you can begin to see that trying to control how women should look, how much they should weigh, how they should act, what they should say and believe is a form of oppression that we have been taught to accept, and many of us are now complicit in it! It's time for a change ladies.

I'll let Maria Bamford put my thoughts about this into actual words (because I adore her)....

"My old lip colour could barely keep up with my busy schedule. In the time it takes to notice the wide discrepancy between my salary and that of my male peers, I'd have to reapply! In the seconds to count the number of women in high political office, seated on corporate executive boards and featured in film and television over the age of 40, my lip colour would be as invisible as this glass ceiling only inches above my head! L'Oreal. Because I am worth it. And because holding myself to an impossible standard of beauty keeps me from starting a riot!"

I guess it has helped my overall feelings towards my body that I have never found skinny women sexually attractive - I always preferred more shapely women. I'm not saying that skinny women are not attractive, they just don't float my particular boat. I guess it's because their body shapes are foreign to me and it's why I understand why some skinny women don't find fat women sexually attractive! It's totally fine and natural to have those feelings so long as that preference isn't used to bully and belittle others, then it turns in to a whole different thing. In terms of the girls in magazines I grew up with in the late 80's / early 90's, they were all young, blond and skinny with their bones jutting out. It's only in my adult life that big J-lo bums and thick Beyonce thighs have been considered something to aspire to.... 'Does my bum look big in this?' seems like a long time ago. Nowadays many women would actively want the answer to that question to be yes! Not when I was a girl. I sort of knew that I didn't look the 'ideal' girl but (apart from the shocking lack of fashionable clothes choices) I had more important things to worry about. I sort of ignored it, and I was happy!

I don't want to look like everyone else. I want to stand out from the crowd. Being different is a good thing and should be celebrated!

 Errrr.... check my outfit, I was 10 years too early for the neon and pop-art trends!

Here is something which I also feel is extremely important when it comes to confidence. You need to know the facts. Not the facts that the media chooses to feed you (because you have to know by now that even the more morally upright newscasters only report the more inflammatory news), but the scientific data about obesity. It's true that the Internet created a world where total assholes can spew their hatred towards women and fat people (god forbid you dare to be fat AND a woman!) but it also opens up a world of knowledge. REAL scientific data. You only need to watch this TED talk to see that even DOCTORS are prejudiced, and that medical science and knowledge changes all the time. Watch documentaries, read articles, listen to podcasts. Take an interest in all the shit that nobody is telling you so you can tune out the propaganda and it will change the way you see the world! I haven't ever thought of myself as a drain on public resources, and although I am not particularly healthy I don't think MY body is anybody else's business.

So what am I getting at here?! What I'm really trying to say is that I never have (and never will) believe things that don't make sense to me. Racism doesn't make sense. Homophobia doesn't make sense. Sizism doesn't make sense. Sexism doesn't make sense. Hating someone because of how they look doesn't make sense. Hating yourself because of how you look does not make sense. Constantly comparing yourself to others just doesn't make any sense. If you can't explain or prove (scientifically or logically) why my skinny friend is more attractive than me, then your argument is nonsense.... do you see what I mean? You only have to pull at one little thread and everything just unravels.

I've always been such a charmer....

So then, I have avoided falling into the self-hatred trap because of the following:

I am stubborn.
I am opinionated.
I am argumentative.

To be fair I'm also logical, sensible, loving and loyal and I don't like inflicting pain - physically or mentally - on other people. I am also fortunate in that I have never had to struggle with my mental health. I'm aware that if my brain was wired differently I might be telling a different story. I believe that I have managed to construct a lifestyle and thought process that completely ignores all the voices around me saying that I shouldn't like the way I look. I think I must have muted them because they did not support or fit in with my personal view of the world! I haven't changed. I had a conversation recently with Smyth from Terrible Tumbles who blew my mind by telling me that according to the BMI she is 'obese'. A size 16 woman who is like 6 foot tall and is not in any way fat to my eyes.... I couldn't believe it, because it makes no sense to me and my world order! All this conversation has done is convince me that the BMI is so flawed that you might as well be using horoscopes to measure our health! I read lots of info on BMI after this conversation, and all you need to look at is this - sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, and therefore it seems like a very lazy way in which to categorise human beings and judge their health. See?! This is how my brain works!

