Woman looking in a mirror 2
From Newt In A Teacup
– let’s talk about this.

(If you want to do it, please go to the original post to get the original questions. I have deleted or changed a couple!)

Age: 30
Height: um – 5 foot 6, I think.
Weight: I will just go and weigh myself now… 11 stone 4.

Do you consider yourself attractive?

I used to care about being “attractive” – but actually, now, who am I trying to “attract”? The bees? Ugh. (Also, I think that attracting men is something completely different from being “beautiful”. Being “beautiful” is more about being acceptable to other women… It’s a complicated world.) So anyway, I do think I look nice, on the whole, but I don’t think it’s a very important thing, and there are lots of other things about me I like more and care about more than whether or not I am “attractive”, or even generally nice-looking.

Do others consider you attractive?

A friend told me recently that I could be like one of those girls in the American Teenage Dream movies – you know, the one who is considered to be the ugliest, frumpiest girl in the world just because she’s got glasses and a bad haircut; then some heroic popular girl takes the frumpy girl under her wing – she gets contact lenses, a new outfit, a makeover, a nice haircut and POOF! she is really, suddenly, astonishingly *hot*. All this may have been a slight exaggeration, but the basic point is that other people probably see me (if they think about this at all) as someone who could look really great if only she made more of an effort.

What is your biggest insecurity and why?

Very few of my insecurities are related to my body! I suppose if I had to do that “name the body part that makes you feel most self-conscious” thing, I would say that I am still working up the courage to be unselfconscious about body hair.

Have you/Would you consider using plastic surgery? Why or why not?

I assume we are talking about cosmetic surgery, which I would not consider (rather than reconstruction, which I might well consider in the relevant circumstances). I used to wonder about having the size of my breasts reduced, but not seriously. Now I’ve grown up, I know that I would never dream of it. It’s bloody dangerous and completely pointless! My body is what it is, and that’s good enough for me. I am working on acceptance, not change.

What is your relationship with make-up?

I don’t wear it. I own some face powder and lip gloss which I will use for *really* special occasions, if I remember. I think the last time was my brother’s wedding in 2005.

I love it when people use make-up to “dress up”, using colour to change their appearance for fun. Personally I don’t do it, but I love to see it on others. What makes me sad is when people use make-up to “cover up”, using skin tones to hide their appearance, out of shame.

How much money do you/think is reasonable to spend on your appearance?

Depends on how much money you’ve got, and whether you’ve got anything better to spend it on! If you have spare cash for spending on yourself, and you truly enjoy spending it on looking the way you want to look, why not? Personally, I do like to buy nice clothes now and again and occasionally a bit of jewellery or funky accessories – but it is about my own pleasure in wearing these things – NOT somebody else’s pleasure in seeing them, and decidedly NOT my own fear about the shame of not having or doing these things.

What is your experience of dieting?

I could write a book on this… The short(ish) version:

I used to diet on and off when I was younger, because I was “podgy” – I wouldn’t have minded, but I knew it wasn’t acceptable, and wanted to be accepted, so I did mind. It was usually some version of a restricted calorie diet. Never worked. After I left home for college, I lost some of my “puppy fat”. I don’t know whether this was because of the change in lifestyle or just because I was growing up. Then I went through a sad patch in my life and I put weight on. Then life started to look up a bit, and I put more weight on. I never felt fat, but increasingly it became pretty clear that I was getting bigger and bigger. It didn’t look nice – but that, I think, was mainly because of the difficulty of finding nice clothes to wear if you are a fat person, especially if you are a fat person in denial! Also, I really didn’t want to have to go up yet another dress size.

So, one day, I decided to do something about it. I absolutely refused to go on a “diet” because I equated diets with hunger / deprivation. Also, I wasn’t really prepared to admit that there was something wrong with me that needed fixing. Instead, I just decided to cut out junk food and eat decent, home-cooked meals instead, with treats at weekends. In the course of about six months, I lost about two stone, at a steady rate of about a pound a week.

I “stuck” on a level for a while. That should have been my clue to stop: I was no longer actively unhappy with my body, and lots of people complimented me on how great I was looking. But I didn’t want to stop. I felt loads healthier and I had more energy – and I assumed that losing more weight would make me feel even healthier, and give me even more energy. (Er, logic, anyone?) I also loved that buzz of stepping onto the scales – just a little bit lighter than last week. Success! I loved being able to show off about how much I had lost, never getting the irony inherent in that concept – boasting about loss. I loved it when people made admiring remarks about how well I was doing. I wanted to do better. I decided to try the low-carb Atkins approach, and I had lost about a stone doing that when fate intervened and I got pregnant.

