When you simply can’t love the skin you’re in…

This is another long one, I’m afraid guys! I feel that in order to move forward I just need to get everything out in the open and be honest (particularly with myself). The last post was hard enough to write, but this one was even more of a struggle. I think it’s so sad to look back and see how much time I have wasted of my 32 years of life by hating myself so much.

As explained in one of my previous posts, I was always a bigger kid. I always remember, even from such a young age, feeling embarrassed when I wore shorts because my thighs touched. I had a pot belly and got boobs early and swimming lessons with primary school were always dreaded. My lack of self confidence (along with an accident trying to join in with everyone) gave me a fear of the water. I was 11 years old when I last went into a swimming pool in my childhood.

As I grew older I would always wear clothes which hid my body. I was bigger than everyone else and thought I had to cover up, because after all, no one wants to see ‘that’, right? I began getting stretch marks when I was about 15. I remember having a bit of a growth spurt (though not much as I’m vertically challenged!) over the summer holidays and not really realising until it came to a new term at school where my baggy jeans were swapped for school skirts. I was so embarrassed to notice I had some on the backs of my knees and my upper arms. I tried to cover them with foundation and used pocket money to secretly buy wonder creams from Boots, but nothing worked. I was mortified. No one ever specifically mentioned them, but I was certain people were looking and staring behind me in the queue at lunch or going up the stairs for lessons. I kept my blazer on even in the heat of summer because I was so ashamed of my body and would beg my parents to write notes excusing me from PE almost every week. The weeks they didn’t I always ‘forgot’ my kit. I always carried more weight on my legs and remember sitting in the lounge when I was about 14/15 in my school uniform and my Mum turning and looking at my legs with a look of disbelief on her face and exclaiming ‘your legs look like tree trunks’. Again, I was absolutely mortified and tried to hold back the tears with the biggest lump in my throat ever. She later said it was because of how my socks made my legs look but it made no difference really – socks or not, they were still how my legs looked anyway and it’s always stuck with me to the point I’ve always hated my legs the most.

As I got older and started going out and gaining more weight I continued to cover up. I was into the whole goth/skater/rock type ‘scene’ so it was more baggy jeans and t-shirts going to rock clubs and drinking beer rather than short strappy dresses and heels that others my age would wear going out. I always wanted to be able to wear dresses but just didn’t think someone of my size, with my figure was able to.

I covered up a lot in relationships, I managed to make excuses and find ways to keep the lights off, avoid sharing bathroom time etc. I couldn’t bear for anyone to see me naked – all I could see was fat, stretch marks, wobbly bits and ugliness and presumed that’s what everyone else would be able to see too. Even when I began to lose weight after my run in at the Family Planning Clinic, I never saw the difference – I always saw myself at my biggest. I suppose in a way, you could say I had an element of body dysmorphia over my size as the years went on (though my CBT therapist said in 2015 that this wasn’t the case so much anymore). I always recall one point in my life when I was about 20 – I’d grown to hate my appearance that much that I didn’t leave the house for three months. I was living in the middle of no where with my ex-husband, I didn’t have a job at the time and was unable to drive then – I was totally secluded, away from family and friends and the isolation didn’t help how I felt about myself. One afternoon, a friend drove over to see me and we had a coffee before he asked if I wanted to nip out. I was too embarrassed to say no and explain that actually I felt fat and ugly and didn’t want to face the world at all, but I agreed and we went out. We only drove to the local town, about 20 minutes away, and I remember vividly the panic setting in. I blurted out I didn’t want to get out of the car and made some excuse about it being too cold. Luckily for me we drove past my ex who was waiting for the bus home from work and we picked him up and went straight back home. Seeing my friend made me realise I was missing out on life so arranged to meet my best friend shortly after. It’s crazy looking back now and she probably won’t even remember this, but – at the time I was seeing skinny jeans and Ugg boots everywhere as the latest trend. I wanted to wear them even though I was so self conscious of my legs but forced myself into buying a pair of skinny jeans. They were a size UK12 and I thought my legs looked huge in them but just really wanted to wear them – I guess I just wanted to fit in again. I arranged to meet my friend in one place but by the time I got off the bus I was so frozen with fear, thinking everyone would be looking and staring because my legs were so big and I was so embarrassed by how I looked I called her and made her walk all the way up to meet me. I felt I needed her as a crutch really, though I can’t remember what excuse I made to her for having to meet me somewhere else. Sounds ridiculous now, but when you hate your body so much you do stupid things like that.

