I had my dream body and I still felt like shit
So I did it. I did what I always said I would do. I got down to x size and x pounds and then even a bit smaller and smaller and smaller and I took part in a university study that showed that I was clinically 'under-fat' and, jeez it felt like such a triumph. I was thin. I was toned. I had a stomach so rock hard I used to make people poke it at parties (I promise I'm a lot more fun guest now that I eat Doritos more regularly). I had my dream body.
So why wasn't I happy with it? Why did I still pull at my arms and hate photographs of myself and curse my chubby cheeks and not reach the state of total contentment that I thought I would?
I dropped down
in pounds and inches and dress sizes, so i wasn't i meant to go up and up and up in happiness and self-esteem and wasn't I meant to morph into the woman I had always wanted to be? Isn't that what's meant to happen? That once you drop the pounds and 50% of your wardrobe becomes too baggy to wear, that you'll reach your ultimate form? That, in 90s kids' pop culture terms (coincidentally, the third language I speak) you'll go from an ugly, bumbling Bulbasour to sexy, stylish Venusaur you're actually meant to be?
I thought that I would be that tiny, delicate, measured, super cool, calm, spontaneous gal that I so dreamed of being was just waiting to be released once I had performed the simple task of chiseling my body down by 20%. Whereas really I stayed just the same old me: a woman who takes a photograph of the hob just to make sure she's turned all the gas rings off, who can't name any songs that were released post-2008, who is always wearing something with peanut butter smeared on it and who once accidentally put a whole Berocca in her mouth. I wasn't that woman in a bikini, laughing gaily with a group of pals and a green smoothie, I was just me, but this time I had a toned stomach and effectively spent my day in mourning whenever I had ice cream.
Nothing that the diet ads and the weight loss groups and the wellness bloggers and the sponsored Instagram posts for laxative teas promised would happen actually happened. I remember looking at my body in the mirror once (pretty much where I spent the majority of my time when I wasn't in the gym or reading about which food group I should demonise that day) and saying to my boyfriend, 'Y'know, I think I'm kind of starting to like my body'. It must've been a particularly good day, as that feeling certainly didn't become a constant in my life for a long time. I was at my lowest weight at that point: what else would it have taken for me to like my body? To cut out even more food? To spend even more than five days a week in the gym? To decrease my body fat percentage even further? To totally whittle my body down to something unrecognisable?
I wanted more because diet culture had promised me it. But happiness and body confidence and self-acceptance wasn't waiting for you a smaller skirt size. No self-esteem was derived from consistently denying myself crisps. Life didn't properly begin when I dropped 2.5 stone. I had absolutely nothing to show for my life, aside from increased core strength. I wasn't confident. I didn't like myself. I didn't think I had a 'good body'. Why did I think that from engaging in behaviour that stemmed from totally hating myself, would eventually transform into me being totally at peace with myself? It was like buying all the ingredients for carbonara and hoping to end up with a cream cake at the end of cooking it.
Sure, maybe what gets the ball rolling is small, fleeting joy and self-esteem boosts that are to be found a you see the pounds drop and as the compliments roll in but then what happens when that stops? And more importantly, what happens if the pounds pile their way back on, as is more likely than not to happen? Where does happiness and satisfaction come from then? It certainly doesn't come from your hobbies or your creative pursuits or your relationships, God knows you've been spending too much time in the gym for the past two years to dedicate any energy to those areas of your life. Not to brag, (read: yes, to brag) but I have a First Class degree, I speak two foreign languages, I have solid, long-standing relationships with truly gorgeous friends, I have had the privilege of loving the kindest man on Earth for the past nine years, I have moved abroad, twice, by myself, I've run two half marathons, I make really tasty brownies and have amassed a good collection of totally pointless vintage crockery but being handed a tiny bit of paper that said my body fat percentage was in the 'athletic' range, felt like my proudest achievement in my 24 years. I achieved the dieter's dream but it felt like an effin' nightmare.
These days, I don't have my former 'goal' body. I have chunky thighs and a soft tummy and arms that wobble when I run but I am so, so much happier. Honestly. I've accepted the fact that this is what I'm meant to look like. I've made peace with the fact that I can't change it, all I can do is try to be good to my body, be grateful for it and feed it a balanced diet of four cheese pizza, bananas, dancing and respect. And to me, that feels like a much better and more attainable goal.
Sometimes, of course, I have bad days with my body. Sometimes the diet-ey, self-hating thoughts creep back in. Sometimes I don't feel like this. I don't love my body, I don't have a shrine to my cellulite or a framed certificate of weight gained on the mantelpiece, but I do have what I actually wanted for all those years: a good, solid, healthy relationship with exercise, food and myself. That was what would have really made me happy at 16 when I tried strawberry SlimFast or at 18 when I cut out carbs or at 22 when I thought about joining Slimming World or that dark, dark couple of years from 23 to 25 when I felt like my body was my be all and end all, not making myself, and by implication my life, any smaller than it already was.