On Body Shaming, Self-Acceptance and Growing Up

October 2015 054

Hey, this is me out walking yesterday

I was heading home from Yarndale last Saturday. I had been on my feet all day talking to awesome people all day, so was relived to find a supermarket next door to the train station. I bought a sandwich, a fruit salad and some drinks - this would be my dinner as I'd arrive back in Glasgow around 10.30pm. The train was busy with rugby fans heading home from Leeds, but I managed a seat. I sat down, sighed with relief and took a bite of my sandwich. Behind me came a drunk man's voice: ""You should cut down on your sandwiches; you're a fatso" and I paused for a second trying to process what I just heard. The man continued to insult every single female in the carriage before moaning about his ex-wife to his friends. The guy clearly had a problem with women - and I ended up almost feeling sorry for the guy. He was born into this world with all the privilege at his disposal (straight, white male living in a First World country) and yet his life was such a disappointment to him that he felt the need to lash out at other people with less immediate privilege than him.

Then I started thinking about body shaming and how insidious it is. I was the first girl in school to hit puberty, though I was a year younger than the other girls and so, for a very long time, I had a very weird relationship with my body. I am naturally 'blessed' with an hourglass figure which meant I received a lot of unwanted attention when I was an insecure teenager and in my early twenties - both from men who viewed my body shape as an invitation and from catty girls in my school who viewed me as a threat (I never understood the last one, by the way). I wore baggy black clothes for a very long time trying to hide my body.

Looking back, I have been every clothes size imaginable - from a UK size 10 (EU 38, US 6)  to a UK size 22 (EU 50, US 18). I wasn't very happy when I was a 10 nor was I very happy when I was a 22. My unhappiness had very little to do with my body and far more to do with my lifestyle: when I was a size 10 I was recovering from illness; when I was a size 22 I had just graduated from university into a job market that had hit rock bottom. Over the years I have learned that I feel most comfortable when I hover around a UK size 16 (though clothing sizes are very arbitrary at the best of times) - and I have realised I feel happiest when I don't hide away in baggy, black clothes. My body is not a shameful object - it is just me.

As I get older, I feel much more comfortable being me. I have also become increasingly aware of how I live in a society that tries to fuel all kinds of insecurities to make me conform and consume. As a woman I'm told: be attractive! be attractive in a really specific way! be attractive in a really specific way and don't have any opinions because that is unattractive! be attractive and then we will tear you down for being attractive! I happen to work in an industry that is full of strong women who run their own businesses. I see a lot more diversity in my industry (though we can always do better, but that is a big discussion and one for another day) than I see in mainstream media. I feel inspired and invigorated by the people who surround me - from the smart, intelligent conversations on Twitter to the slow fashion ethos I keep witnessing at yarn shows. I feel really empowered by the women around me - I am sure most of you don't even realise how fantastic you are!

But if I had not just been at Yarndale; if I hadn't stumbled into this industry where I see awesome women being themselves; if I hadn't accepted myself for who I am; if I hadn't realised that society doesn't want me to be happy unless I conform (and bah to that!); if this train journey had happened to a younger Karie in another place and another time, I think I would have had a very different reaction. And that is actually the thought that's haunted me for the past week or so.

(Yes, that is a new hat pattern. More on which later.)

PS there are a tonne of great resources on how to deal with other people trying to take ownership of your body, how to deal with body-shaming, and how to be a positive role model for young women in your life. I'm not going to add any links to this blog post, but feel free to share links on Twitter etc and I'll happily do a round-up.