Body image - The internalised Hate by Jade Bedingfeld
Jade Bedingfeld reflects on her experience of body image and the impact into adulthood.
Body image has always been a challenging concept for me. For as long as I can remember I have experienced a negative relationship with my body and the ‘image' and ‘ideal' to what my mind told me it should be. These preconceptions I had forged for myself were manipulated by social media’s unrealistic portrayals, unrealistic clothes sizing, and the comments and opinions held by those around me.
‘bigger’ in my mindset equated to meaning ‘ugly’
My youngest recollection of feeling insecure about my body is primary school. Although hate is a strong word, unfortunately it is how I felt about myself at the time, from a young age I have always been aware that compared to other girls around me I seemed to be 'bigger'. I was a child starting to go through puberty and experiencing changes in my body, and although that is a completely normal biological occurrence, at that age all I saw were the differences and to me, those differences were seen to be negative and the idea of being ‘bigger’ in my mindset equated to meaning ‘ugly’. At this time I was only 9 or so, yet I was already making these associations. Distinctly, I remember being told I would lose that 'puppy fat' one day, so I shouldn't 'worry' or jokingly being called 'fatso' for having that extra bit of chocolate or for being 'lazy' that day or being told I really ‘should do more exercise to lose weight’.
Growing up hearing these things, I learnt to be self-conscious, insecure and ultimately hate the way I looked.
I specifically remember in year 6 going on a trip through some caves, and at one point we reached a part called the 'postbox', it effectively was a horizontal slit between rocks which you had to crawl through. I was a 10-year-old girl and even though I had just watched a full-grown adult fit through that gap, because of what I had internalised, I was beyond terrified that I was not going to fit, and in fact had convinced myself I wouldn't which in itself almost set off a panic attack. Events like this continued to happen throughout my school life, most noticeably on trips or activities outside of my very small comfort zone.
Through my negative relationship with my body, I in-turn manifested a bad relationship with clothes. I always seemed to be needing clothes three or four sizes up from what other girls in my year were buying and although now I understand that every body shape is different and you have to ignore the categorised numbers and buy the clothes that fit, I used to be very self-aware and upset at needing ‘bigger’ sizes. Whenever I bought clothes, I would always ask my mum to buy the next size up ‘just in case’, I was scared the clothes would not fit and wanted to save myself the embarrassment.
This transgressed into school uniform too, I'd hide in my baggy jumper, but then be terrified I looked 'too big' in it when all the other girls in my year looked perfectly normal and nice in their jumpers. This issue was furthered by tight clothes like swimming suits and the ridiculous leotards we had to wear in school or the times when we had to wear bibs during sports, on one occasion we were given a set of bibs to put on, they fit all the other girls perfectly, but not me. I couldn’t fit it over my chest. I felt so embarrassed and burst into tears, I did not know what to do, I was too afraid to get told off for not wearing it but also too afraid to tell the teacher why. When the teacher asked, I eventually told her why I was so upset and she dealt with it well, she calmly got me a different bib that fit okay and moved on without another word. But that issue should have never taken place, I shouldn’t have been given something that wouldn’t fit and I shouldn’t have felt so embarrassed.
On another occasion, because of what we had to wear and how I felt about myself, it caused one of the worst anxiety moments I have ever faced. I am a very nervous individual who has always struggled with anxiety. So being very shy and hating being the centre of attention, answering questions in class was a no go. I would often just cry because that was my flight or fight response, my social anxiety would build up and I would get myself in such a state, but that was my bodies reaction. Unfortunately, I had this reaction in a gym class. I always dreaded sports especially gym because we had to wear tight fitting leotards, in this particular lesson we had to wear leotards and we had to choreograph dance moves for a catwalk, not only that, but we had to perform it to the class in groups and it was to be filmed. Already red flags were going off in my head. I didn't like performing and because of my hate for my body I didn't like being filmed or what I was being made to wear. I felt so uncomfortable and so overwhelmed. I repeatedly asked the teacher not to do it and I was in tears. The teacher still made me do it.
