I have just returned from a screening of Embrace – a moving and powerful film about body image. About learning to love your body, in whatever size or shape it comes, and the damaging impact media has on our sense of self-image when compared to photo-shopped images all around us. I cried with admiration for the filmmaker – Taryn Brumfitt and the amazing women featured in her film, all of whom are incredibly inspiring and awesome, not because of how they look, but because of WHO THEY ARE.
So why did I leave the screening feeling like the bad guy? Deflated, depressed and desperate to get back to my car so I could sob without making a spectacle of myself in public? In many ways I am the polar opposite of of how Taryn sees women progressing in embracing their own body image: I was obese and unhappy, joined a slimming club, and have shared my success and pleasure in losing weight. Like it or not, I have made my own contribution to slim-equals-happy, everyone-should-be-a-size-zero, big-company-weight-loss-money-making-scheme brigade. However, my views DO match Taryn’s, funnily enough, I DON’T think looks matter, I DON’T think size matters, and I DO think girls and women should learn to love themselves from as young as possible in order to fulfill their own potential.
Therefore that leaves me conflicted. I am about to set up my own slimming club. That is at odds with my viewpoint isn’t it? What about my journey within the last nine months? Am I happier because I am slimmer, and should I even allow myself to feel happier because I am slimmer? I have reflected heavily in the two hours since the film finished and am writing now for the sole purpose of continuing to reflect and question myself. Why do I want to set up a slimming club if not to encourage people to lose weight?
My reasons for wanting to set up my own slimming club are very simple – I want to help people, I want to fulfill a purpose, I want to feel like a valuable member of the community. For anyone that feels they WANT to lose weight, I want to inspire and show that it can be done, even when you think it can’t – I was that person. I do not intend to put a gun to anyone’s head and say this is what YOU SHOULD do. If you want to do it, I want to help. However I cannot control the original reasons why someone may walk into a slimming club. If someone is doing it because they think they should, from societal pressure, from media images or because they think slim equals happy then that remains their own journey to follow, identify and reconcile themselves with. What I do know, is that I was a hair’s breadth away from being diagnosed pre-diabetic. I had joint and back pain I couldn’t get rid of. My cardiovascular health was not as good as it could be. I wanted to change those facts, and was ready to change my lifestyle to do so. I don’t believe I have gone ‘on a diet’, I believe I have changed my eating behaviour and my attitude towards food. It is a lifestyle change that I love and has led to me feeling the benefit not only physically but also mentally, in many ways.
Taryn held a Q&A after the film, and we all listened intently. One of her messages was less judgement, more love. I wholeheartedly agree. I also waited in a very long queue of admirers afterwards to meet her. I often think that people’s first impressions of me are never representative of the person I am. As I disclosed my feelings of conflict Taryn recommended I read ‘Healthy at Every Size‘ – I couldn’t help but feel affronted. I will read the book but know absolutely that I was not healthy as I was. I may well put all my weight back on and then some, or I might not. I love running now – I absolutely couldn’t run at almost 17 stone, however others may do. I don’t suffer with the back pain I previously did. I haven’t had a repeat blood glucose test but the scientific evidence is clear – losing 5-10% of your body weight if you are medically obese increases good cholesterol, reduces hypertension, and can reverse insulin resistance amongst many other health benefits. Therefore I cannot agree that there isn’t a place for a slimming club, and in particular the one I endorse has the motto #livehappy – that says it all for me.
Media images of women can be damaging. I would hope that if I attain my goal of getting on the Slimming World magazine front cover, as a size 12-14 as I am now, it would hopefully be inspiring to people who want the health benefits of losing weight. I ask not to be judged for losing weight, it is simply one part of my journey which always comes back to my mental health. It remains the basis for everyone’s ability to function in life. I am happier now than I was when I first walked into my slimming group. My mental health will always have a fragility to it, which is what leads me to question myself intently at every hint of conflict.
Love yourself as you are, absolutely, you are unique and amazing and infinitely more than your physical weight. But as with everything in life, if you want to improve at something you have to work hard at it, and if I can help someone with one aspect of that, then it will be an honour and a privilege.
Thanks for listening,