Does my Bum Look… Fashionable in This?

Photo credit: Liam Wilde via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA
Photo credit: Liam Wilde via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but after many years of skinny ruling the roost in the fashion world, curvy is now creeping into the spotlight. And in many ways this is great. Having experienced being both at various stages of my life I’m the first person to advocate the respect and admiration of all body types. But wonderful and necessary as this growing appreciation for curvy is I can’t help thinking it’s a bit weird that body types, or anything to do with our bodies (don’t get me started on the bushy eyebrow thing!), can be ‘in fashion’ in the first place.

Being a fairly comfortable size 12 today, people are often surprised when I tell them that when I was 15 years old I weighed 15 stone. And, being pretty happy (mostly) with the way I am now, it’s disturbing for me to think about how much I hated my body back then. On boiling hot summer days I’d be covered from head to toe in black, not an inch of flesh visible besides my hands and face. Not even when I was sweating profusely would I feel confident enough to remove a few layers to cool myself down. Back then I would rather have jumped into a pit of spiders (my biggest fear) than show my legs or arms to anyone.

So, being fat was a pretty traumatic and uncomfortable experience for me when I was growing up. And despite being desperate to lose weight it wasn’t until years later that I started to shed the pounds and finally feel confident enough to expose certain parts of my body in public. Contrary to my expectation, though, losing weight didn’t eliminate all of my insecurities. Yes, I found clothes shopping easier and more enjoyable, and walking was more comfortable without my legs rubbing together. But I still had the same fear of showing my fully naked body (an insecurity which prevented me from losing my virginity until I was 22), and I still felt that I was less attractive than my friends. I thought that being slim would solve all of  my body issues. Little did I know they would never fully go away.

The biggest expectation I had at the time, though, was that if I lost weight I would be more attractive and sexually desirable. And I was right. I was. This was made clear by the sudden increase in attention that I started to receive. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the barrage of unwanted attention from strangers that being slim would also bring.

At one stage after dropping from a size 18-20 to a curvy 12-14, I actually found myself wishing I could put the weight back on so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the sleazy ogling that I increasingly found myself subject to. From walking down the street to standing at the bar waiting to be served, everywhere I went there was a creepy man either staring or making an uninvited comment about my body. Ever since I can remember the idea that’s been sold to me in magazines, in films and on TV is that slim people are happier, more attractive, and more successful than those who are not. At no point did I ever consider that being slim would make me feel anything other than beautiful and sexy. What actually happened was that I found myself feeling hugely self-conscious, aware that I was being looked at more frequently by a broader range of people, including other women, and not always in a respectful way. Of course, depending on who was looking, this attention was sometimes enjoyable. But for the most part it simply made me feel uncomfortable, anxious, and sometimes even frightened. This really wasn’t what I’d signed up for.

I thought that being slim would solve all of  my body issues. Little did I know, they would never fully go away.

Needless to say, any notions I’d once had about being happier if I lost weight quickly went out the window as I came to understand that being slim and being fat can both be problematic, although for different reasons. Being an insecure size 18-20 had protected me from a huge amount of the objectification that I came to despise when I was slim. But until I lost weight I had no idea how chronically invisible I’d been when I was bigger.

However, being someone who always feels slightly inadequate regardless of how big or small I am, I’ve come to realise that the invisibility I experienced wasn’t solely caused by other people’s judgements. I didn’t feel beautiful or sexy as a size 18-20 and so I covered my body and shrank into myself. Whilst I can’t deny that the images of tall, slinky women that I was bombarded with in the media didn’t encourage me to feel good about myself, I know now that most of what I felt about my body came as a result of my own preconceptions about beauty. I decided that I was ugly compared to everyone around me and this insecurity is what I projected to the outside world. I have met many women throughout my life who, although being what may be considered overweight, exude a level of confidence and self-acceptance that I can only dream of, even now as a size 12. And, conversely, I’ve also met many women who are slim who suffer with crippling insecurities about their appearance.

The body positive movement is a great step towards helping people to love their bodies regardless of size or shape. But as helpful and positive as it is are we still allowing external factors to dictate how feel about ourselves?

Regardless of the feminist campaign for body positivity, the success of the fashion industry relies on insecurity and it will always seek to make us feel bad about ourselves in one way or another. So whilst curves are finally receiving the appreciation they deserve this doesn’t mean that all of the lumps and bumps that tend to come along with being voluptuous will be viewed in a positive light, or that curves will be portrayed in the media any more respectfully and realistically than other body types have been. I can’t speak for everyone, but in my experience my curvy body has been far more sexualized and objectified than it has been respected.

It may be the case that the fashion industry is starting to appreciate diversity. And this is without doubt a hugely positive development that will certainly help more people to feel accepted in society. But regardless of how ‘fashionable’ any body type is, insecurities can materialise as a result of many different experiences. And what I’ve come to understand through my own journey is that self-acceptance is the key to confidence and contentment. Without finding validation and love inside of ourselves the respect we deserve from society will always be something that we’re fighting for. In the words of Gertrude Keazor — one of the wisest women I have had the pleasure of meeting in my adult life — ‘As we embody from within, so the outside world will adjust.’

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Maddie is a freelance writer and lifelong lover of literary fiction, with a particular interest in the Gothic and macabre.