The pregnancy with my eldest son in 2006 really stretched my body to the limits. Eating for two as well as having a huge (9lbs 14oz) baby born by emergency caesarean and then breastfeeding changed everything even more. I had more stretch marks, loose skin on my stomach and the dreaded c-section ‘shelf’ (the majority of Mums who have given birth this way will understand this!).

As my eating and exercise habits grew more and more out of control, so did my self loathing. No matter how small I was, I always saw myself as how I was at my biggest. I would scrutinise every inch of my body in the mirror and that’s when the ‘body checking’ began. The first thing I would do when I got up every morning was look at my stomach in the mirror from every angle – literally the second I got out of bed. I would suck it in, push it out, try and tense it – everything. I would tell myself over and over how disgusting I looked as I poked and prodded at myself and longed to look how I imagined ‘perfect’ was – a slim, blemish and mark free body with everything taut and toned and in the right place. Obviously I would spend the rest of the day in a bad mood because that’s not how I looked at all. The controlling behaviour with my disordered eating and exercise habits coupled with low self esteem was a recipe for disaster.

I always wanted to take my son swimming but still had the water fear I’d developed at 11. I was never a strong swimmer anyway and was so embarrassed by how I looked that we never went. It wasn’t until we were on holiday in 2008 that I went in a swimming pool for the first time since 1995. It was awful. We only went in the shallow toddler pool for about half an hour but I was so embarrassed all I could think about was how I looked, rather than enjoying myself and having fun. We left and I never went back in the pool again, leaving my ex husband to take our son in whilst I sat on a bench outside the swimming complex for the rest of the holiday.

Some days were better than others. Sometimes I would feel ok. I got the confidence to start wearing dresses like I had always wanted but only with leggings to begin with. I got brave enough to wear them with tights at one point and felt on top of the world, though I ALWAYS covered my arms up -even in the height of summer. I had been embarrassed by the stretch marks on my upper arms since high school and once I had left I never wore anything which didn’t cover them.

When I got together with my (now) husband, I started to feel a bit better about my appearance. He absolutely doted on me, always full of compliments and made me feel so good (the same is still true now!). I still had the odd niggle but didn’t want him to know how I really felt about myself. It was hard enough to try and justify my erratic eating habits at the time. In 2013 his parents had organised a charity function and we had to wear red or white as the dress code. I panicked about what I was going to wear totally more than necessary and must have ordered about 20 outfits as well as trawling the shops for weeks before I found something I didn’t feel completely disgusting in. I wanted to look good and didn’t want to show him up or let his family down by not making the effort. Obviously I restricted more in the run up to that so I didn’t look ‘fat’. The dress I finally found was sleeveless. It was warmer at that time of the year and I couldn’t find a cover up that suited it, plus I was too embarrassed to admit to my man that I was so ashamed of my arms I wanted a cover up in the first place. That evening was the first time in 12 years that I had been out in public with my arms and legs on show – no cover up and no tights or leggings. No one batted an eyelid. I forced myself to continue to not hide my arms away all the time and ditched the leggings with my dresses. I’m still proud of that now and just wish it hadn’t have taken me so long – plus, it’s much cooler in the summer now!

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As our relationship progressed I still felt self conscious about my body. I thought if he saw me how I really was then he would go off me. I was naive to think he didn’t know what I looked like, of course he did (the poor man had to undress me and put me to bed after a few too many one night!), but if I told myself I was doing all I could to hide my body from him then I was able to kid myself that he hadn’t seen how my tummy looked in certain positions/at certain angles or how bad my stretch marks were. He would constantly tell me how beautiful I was and how good I looked but I always thought he was saying it because he felt he had to because I was his girlfriend. The obsessive body checking continued over the years, but it was other body parts now too and not just my stomach.

