I was 15 when a family member first told me I had ‘horrible legs’ like my mum’s.
It was the summer holidays and both my mum and I were wearing shorts, hanging out in my garden. The family member in question (who I’m no longer in touch with because of their behaviour over the years) continued with the insult.
‘She has,’ she said to my mum. ‘She’s got tree trunks like you.’
My mum had a go at her, and tried to stick up for me, but I still remember the feeling of sickness rising to my throat as if it was yesterday. It was 19 years ago.
By this point, I already had so many issues with my body. I was a size 16 in comparison to the size 8/10 that most of my friends were. I had cellulite and stretch marks on various parts of my body and always felt like I had to cover up – particularly my belly and the tops of my arms. I’d never liked how pale my legs were but – until these cruel comments – they were one part of me I didn’t feel as though I had to worry about. Now, I felt like I couldn’t even put my legs on display.
After the ‘tree trunks’ incident, I went straight to my bedroom and analysed my legs in the mirror. I could see how big my thighs were, the ripples of cellulite, the stretch marks behind my knees. Before, I’d never paid attention to these things – but now, they seemed so noticeable. I cried as I pulled on some jogging bottoms.
From then on, I stopped wearing shorts, and even skirts. I wore trousers to school and lived in clothes that kept my legs hidden away.
A few months later, I was about to go out with friends and was wearing slim-fitting cargo trousers that I loved. They were comfortable, on trend and my legs were completely concealed. I went to say goodbye to my parents – and my now estranged family member was there, visiting again. As I was about to leave, she commented: ‘You’re not wearing them are you? They’re too tight, you’ve got thunder thighs.’
My mum called out this vile behaviour but the damage was done. Instead of going out, I went back to my bedroom, too upset to leave the house. In my room, I sobbed as I put all my shorts in a bin bag at the bottom of my wardrobe. She’d given me such a complex that I was adamant nobody would see my legs. Ever.
In hot weather, I lied to friends about being grounded so I didn’t have to be outside in the heat. I never joined them when they went swimming, and I lived in front of a fan while wearing long trousers.
I didn’t even feel comfortable alone in my own bedroom with my legs out for fear of catching sight of them in the mirror. In fact, I covered the mirrors in my bedroom for years because I hated my reflection so much.
Growing up, I spent a lot of time at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital for help with my genetic condition, hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS), and during my teenage years, I was there at least once a week for physiotherapy. Each time I went, I’d ‘accidentally’ forget my shorts, which I needed to wear so the therapist could assess my knees and legs. But by that point, I couldn’t bear to wear shorts in front of anyone – not even for medical purposes.
I had a major operation on my hip when I was 13 and had sporadically used a wheelchair over the years, but in my late 20s, it became necessary for me to use a wheelchair whenever I went outside.
Sitting in a wheelchair in the heat with your legs covered is a sweaty mess. It was so uncomfortable – my trousers always ended up clinging to my legs and it made me feel disgusting. Yet, I still did it, grinning through the discomfort and pretending nothing was wrong.
Then, a turning point came via Instagram.
I had around 5,000 followers and used to share beauty products and the odd selfie. However, I never showed my full-body in my pictures as I was a size 24 and dealing with my own internalised fatphobia. I thought if people saw that I was fat, they wouldn’t like me.
Three years ago, after tagging a clothing brand on a few of my ‘above the waist’ images on Instagram, they contacted me and asked if they could send me an outfit. I wasn’t really sure why and was equal parts excited and terrified, but I replied and said yes. They sent me a pair of skinny jeans and a pink jumper and I took pictures wearing them.
I forced myself to post them and I received amazing comments – it turned out people loved seeing a plus-size wheelchair user modelling an outfit, as we’re so often unrepresented.
The positive feedback only spurred me on to share more. I started wearing skirts with tights, and posting them online for my followers (I didn’t go bare legs or wear shorts, that was still a step too far at that point).
Although I still felt my legs were ugly, I was thinking about 15-year-old me, and how seeing this online would have helped me. Sharing images of myself has made my confidence soar and I’ve never been happier with the way I look.
I have now been able to accept myself, accept my body – and everything it does for me. This year, aged 34, during the heatwave I had a ‘let’s do it’ moment and I bought some short pyjamas to wear around the house. I sat in front of my floor-length mirror staring at my legs and I… didn’t hate them. In fact, I thought they looked cute. Scars and bruises from my condition, cellulite, stretchmarks and all – I liked how they looked. It felt so good to have air on my knees, and I felt empowered.
Something I had despised for so long had changed and it felt amazing.
I took some pictures, and posted them on Instagram with the caption: ‘Wear the damn shorts.’ The reaction was wonderful and supportive, and someone even said they wished they had legs like mine. I nearly fell off my chair.
Since then, I’ve worn shorts to walk (wheel) the dogs and I didn’t care. I now realise that I am so much more than my chunky legs.
Fatphobia is ingrained in our society, and I grew up believing that if I wasn’t slim, I wasn’t worthy. I had to be thin for people to like me, for someone to love me – but I’m in a relationship now and I’ve never been happier.
I spent 30 years hating my body because people had said negative things about it, and I believed them. That’s why it’s so important for me to share my journey on my social media platforms – I want people who are in the position I used to be in to learn to love themselves just the way they are.
The best advice I can give anyone is to just do it. Wear the damn shorts. Wear the damn vest. Get your belly out. Who cares what other people think? If you love you, that’s all that matters. It took me 19 years to wear the damn shorts, and I only wish I’d done it earlier.
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