So this week I received a DM on Instagram by a girl asking me about my weight and height, so that she could compare herself to me. I think she was a bot, because she obviously hasn’t seen my cellulite. But the whole thing got me thinking about my relationship with my body, how it has evolved and how much of a struggle it’s been. This post is all about the thing I’ve somehow always managed to be unhappy about: my body.
Boys, Girls and Body Image
Growing up as one of the boys, I never really worried about my body too much. Sure, sometimes people in my group of friends would call me Xena because of my slightly masculine attire, my passion for warrior women and my muscly arms, but my body was never a problem. However, as soon as I moved to London, the stress of “making it” in the capital and a slightly less structured life brought in binge eating and a lot of body image worries.
Fast-forward seven years later, and now I hang out with a lot of women. My friends are mostly women. In between London and Sydney, I’ve had the chance to hang out with unique, gorgeous women, all different and fantastic in a variety of ways. Yet, there’s one thing that we all had in common: we weren’t happy with our bodies. FYI, I don’t only hang out with pole dancers. I have friends from all walks of life. Some young professionals, some models, some bloggers, some academics, some everything. Could it be that every girl, every woman and everyone identifying as a woman at some point has to deal with a form of unhappiness related to her body?
I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel here, and I’m not referring to any research paper or anything. I’m talking out of personal experience. And my personal experience is telling me that body image is a huge issue for women, and that we often aren’t happy about ours. So as someone who is now ok with staring at her half-naked body everyday (and sometimes shows it to strangers, too) here are my two cents.
The Representation Issue
Before I even start, I’d like to say that I really don’t feel represented by the media, fashion or beauty world. Not because I’m so special that there isn’t a girl that looks like me out there – quite the opposite. In fact, there are too many girls like me, and maybe I’m too normal. I’m short (5.5″), muscly and my body weight is normal-ish. I have a typically Italian tiny waist I’ve inherited from my mum. My shoulders are broad due to years of swimming, and my arms are muscly because I did gymnastics as a child and because of pole, obvs. I’ve always had thick legs and they’re now thicker because I twerk. #thickthighssavelives
There are many girls like me – I’ve met them. I’ve had many a chat about this with my friend Emma, who’s a fitness and lifestyle journalist and blogger, during our coastal walks back in Sydney. Most clothes and products are meant to be bought by “normal women”, but “normal women” are not used in the ads or campaigns to sell them (with a few exceptions). And how could they? Often, if you want to be a model, you need to be at least 5.7″. Even if the industry is now accepting different looks, you still need certain sizes. So that leaves girls like me, who are short, not plus size but not model-size either, outside the “cool girl” space in terms of media and advertising.
I’ve never really bothered too much about this until I begun working in PR, when I understood the power of spreading the same images and the same messages over and over again. You think what’s out there doesn’t influence you… but it does.
My Relationship With My Body
Since 2014 (the year in which I got into an abusive relationship) I’ve been worrying about my body in a way that concerned me more than it did before. It stopped being the “I wish I could lose a few kilos” type of worry, becoming more of a ridiculous weight fluctuation. When the relationship was at its worst, I weighed 51 kg (112.4 pounds). I was 21, and I weighed as much as I did when I was 13 because I wasn’t eating. Then when I went to America and started binge-eating to drown my sorrows, I weighed 62 kg (about 137 pounds). If my kilos/pounds conversion sucks, blame Google btw cause I don’t know shit.
When, after dieting and working out, I managed to restabilise my weight to 57 kg (about 126 pounds), I became terribly scared of gaining it all back. It wasn’t just that I didn’t want my face to look puffy, or my thighs to be flabby. Gaining weight for me was a synonym of losing control, of being at my worst, of not healing.
In my case however, worrying about my food intake and appearance was only detrimental to my health. It became an issue, with me skipping meals to then binge-eat at night. By wanting to be in charge, I was only more out of control.
My body has always been my first victim when I’m stressed or upset – so much so I wrote a whole book about a girl with “scars on her legs”. Do you see where I’m getting at here?
My Pet Hates
Everyone has something about their body that bothers them. In my case, when I gain weight, I gain it on my thighs. The stretch marks brought by my weight oscillations and the cellulite I’ve had since getting on the pill really bother me. They make me feel out of control, because it’s something that I can’t change, even now that I train from 10 to 15 hours a week.
Sometimes I also hate being a woman and having to deal with periods, and how they make me feel bloated for a week every month, hiding that six-pack I work so hard to maintain. Plus, sometimes I still get acne. I talked about it in a recent blog post and in an article by my friend and fellow blogger Emma from A Girl In Progress. Surprise surprise, it’s all about control.
In short, like every woman, I’ve got pet hates related to my appearance. Even all the amazing women I do pole with, who have wonderful, strong bodies have them. And I guess that’s ok, if they don’t start to rule your life.
Just to prove that to you, here’s an Insta post by one of the world’s top pole dancers, Michelle Shimmy, talking about her cellulite. I hear you, girl!
I love the one handed spin! It feels like flying… 🧚♂️ PS when I first saw this pic I thought hmmm my butt looks a little bit dimply/stretch marky here but then I realised I was being dumb. I’m a professional pole dancer and I train my butt off and I still have a lil bit of cellulite here and there even though I exercise for two hours a day at least! So the moral of the story is that cellulite is a part of being a woman for almost every woman – like having boobs really. So hoorah for boobs and cellulite and hurrah for flat chests and smooth butt skin and any combination of the above 😍 🍑 photo by @theblacklightsydney
Only now I feel like, finally, after seven years of living by myself and not relying on the balanced diet provided by my mother, I have started to love my body. Can you believe it? Seven fucking years of not liking myself. Fuck that shit.
At the cost of sounding repetitive, I’m going to have to say that pole was a game-changer for me. After all, if you find something that makes you feel like you wanna be butt-naked in front of a mirror everyday, it’s a win, right?
Joining the pole community and seeing how accepting it is of people of all genders, ethnicities, sizes and styles really helped me come out of my shell. When I started, I was struggling with deep and severe self-loathing brought by the shame of being with a man who hurt me. I took it out on my body by binge-eating because I felt somehow responsible.
Pole has helped me accept myself and work harder towards the person I want to become. The fact that I want to perform makes me want to be in shape while I’m in front of people, but I also know that attitude and tricks are way more important than my looks. I know that even if I feel bloated because it’s that time of the month, going upside down is more impressive than a 100% flat belly.
Confirmation that I was on the right track came before Christmas with a body scan I took at Speedflex London. Instead of focusing on my body weight, the scan looked at my muscle mass and revealed my weight is on the low end of normal. It was the best feeling ever, because I was working out, doing what I loved and eating what I wanted. I now weigh 62 kilos, and even though I’m 167cm tall it’s fine, because my weight has gone up due to my muscles.
So I guess this post is just to say that I am one of the many women that worry too much about her appearance, but that I’m also happy with my body and I’m grateful for it. I’m grateful to have a body that lets me twerk in a handstand and go upside down on a pole. I’m grateful for a body that can take falls and bruises, and that has carried me through some really hard times without giving up on me.
So to the girl who asked me my weight and height: they don’t matter. They are numbers and they don’t have anything to do with how I feel about myself anymore. And I’m thankful for that.
Pictures by: Lioness Photographer (apart from the bad ones, #shotoniPhone4)