Becoming pregnant for the second time in the autumn of 2013 was a strange time. Aside from the pregnancy problems I suffered with and having to move home to another city and leave my old life behind as well as completing final exams and assessments, I was worrying about how another pregnancy would change my body. I did gain the recommended 2 stone but obviously another child born by c-section (who again brought a lot of fluid with him and a ginormous bump!) and breastfeeding changed my body further. I was so embarrassed about how I looked I kept hiding myself away from him, but obsessively body checking myself throughout the day. My husband would reassure me he knew what I looked like and was more than happy but I felt guilty that I looked so bad and I wanted him to be with someone who looked better. On a daily basis I would complain about my weight and appearance in excess of 50 times (CBT exercises I completed showed me how many times I would say these things and how many times I would body check in a day). I cannot imagine how wearing that must have been for him and looking back I can see how much he truly does love me for still being by my side and supporting me despite all of that.

In 2016 we decided to spend our first wedding anniversary at the end of that summer at a spa. Neither of us had ever been before and it would be the first time leaving both the kids and having a few days truly for ourselves. Obviously, I again went on a strict diet and exercise regime and worried about wearing swimwear to the point I was ruining the excitement of going. I had been in a swimming pool just once in over 20 years and had never actually wore a bikini in my life. I ordered so many items of swimwear to try and find something to hoik my boobs up and hide my c-section ‘shelf’. I worked out and dieted like there was no tomorrow and eventually found a few bikinis which looked better than the swimsuits I had tried.

When we eventually got to the spa I tried to relax – this was our first anniversary and I was determined to enjoy it. I had just begun reading The Goddess Revolution by Mel Wells and kept reminding myself that everything I was saying about my body, I would never say to a friend so I must treat my own body like a friend and be more kind. The changing rooms were communal which was my first biggest fear, but looking around me at women of all shapes, sizes and ages stripping off without a care in the world reassured me. I couldn’t quite tie my bikini tight enough at the back and walked over to the mirrors to look. Well, my bikini pinged up and my boobs popped out in front of a load of women drying their hair. I felt so embarrassed and mumbled something about the stupid bikini. One woman just casually walked up to me and said ‘let me help you love’ and tied the straps. She didn’t gawp or glare and no one looked horrified by my deflated from breastfeeding boobs. I put my robe on and met my husband outside. We went for a couples Moroccan mud rasul to begin with. I initially felt self conscious, even in front of him, but having seen how much fun he was having rubbing mud all over me I was soon able to relax and we had a really good laugh (plus our skin felt amazing afterwards!). After that it was time for the pool and Jacuzzi before more treatments later. Taking my robe off in front of other people was a bit like pulling a plaster off. I did it quickly but pretended it wasn’t happening. Again, I looked around – men and women of all ages, shapes and sizes without a care in the world wearing everything from one pieces and long shorts to bikinis and speedos! I realised everyone was more concerned with themselves and their own party to look at my stretch marks and c-section wobble tucked into my bikini bottoms! The following day was easier and we left after an amazing time feeling good.

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A few months later we were due to go on a family holiday and I knew we would be spending a lot of time in the pool. This time I didn’t go on a mad diet and exercise regime like I had at the end of August and was a bit bigger. I was still cranky and grumpy and panicked about being in a bikini in public but I forced myself and did it and we all had an amazing time with the kids and my lovely in-laws.

And so here we are. I’m still struggling to accept my body changing as I gain weight and relax my eating habits and I do have lots of times still when I am covering up and hiding myself away, but I am trying to get over it. This morning I weighed myself because I wanted to actually see that I had gained weight and be ok with it. I have and I am now 7st 8lbs. Normally that would send me into a diet panic, but instead I weighed myself, walked into the lounge in just my underwear and jumped on my husband and gave him a big hug (whilst trying not to crease his work shirt so much!) with all my lovely wobbly bits out! He was actually delighted!

I know it will take time to change my mindset as I have had a whole lifetime of not loving the skin I am in, but if I can keep making these little changes and keep moving forward then I am certain I will get there in the end. I am determined to love my body for how it is. I believe it is absolutely fine to want to make changes or improvements, but just as long as you already love the body you have and the skin you are in and you’re doing it for yourself and no one else.

Finally, if sharing my story and my experiences can make just one other person get better and head into recovery then I’ll be happy.

 

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