After that I concentrated on healthy eating to feed myself and my baby. I probably put on about a stone and a half of non-baby weight while pregnant. (Bye-bye Atkins weight-loss!) A few months into motherhood and the weight started to drop off again. Partly this was about more exercise, partly about breastfeeding (500 calories a day, or thereabouts!), probably also about being miserable. I did make a conscious effort now and again to eat right and avoid junk, but I can’t say I actively dieted, yet still lost about 2 stone. Some of that has gone back on now. I think I’ve probably reached a state of equilibrium: my current weight is my healthy weight. I could lose a bit and it wouldn’t kill me. I could gain a bit and although my clothes would no longer fit too well, it wouldn’t kill me. I’m OK.

On reflection, I believe that FOR ME losing some weight was a good thing. It has made me healthier and more energetic, and I have learned a lot about my body and its needs. I also believe that I lost too much, became too wrapped up in the idea of losing weight for its own sake, and got too slim – not dangerously thin, but slimmer than is natural for my body – slimmer than could be maintained without sustained ongoing dieting. (Happily, I enjoy eating and good food far too much to decide that this is a rational approach to life.) I have a tendency to universalise my experiences, so I also got a preachy attitude. If something “worked” for me, I assumed it would work for everyone. If something was good for me, I assumed it would be good for everyone. My bad.

I’m more in balance now. It’s been a long journey, but after 20 years of learning, I think I’ve finally started to get it.

Have you/ anyone you know tried any specific diet programs i.e. Lighter Life? How did that affect your health? your moods? your relationships?

See above.

I could write a lot more about moods / relationships / health but it’s so interconnected and there’s so much to say, and I’ve written so much already – that I aint gonna.

I know lots of people who’ve done assorted programmes – Atkins, slimming world, weight watchers, and one person (vaguely) who did Lighter Life. Nobody I know who did any of those diets stayed at the weight they reached. All I can say about their moods / relationships is that talking diets is a bit boring and I got annoyed when they refused to eat nice things on weigh-in day…

Do you have any experiences of eating disorders i.e. either yourself or someone you know?

Not directly. (Having said that, I do think women suffer from a patriarchy-induced mass hysteria about eating and I reckon that must surely count as a disorder? No?)

Have you had negative experiences relating to your appearance and people’s reactions to it?

People called me fat at school. They would have thought of something mean to say even if I hadn’t been fat, but it made me feel pretty small at the time. (Haha.) My ex-husband was also prone when drunk – i.e. quite often – to saying some quite uncalled-for things about my body, usually under cover of praising, say, my face. My brain has annoyingly blanked out the details, so I can’t or won’t give examples. On the whole, though, I either do not get or do not notice negative reactions to my appearance.

What about positive reactions to your body?

  • Ariel reacts positively to my breasts every day of our lives!
  • I’ve given it up now, but I certainly used to have a great knack of getting off with people I took a shine to – I think it’s fair to say that those people were reacting positively.
  • Also, lots of people said nice things when I lost weight. Bastards.

How has your body image and attitude changed over the years?

It has improved as I have gained in self esteem. It has improved as I have gained insight into the world – particularly with the help of feminism’s light. It has improved as I have discovered the amazing life-giving properties of my body. It has improved as I have grown up. My attitude has shifted 180 degrees – I consciously and actively love my body, and I deliberately turn away from thoughts and feelings that might undermine this love.

What do you love about your body?

So many things. Most of them are focussed around what it can DO rather than what it LOOKS like. In terms of image / appearance, I like my hands best.

What is your opinion on the media portrayal of women’s bodies?

I’ll cut to the chase. It makes me want to puke.

What would you change about the way you/ your friends/ your family/ general people see their bodies?

I would hope that people, everyone, could learn to accept and celebrate what bodies naturally are, rather than seeking after some mythical body that ought to be. It’s as much about changing how we view other people’s bodies as how we see our own bodies, because how other people react to your body is (especially when you are young) a key element in your developing self-image. It is a lot of baggage to unlearn. So my wish would be, that people could set out in life without the baggage.

What makes you feel beautiful?

Being self-consciously me.

and just for fun… Do you shave legs/pits/upper lip moustache?

Currently, no. I have in the past (although never religiously) shaved my legs and armpits and I don’t rule out some summer defuzzing if my self-consciousness gets the better of me. But I am hoping that the world will not love me less for being a bit hairy.