"If nothing else works, a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through" - General Melchett, Blackadder.

Bag of Parsnips

I feel at this point it would be just downright rude not to mention the stellar job my parents did of bringing me up. Unconditional love, support and understanding is not to be underestimated. My childhood was a happy one, my mum and dad were also fat so I never felt different or ugly. They always told me I was beautiful. They instilled in me the importance of education and allowed me to try out (and give up!) the many activities I wanted to do.... dancing / singing / acting / guitar etc.... I was quite outgoing as a child it seems! I know they are proud of me, they respect my decision to move to London and carve out my career, and the choice I've made not to have children. I know my mum is proud of me for this blog too (hi Mummy!).

My Mum and Dad have always wanted what was best for me, not what was best for them, and from what I've seen and heard about other parents that is obviously not the default position..... their impact on my self worth can never be underestimated and I will be forever grateful for the love they gave (& give!) me. I am also grateful for the moments of strictness and the lack of mollycoddling that have stopped me from being too much of a spoilt princess!

Skip to the end.....

Giving a talk about my work at an international conference, and being a fat woman at the same time!

I started this post with a quote from the wonderful TED talk (below) by Sandra Aamodt. Women HAVE been taught to measure their value by the way they look and how much they weigh. But me? I don't own a set of scales. Maybe the difference between me and some of my beautiful readers who struggle with their self image is that I've have taught myself to measure my value with a different scale - the one most men are measured by. Strength. Determination. Success in my chosen career. I can hold my achievements in my hands, I can see them out in the wide world, I know in my heart what they are and I know they are nothing to do with my sex or my looks. I might have had to push harder because I am a woman in a traditionally male field, but I never let my size hold me back.... I guess that confidence stopped others worrying about it either.

I believe myself, my mother, my sister and my friends to be Goddesses. Goddesses can do and be anything they choose - including being fat AND happy, and I have always been too stubborn and controlling to let anyone or anything change my mind about that! Occasionally I stand in my own way because I'm only human and sometimes I get frightened, or sad, or angry (mostly angry!), but nobody else stands in my way, I would never allow it, I would fight for my rights!. *I am starting to understand why one of my colleagues recently told me I was a bit scary..... anyway* Don't think I don't realise how lucky I am to have been brought up in a country and in a family that has allowed me to ask questions and make my own decisions..... I really really appreciate my freedom. I was also lucky that nobody ever really gave me shit or made me feel hopeless. I know I'm not typical in that respect, but seriously, you are all Goddesses too. Don't believe the hype.



  1. If I didn't know I hadn't written this I would have absolutely thought it was me. All my life I have believed I can do whatever I want and that confidence, not the way I look, has allowed me to do just that.

    I too never saw my gender or weight or mixed race background as something that would hinder opportunities for me.

    Everything you have written, every word I agree with.

    In fact every time I read your blog and your outfits I identify with you.

    Yes, I am outspoken sometimes and yes, I can annoy people because I don't accept that what they are saying is absolutely true for example, when I was talking to my now girlfriend, even before we met up for a date I argued with her for saying 'oh, they say that you shouldn't eat fat so I don't have dressing on my salad' I was like 'I don't accept that, who says that? Who are 'they'?'

    I too have my wonderful mother and father to thank for the way I's not just me who is like this my brother is like this too.

    I was always told I was to believe I was better than people. Not to act like I was, just believe that one day I would prove myself to be better. That was more about having belief in myself but also instilling belief in others that they were better too. Never making people feel bad.

    My mum always told me I was beautiful. Always told me I was talented. Always told me that I was to love anyone I wanted and I shouldn't try and pigeon hole myself in anything.

    I can't thank her enough as I know her childhood was no joy as my grandma is terrible for pointing out 'fat' as a bad word...and a bad thing. She went through horrendous times in her life and only now, only just now, my mum is confident in that she is losing weight due to being old. Which is a real shame as she truly is a fabulous person.

