Growing up, my parents always emphasised my appearance (and weight) over all other attributes. They never discussed whether I was a good friend, a kind person, persistent and resilient, creative – any of the things that I think really matter. Everything came down to one thing: how thin I was and whether boys found me attractive.
I was always a pretty average size – around 55kg at 160cm tall. When I told Mum my bmi was in the healthy range she said that that was the health definition of weight, not the fashion definition, and I should focus on the fashion definition. She even took me to a dietician to get advice on how to lose weight. They also used to make me weigh myself in the kitchen every morning and explain why I’d gained weight if I had. I was humiliated and felt ashamed every day. At other times, Mum would suggest I look at myself in the mirror and criticise my body as motivation to slim down. To this day I can’t look in a mirror.
The impact was dramatic. I went through periods of not eating or binging on exercise, at one point I developed an 11 calorie diet – 2 pieces of celery and some lettuce was all I ate each day. At other times I’d fast and not eat at all. The pressure they put on me was terrible.
I knew it was the reason why I was so depressed as a teenager, but I was too ashamed to talk about it so just deflected any attention and questions about what might be triggering my mood.
Today I have the opposite problem. I eat too much and don’t exercise enough. I wonder if part of it is a sub-conscious decision to keep myself unattractive so I don’t experience any more unwanted sexual attention. The other part of me wonders whether it is rebellion against the pressure I felt as a teenager. I still hate my body and still struggle to talk about it with my team, even though I trust them and feel safe with them. It’s tough.