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On Monday I will be 31 years old, and it has taken me this long to realise one simple thing. I am fine.
I may never be a supermodel, I may never be a millionaire, I may never work out how to stop my hair from frizzing, or write the Great British Novel, or learn how to eat carrots like a grown-up rather than picking them out of every meal. I may never have a 26 inch waist. But I am safe, I am happy, I am fine.
To some extent, I’ve spent my whole life wishing I was something different. More confident, more vivacious, more tanned. Better at driving, less anxious, able to leave the house for a trip without checking every plug socket twice. Less prone to sticking myself to the walls at press events because I’m not one of the cool kids. Able to have a conversation with someone I admire without worrying that they think I’m a total bore (more importantly, not caring if they do). Able to participate in a pub quiz without coming across as an insufferable know-it-all. Able to live my life so I don’t feel like I’m faking it half of the time. Thinner, without the chubby ankles, the short torso and the dot-to-dot moles. With higher boobs, bigger lips, slimmer hips.
This level of self-obsession is not a good thing. Yes, we should always strive to be the best we can be. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to be a better person. But so many of my hang-ups have to do with my body. That is ridiculous. I am more than that, and my body really isn’t that bad. Yeah, I have wobbly bits. I’ll never look like Miranda Kerr in a bikini. Sometimes, depending on which way my weight is fluctuating at the time, I step on the scales and the number tells me that (by someone’s fairly random calculations) I’m a bit overweight. That doesn’t suddenly make me a worse person. I am fine.
Partially, I blame fashion for my terrible body image. Fashion has made me feel left out my entire life. I don’t say that to elicit pity. Quite the opposite, in fact. I say it because you’ve probably felt the same way. After all, it’s what large parts of the industry thrive on. The only difference is I’m the idiot who decided to pursue a career in the exact industry that made me feel inferior at every turn. Well, I do love a challenge.
It’s easy to feel like fashion designers, retailers and the media don’t cater to your specific needs. Fashion thrives on aspiration and making women feel like they’re not good enough without the must have item. Whether you’re tall, short, plus size, slim, big busted, small busted, have a big waist, or a small waist, or a big bum, or no bum, or short legs or long legs…whatever. If you’re any woman I’ve spoken to in my entire adult life, you’ve struggled with fashion sometimes. When you go shopping, you have to dig and hunt to find the things that work for you. All clothes don’t work for all women. It’s rare that you see an ad campaign and think “I’d totally wear that, just like she does right there.” You’re more likely to read articles in magazines or on websites and think “well, this is all well and good, but what about women like me?” The fact that I’ve felt like that over and over again doesn’t make me special. It makes me exactly like everyone else.
I think it’s important to say at this point that I don’t hate my job. I love it. My decision to become a fashion writer was always more about clothes than it was about ‘fashion’. I have always been obsessed with clothing. Even before I really knew what ‘fashion’ was, I liked dressing up, and most of my strongest memories focus around items of clothing or outfits I had as a child. Trends were fun, but I loved clothes because they were the tool I used to make myself feel better, or become a different person, or make a statement. That’s the irony. Fashion made me feel bad and clothes made me feel better. Like most people, my teenage years were full of awkward moments. The right clothes could change and mould me into the girl I wanted to be. They were my armour. I have never really been bullied, but there have always been comments. Stupid people go for the easiest insults and “fat” is a pretty safe bet for me. I’ve been around a size 14 since I was about 15 years old, and it’s taken me half a lifetime to realise that doesn’t make me some kind of failure. My body is fine. I am fine. In fact, just as I look at other women and wish I had what they have, I now realise that others do that with me.
I write this now because I’m finally getting to a place where I don’t look at photos of myself and immediately pick out all the flaws. I still see my body as a work in progress, but I’m striving to ensure that anything I do to change it has to be about being healthy and happy, not necessarily about being a certain dress size. I hate that I put my weight above so many other things, but it’s a daily struggle not to. I am obsessed. And it’s not an easy job to reverse twenty-something years of habit and learned behaviour.
But I’m trying, and I want you to try too. Stop beating yourself up, stop tearing yourself down. Leave that to the trolls. I’m not saying give up, we should all strive to be our best, fittest, happiest and healthiest selves. But the best and most long-lasting changes (if they are needed or desired by you and you alone) can only be made when you’re starting from a good place. Next time you look in the mirror, instead of focusing on the things you hate, pick out one thing you love. The next time, pick out something else. If you’re struggling to find anything, keep looking and really force yourself to consider all the amazing things that make up you.
Because you are fine. And fine is good enough for now.