Trigger Warning: This article contains mentions of clothing size, weight and weight loss, as well as eating disorders.
I used to be a UK size 24. I wouldn’t admit that this was my actual size. If a 22 didn’t fit I would throw a tantrum, gather up my belongings and demand to be taken home.
At 5”1’ tall and with several disabilities that was very unhealthy for me. I would blame my Rheumatoid arthritis making exercise difficult. I wouldn’t admit to the unhealthy choices I was making. For many years I would not look at myself in the mirror. When I did, all I could see was Waynetta Slob from Harry Enfield and Chums. I’d been conditioned by society and a father figure who referred to me as ‘fattie’ to think that I was ugly because I was fat. That a 22 was bad enough, and a 24 was unthinkable.
I would dread having my photo taken and hide behind other people. I preferred to be the one holding the camera. I would sometimes cry when shown pictures of myself. I was never given much self confidence or belief growing up.
I have come a long way since then. After a prolonged battle with bulimia, secret eating and comfort eating, I have taken back control of my health, and of my self-image. My depression and anxiety probably made this harder than it needed to be, but when don’t they?
Over the last four years I have lost 3 ½ stone. I have gone to the gym and swimming three times a week. I am only able to swim at the moment because I have fibromyalgia, bursitis, IBS and diabetes. But I have the knowledge now that allows me to be the boss of my own body in a way that I wasn’t before. I am also now a UK size 14.
As spring began this year I decided I would need a couple of white t-shirts. So off I popped to the mega Tesco in Southport. The choice was limited to two styles. I grabbed a size 14 in one style, but they only had a size 16 in the other one so I picked that one up instead. The first one was a great fit. I then tried on the second one. It was too tight. I checked the size to make sure. It definitely said size 16. I sent my husband to find the 18 instead, and it fitted just right. Both t-shirts were Tesco own brand. I bought both.
I’m not sure if I was able to divorce myself from the association of an 18 being closer to ‘fat and therefore ugly’ because my mental health is more stable or if my age was a factor; maybe both. I try not to worry about the small things these days. It upsets me that I had to reduce the size of my body to fit in clothes with a 14 on the label to realise that the number doesn’t represent me: not my health, not the way I look, not the way I should feel about how I look.
What if I wasn’t in such a good place? What if I hadn’t been able to realise this? I could have been very upset because I know I should fit into the ‘more acceptable’ 14, and I worked hard for that only for a piece of clothing to contradict me; to remind me that I am only a few steps away from what society thinks makes me ugly. I am now able to say ‘no’ to that; to realise a tiny number on a little label isn’t important, it’s about how I feel when I am wearing something.
What if this happens to someone else who isn’t where I am? I’m sure it does, and I hate that. The clothing industry needs to fix this! It’s bad enough that there’s little consistency between shops, but when there’s variation within stock the uncertainty knocks your ability to not consider that number the be-all-and-end-all of who you are.
At least I didn’t throw a tantrum and storm out of the shop. But that doesn’t mean I am happy with the situation – for me or for others.
Images provided by Sharon Delves, and family.