I am just under five feet and eight inches tall. I weigh fifteen stone and eleven pounds. I am a size 18 on top and a 16 on bottom. I don’t know my bra size, because the last time I bought a bra was well over a year ago, and even then I wasn’t measured properly, I just took a stack into the changing room and bought the one that fitted least badly. I have never told anyone my measurements, except for perhaps one close friend. At the same time, I have told everyone who has ever laid eyes on me, because there’s only so much a flattering outfit can do, particularly when you’re too stubborn to wear one in the first place. Everyone knows. It’s obvious. I am overweight. And I loathe myself for it.
When I was seventeen, I had a ghastly boyfriend who I now realise was manipulative and emotionally abusive. I was just under five feet and eight inches tall. I weighed eleven stone. I was a size 12 all over. My bra was a 36D. I felt just as ghastly about my body as I do now. I told him I was a size 10, because I knew he’d find a 12 repulsive. This backfired somewhat – he sussed me, and started to buy me size 10 clothes to lose weight to fit into. Despite my best efforts, I never did. Eleven stone became the tipping point. Eleven stone was bad enough. Any more would be too much. Even now, I can’t get it out of my head that eleven stone is too big.
He compared me to a friend with a very different body to mine, complained that he could pick her up easily, but struggled to lift me. This is, I now realise, an odd thing to want in a girlfriend: light enough to pick up and carry around, as if I were a handbag. Perhaps this is why the media still pressures women to be skinny – so we can be picked up and put in our place. So that we will not get in the way. So that we are small enough to ignore.
He made fun of fat people in the street. Disgusting, lazy, he called them. But what if it’s genetic, a medication they’re taking, an illness? I asked him. You don’t know what somebody’s going through. He was dismissive. What if it happened to me? I asked him. What if I got ill, and I gained loads of weight? Would you still fancy me? Would you still love me? We both knew the answer to that, though we didn’t admit it at the time. And I’d cursed myself, clearly, because that is exactly what did happen.
In April 2014, my wonderful aunt died. Even then, in the most painful weeks of my life, I was nagging myself for not dieting. I have a lovely photo of myself, my brother and my cousin taken at that time, with one of my aunt’s paintings in the background, that I’d convinced myself was eternally spoilt, because I thought I looked fat. I just looked at it now. I didn’t know how lucky I was.
Less than a year later, I was diagnosed with depression. I think I was fifteen stone by then. I cannot be sure, because in truth there was something else wrong, something badly affecting my memory, though I didn’t know it at the time. In truth, I can’t remember how I got here. I can’t remember what I ate yesterday. But I can guess my pattern. I eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. I stick to being gluten free (necessary, since I am a coeliac). I try to get plenty of fibre and calcium and avoid the things that make me bloated. But I am tired, and ill. My life is a constant sugar craving. Anything, anything, for a little bit of energy, a little bit of dopamine, a few pleasurable moments in an existence that otherwise largely consists of either literally having nightmares, since I am asleep so much of the time, or watching telly. Both of which are populated largely by thin people.
I don’t know how to resolve this. This week, like most, I have been trying to diet. But today I caved in and ate a load of chocolate that I’m not sure was even gluten-free. I don’t want my dinner. But I also don’t want to have a bath, watch Netflix, and go to bed. Nor do I want to get up tomorrow morning, and go to my hospital appointment. I just want to be asleep.
I cannot remember this happening to me. My body does not feel like my body. I’m still surprised when I look in the mirror. But it’s starting to feel more real now. There are little niggles, little problems emerging, the answer to which is: well, if you lost some weight… My posture isn’t so good. I’ve started snoring. My jeans keep wearing through where my thighs rub together, and the belt loops come off where I hoick them up because they don’t fit over my stomach so they fall down.
My current boyfriend, when I ask, keeps telling me I’m not fat. And he’s right. There are loads of people out there who are much, much bigger than me. I do not even need to lose weight. Body-confidence aficionados and fat-shamers alike tout the word ‘healthy’, but really, who’s healthy? Everyone, fat or otherwise, has something wrong with their body. There are many things worse than being overweight, and they happen to all of us. So why worry? Why not make like Lena Dunham, Adele, Amy Schumer, Ashley Graham? Be beautiful and confident and talented? Not so easy for your larger-than-average Jo, in a thin person’s world.
I wish I was brave enough to be myself like this. But there will always be people who can’t quite get their head around it, and they are the people closest to me. I do not blame them. I am not angry with them. It is not their fault. We have all, all been conditioned to think in this way. My parents lead active lifestyles. Of course they will be concerned by a body that puffs and pants as it hauls itself up a hill after them. My boyfriend learnt about sex from porn. Of course he will be disappointed by a body so different to the ones he’s been lead to expect.
No matter how much they love and value the person inside. We all have eyes. We all think it, in a nasty little place in the back of our minds. I, and so many others, take up too much space.