    Thank you for writing this - I am a huge fan of your blog and I love your style.


  2. What a fantastic, brilliant blog post, it should be required reading for all teenage girls!

    It sounds like your family are a major part of why you have the self belief and confidence you grew up with, they sound completely wonderful.

    I grew up with a hyper critical mother who constantly berated me for being fat, and ran down my appearance so I never had any confidence in the way I looked.

    I discovered writings on fat in the late 1980s with Shelley Bovey's "Being fat is not a sin". That was a revelation that perhaps my mother was wrong and dieting didn't work (she's in her late 60s now and has just lost four stone for about the 15th time in her life...). I devoured any book on the subject of diets not working, and like you armed myself with the facts on fat, especially after I got access to the internet in the mid 1990s. There is no way of losing weight and keeping it off long term for the vast majority of people. If a cancer treatment only worked 5% of the time, would it continue to be prescribed?

    I had the attitude that I would prove myself *despite* being fat - this was one (of many) reasons why I did a PhD and why I have pushed myself to succeed in my career and pretty much anything I do (perfectionist much?!). I too am outspoken and not afraid to voice my opinions when I know my stuff. The only thing I've "failed" at in life is being thin. Did you ever read the Shapely Prose blog? That was incredibly helpful
    in helping me to come to terms with the fact that I am the size I am and I
    don't owe anyone an explanation for it. A good starting post is this one

    Despite my critical mother, I never dieted after I left home, so I haven't yo-yo'd and have been a stable weight for about 10 years. It's only in the past 8 years or so that I have developed a style and built a wardrobe of gorgeous clothes - it helps being a consistent size! So in that I am also defying my mother who was always postponing getting nice things because she was fat.

    Anyway, enough rambling, I just want to say I really love this blog post, it's brilliant and so are you :)

  3. I fucking love you 'Snips, and if I ever see you again I'll give you the biggest squeeze for this post. I too was a feminist from a young age, but I didn't know what to call it for a long time. When I started work at 16 I was treated mostly OK by my workmates, but after being there for about a year I got a really unhealthy mindset and lost a lot of weight in an unhealthy way. The way people treated me then was so different, especially the men. It enraged me. I was just the same person, yet even the girls who weren't talking to me before now were. It made me hate shallow people, something which has endured ever since. If someone doesn't like me for a reason as trifling as what I look like, I usually make it known within 5 minutes flat that I think they're a total arse.

    I cried at the TED talk by the doctor, and I'm going to watch the other one you linked to now.

    I didn't grow up being told I was great just how I was (my mum took me to the doctors to be put on a diet way before puberty as she didn't want me to have the life she'd had as a fat person) and there were quite a lot of nasty people throughout my childhood and teens who went out of their way to make me feel shit about myself. It has been hard fought for me to love myself, and because I didn't value myself for many years I associated with people who were so bad for me, both as friends and lovers.

    I kind of had a breakthrough in my mid 20s when my nan died when I realised this is it - one shot at life - and a couple of years later when I split up with my abusive partner I was totally off the leash having the time of my life. From then on I never took into account my size in my personal or work life and attracted a lot of people because I was just so high on life. I was giddy with it. Of course things are a bit different now because of Fibromyalgia and CFS, but I'm still so glad to be alive and what my body looks like is insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I judge people on their character, not on what they look like, and I feel sorry for people who judge on looks. All the awesome people they're missing out on!

    Again, huge kudos for this excellent post! x x

    P.S. Your dad is a bit of a fox (especially with the face fuzz).

  4. PS - that TED talk was really interesting, thanks for sharing. I particularly like her emphasis on the fact that dieting wastes energy and time. Like you I believe that dieting is used as a way of controlling women because if you're spending all your willpower on not eating, you're not out changing the world!

  5. I don't know if you've ever read the Dances With Fat blog: but she covers a lot of the points you mentioned with particular emphasis on diets not working and being treated differently for being fat e.g. airplane seats not being big enough.

