My first memory of being body shamed was in the November of 1991. I remember this specifically because it was the day I found out that genius front man and all around pop legend, Freddie Mercury had died. I was pretty bloody devastated – not just because he was my favourite singer, but because I held the notion at that time that men with moustaches were far kinder than those without, a theory I would find in later life to be deeply flawed.
I was nine years old and in year five of Holy Family RC Primary School, Bolton. My teacher was Mrs Hill, a kind yet stern lady, who sported rosy cheeks and an ample bosom which made her seem warm and mother-like. I still think about her fondly, however, it was the task that she set us that day, which would cause the mental scar tissue which is still with me today.
It was a simple task, we were put into groups of three, and had to gather information about one another. I only remember one element of this job; the weigh in.
I was paired with two boys who I’d known them since I was four. Once I stepped upon the scales their sense of revulsion was palpable, as they exclaimed, quite loudly, that I weighed a great deal more than they did. I rushed to defend myself, stuttering anxiously that I normally weighed myself without clothes and in reality, was far less heavy, but this made matters worse. ‘URGH. You weigh yourself NAKED?’ they shuddered at the thought. This day was going badly. Not only was my fave front man no more, but these lifelong friends of mine were now imagining me in the nuddy. And by the looks on their faces, they were not pleased by this one bit.
This was also the year of my first diet. Not a self-imposed fast due to ‘weighing myself in front of boys’ gate, but one demanded by my family doctor. An eccentric gentleman who very much resembled Harold Shipman, but whose only real murder, was that of my self-esteem.
Eventually primary school ended and high school began. I’d lost half a stone, had a snazzy new perm and was ready to start afresh. But don’t worry, the weight based humiliation was only just beginning. As an early bloomer I received unwanted attention from boys who (lovingly?) called me Jugs. However, early development doesn’t just bring about big boobs, oh no; wide hips, early periods and unwanted leg hair were at their side, hanging around persistently, like the smell of Lynx Africa. Instead of being proud of these newly formed knockers of mine, I was left feeling embarrassed and awkward. Friends didn’t help matters, as whenever the tiniest of quarrels occurred, ’fat cow’, ‘fatty’ and (my favourite) ‘fat slag’ would fall from their mouths with the ease of the drool of a mid-afternoon nap. Not only was I being body shamed by boys, now the girls were at it too!
I decided at this point, that the only way to protect myself was to hide my body from prying eyes. I would wear a coat at all times. ALL TIMES. ‘Aren’t you warm, Vicki?’ my friends would ask. ‘No, not at all’ I would answer despite taking on the appearance of somebody who is very close to heat stroke. But all in all, I was pleased with my plan and was hoping that all the excess sweating would help me drop a few pounds. Yes, it was uncomfortable but this winter coat of mine hid my number one nemesis, my backside.
I had a massive booty long before it was cool. I’m basically a massive arsed hipster. I like to think that Kim Kardashian saw me out and about one day and liked the look, but then I remember that she wouldn’t have able to see it, as it was hidden in my massive winter coat. ‘You’re so lucky you have a big bum’ a young co-worker said to me the other day. This astounded me, as I’ve spent most of my life trying to hide it.
This is what happens. We are so surrounded by a culture of body shaming, that we begin to body shame ourselves.
I’ve been a size 8 and a size 18 and I’ve not felt comfortable in my own skin for one single day. This makes me angry. I’m now 34 and I have wasted years of my life trying to protect myself from the cruelty of public ridicule. Neglecting certain dress shapes, avoiding people shorter than me who can see my double chin, covering up my arms so the public don’t have to see them wobble. But I’m fighting back!!! I am more than what I look like! And you are too!
To celebrate how wonderful us women (of all shapes and sizes) are, Ladyfest Manchester is around the corner to revere all things female! From 7th-9th October there will be a whole host of events, from panel discussions to film showings and workshops. If you interested, all the information you need is on their Facebook page