I’m so excited to share with you a very special guest blog today in honour of Mental Health Foundation‘s Mental Health Awareness Week.
Charlotte and I have been friends our whole lives – we met at nursery age 2, have been on holidays together and even promised we’d get married one day, until one of our parents said that wasn’t allowed (well it wasn’t in 1992 anyway 😂).
She’s an incredibly talented artist, interesting person and kind soul. And when I heard that the theme for this year’s mental health campaign was body image, Charlotte won’t mind me saying that I automatically thought of her. Body image has played a role, one way or another, in a number of her personal struggles and no one is more qualified than she is to kick this off.
So please – read her story, comment, ask questions and share your stories too. We’re all in this together 💪
Today marks the start of Mental Health Week, and the theme is Body Image – as a fat, feminist woman I definitely have some experience in this area.
I’ve been fat for… I’d say about 90% of my life. I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), a condition that affects my hormones, my mental health, my appearance, my fertility – and the way I interact with the world on a daily basis. It has done from the age of about 11, and I’m 34 this year.
When you’ve grown up in a fat body, comments about your weight, bullying, assumptions about your health, your ability in sport and your romantic relationships become something fairly commonplace, but dreaded nonetheless. The comments may come from a ‘well meaning’ relative, a school bully, a good friend, a glossy magazine or a medical professional, but they all get filed away for a rainy day for your brain to bring up at opportune moments when you need them least.
That school-mates snide voice still chatters in your ear as you slip into your swimsuit on holiday. How nice of Steven from class 7a to remind me I’d be ‘hotter if I was thinner’ again now I’m a 33 year old Mum of 1, just trying to enjoy a swim in Tenerife.
Body image – it may be constructed from external sources, but it becomes our inner truth, a false truth we need to challenge. It’s hard! But the alternative for me was living a life of extremely disordered eating and self loathing, one that led me to be treated for binge eating disorder and orthorexia, after infertility treatment and a death in the family left me spiralling and using food to both control and self destruct simultaneously.
Eventually I realised that I did NOT deserve to be spoken to the way my poor brain used to speak to me, and my body did not deserve the abuse I gave her.
So at age 30 I changed my story and I rejected diet culture in all its forms. It’s what got me into my mental health mess and it couldn’t give me a route out. I even rejected its sneaky forms that claim to be ‘wellness,’ ‘health’ or ‘lifestyle choices’. Believe me, I’ve explored them all. There’s no miracle cure for hating your body. Wait – there is! Being kind to your body instead, and not trying to shrink it to fit someone else’s image of how you should look. GASP! An epiphany!
Around 95% of diets fail after 2 years and there is a wealth of data that supports the idea that choosing to exist at a higher weight while exploring joyful movement and exercise for fun has far more benefits than yo yo dieting, obsessing over every meal and hating yourself every minute of your life.
‘But what about your health and the OBESITY EPIDEMIC!?’ I hear you cry? I would certainly encourage you to challenge assumptions on what you’ve been taught and think about where these messages have come from. Challenge fat-phobic statements that are treated as medical fact. Ask yourself: ‘who profits from your bad body image?’
Here are some things I know: thin does not equal healthy; fat does not automatically equal unhealthy. And we all know that health is so much more than just your physical health.
Fat people aren’t morally corrupt or lazy. Don’t get me wrong – some are, but no more so than thin people. Fat activists exist and they fight for fat people to be treated with respect and accountability by the medical profession (amongst other things!) Losing weight is not a cure-all or the answer to all my problems (despite my GPs “advice”).
The term fat can be a neutral descriptive term, not automatically an insult. Emotional eating is normal eating and is OK, you are not ‘out of control’. You don’t need to control food. Restricting food, feeling shame and guilt over eating is what gives binge eating power. If you eat what you want, food becomes just food. Praising weight loss sucks. Food has no moral value, eating is not ‘clean’ or ‘dirty’ – it’s just eating, a necessary process for our bodies to function.
You are the same person, no matter what your body looks like. You can do the things that you’ve been putting off until you look a certain way right now!
I chose between thinness and my mental health and now I am fatter and I’m happier. The bullying voices are quieter in my head and importantly, most days, I am at peace with my body. That’s my experience of body image x
Charlotte Thomson-Morley is a professional artist with over 15 years experience.
Throughout her career she has run a successful business selling her unique art, co-managed and run sell-out drawing workshops, and been artistically involved in the burlesque scene. She currently works for a well-known creative software company, and is also a qualified reflexologist.
This year, she is launching the eagerly anticipated Anura Arts – creative workshops, designed to give you the chance to explore meditation, mindfulness and also feminist and body acceptance themes through art.