    I'm lucky in that I never had a problem with my weight growing up, nor has my mum being big herself. I was an average kid but then at age 9/10 I broke up with my best friend (and sorta first and only boyfriend), not hanging out with him + puberty = weight gain right before going to secondary school. Things started out OK but being the sort to be friendly with lots of people but not really have close friends I didn't go out much so I gained more weight and then I started getting bullied. I went to the doctors for something unrelated at about age 13 or 14 and she suggested I go to some kind of teenage fat camp. I was outraged, even though I plainly was fat I didn't see myself as being fat enough or needing something like that so I refused.

    It shows how much being fat is hated that when I came out as bisexual around age 15/16 (later realising I'm actually gay) and I had no problems with that other than someone starting a stupid rumour that I was in love with my own mum (squicky) people still bullied me about my weight instead.

    Now as an adult, sure I'd like to lose a bit of weight so I can dress more in the style I want - other than Domino Dollhouse and Modcloth which are both American and expensive fatshion companies haven't really cottoned on to the fact that fat girls want to be alternative. My ideal style is a Gothic Hippie Mori Steampunk mash-up with a couple of pin-up dresses (that area certainly is improving). But other than the style aspect my health is fine and it's generally not a big deal if I'm fat, or at least not a big deal to me.

  6. That's the thing, having the time and money to go on a very strict diet is a luxury most people don't have! I could eats less, and make better choices, but I would never have time to do most of the prep involved with diets and eating plans! I love Ted talks.

  7. I'm glad you enjoyed this Leah. I once had a friend who's mother told her she was ugly all the time, but somehow she managed to ignore her and was outrageously dressed and uber-confident. I think it was because she looked so much like her mum, so she always knew her mum hated herself and was projecting all her unhappiness on to her daughter. I never understood how she coped with it, not many people would. Some parents have a lot to answer for! I never really made friends with nasty or super-shallow people ('cause I didn't like them and found them tedious!) so I avoided that trap too. I'm glad you found your confidence and that you don't let your illnesses dictate your life and how you feel about it. I love your posts too, they always make me laugh!

    p's, If you'd seen my dad when he was 20 (in his Zeppelin phase) with his long hair and motor bike you'd lose your shit!

  8. You know it's nice to hear that there are other fat women who have always been at ease with their bodies. Since I stated blogging I thought I had had some odd, charmed life! I had no idea how much body-hatred fat women had for themselves until I got involved in twitter & blogging. xx

  9. Three cheers for you! I wish more girls and women would crave more in life than just being 'hot'! Looks are so transitory, you can't revolve your whole life around the way you look or you will never ever be happy! I'm glad you liked my post, I'll check out the Shapely Prose archive asap! xx

  10. Mate I love this. I think its so good to read a different kind of story, there are so many out there (including mine) which talk about the negatives experiences of growing up fat, of feeling shit, of accepting the social norms of wanting to be slim and attractive. I think it is so good that you shared this, encouraging people to read and research more about the information they are fed, I did certainly about what obesity is all about and it opened my eyes a lot. For me I realised that yo yo dieting was doing more harm than eating shit 24/7 and that dieting was harder on my mental health than on my body. I rate you so much for being true to yourself and giving zero fucks. Any way great piece of writing! x

  11. And it's odd you know, the realisation that that has happened for some people. I guess the other thing I had was the ability to not listen.

    I know that sounds weird but when I was growing up I had NO idea I was bigger than anyone else. I honestly didn't. I knew my thighs were thicker and my boobs bigger but I genuinely did not know I was different..of course I was 'bullied' I only say that as I am sure I was called things...fatty, microphone head, smelly, whatever...but I actually don't remember feeling hurt by it. I was always popular. I was always happy. I don't remember feeling like school life was the most worst time of my life. I really don't. Walked around in Leah Land and loved it there.

    The only time I felt let down was when I lost my dad...that was the only time I was at school and felt different. No one else had been through that so that made me aware of being different. The girl with the dead dad, not the fat afro girl...weird.

    I decided I would try and use my blog for good...share my body experiences. Hopefully it helps someone but even if it doesn't I enjoy it. :)

  12. Shapely Prose was a wonderful blog, I was totally gutted when they closed it down, I'm just glad the archives are still available because they are really helpful in forming confidence to be OK as you are.