'I would do anything to go back and give younger me a hug and tell her it's completely normal to feel like this'
This triggered the worst panic attack I've had to date. The nurse had to be called to get me, but after half an hour I was sent back to lessons and that was that, nothing was ever addressed by the school neither through the teacher or anyone else. I essentially felt ignored and disregarded, it re-enhanced how I felt about myself because I was made to feel in the wrong for that reaction. No one ever told me that it was okay to feel like that, not even my friends at that time. I would do anything to go back and give younger me a hug and tell her it's completely normal to feel like this, but that you shouldn’t have to, because you are normal and perfect the way you are, and to tell her that she wasn't in the wrong and it wasn't her fault. I wish the school had addressed this in some way, I wish I had been given some support or at least been made to feel as though I was heard and not being a ‘nuisance’ for getting so upset.
I strongly believe that schools need to address body image.
I have never once had a meaningful talk or lesson held by either primary or secondary school where we talked about body image, what it meant, how its perceived or even stating how every body is different and every body should be respected. This topic was never breached, perhaps they were too afraid, but I don’t think it can be ignored anymore without the detriment to individuals everywhere.
This feeling of not being heard has been a strong recurrence throughout my life, I have repeatedly been called ‘fat’ and made to feel not 'normal' and not 'beautiful'. The words someone tells you, especially over time eventually becomes your truth. I internalised the hate, I hated myself, I hated how I looked and how I felt. This led to the start of a bad relationship with food, I would skip breakfast and lunch, and just eat dinner. For a girl going through puberty this did not help my body or my mental health at all. I grew to feel guilty when eating or felt that if people saw me eating they were going to think I was ‘fat’ or eating too much. On the rare occasions I went to lunch I would not have a pudding thinking that I couldn't possibly be allowed that, and when people bought in cakes and sweets, I would always refuse even though I always craved them. This unhealthy relationship with food exponentially increased my unhealthy relationship with my own mind and the anxiety that I was already battling.
These feelings only really started to shift in sixth form, I'd still hide in my clothes and feel inadequate around the other girls in my year, but I started to build a better relationship with food and with myself. The real changes came when I started to see people and influencers who looked like me on Instagram, I started to feel recognised and that I was 'normal' ( I now understand that every body is normal and every body is beautiful). The impact of just seeing another individual and thinking ‘wow they are gorgeous... and...they actually look like me!’ seeing myself in these amazing people made me feel seen and that is such a powerful feeling that every single person should have the opportunity to experience, in fact it shouldn’t even be an ‘opportunity’, it should be the standard.
Another challenge I was faced with, was when I met my partner.
I used to never accept compliments and could not understand how someone could love me, but over time I have started to see myself through their eyes and you know what? I am beautiful. There's stigma around calling yourself that, some may say you are 'self-obsessed' or 'arrogant' but the truth is you are unapologetically yourself and every individual SHOULD love themselves and SHOULD see themselves as the way they are....beautiful. My partner has helped my feel comfortable in my own skin, to experiment with clothes that actually fit and make me feel confident and when those intrusive and depressive thoughts start to worm their way in, they are always there to offer that reassuring hand and help guide me to love myself again. It's not been easy and I am still learning, but the power of feeling represented and feeling seen is truly life changing.
The stigmas society places on wxmen or any individual in terms of ideal body types and body images is unbearable and damaging. The stigma of the ‘skinny- hourglass figure’ or the ‘macho muscle toned body’ are so harmful and completely unrepresentive of all body types. I've lived most of my life hating myself and limiting my opportunities just because of what others have told me. Those words, those 'joking' comments cut deeper than people can ever imagine.
In fact, if you are reading this and relate to any of these feelings, you are not alone.
Unfortunately, Studies by the Mental Health Foundation show that at least a third of adults and teenagers experience shame, upset, depressive and anxious notions surrounding their body image. And further to this, reports show relationships with family, friends and social media images are the most influential factors when it comes to individuals’ experiences with body image in terms of ideal body types not only for genders, but cultures and sexualities too (Mental Health Foundation, 2021). I dread to think that there are children out there growing up in our world and feeling in any way some of how I have felt, I would never wish it upon anyone. The stigma surrounding body image can be so damaging to our mental, physical and emotional health, especially when it surrounds every aspect of life, particularly within the ever-pervasive presence of negative societal demands.
In truth, we all have insecurities about one thing or another and nobody can ever know what battle someone is facing inside, thus if I had to give any advice from my experiences, as simple as it sounds... “be kind” …please just be kind and accept people as they are, stand up for them if you see someone say or do anything, break down school and social media stigmas and encourage friends and family to do the same, because trust me, it really can make a difference.
Statistics sought from:
*These resources may not be suited to everyone, but there is a mix of useful mental health websites that explain what body image is, and how to help yourself or others with positive body image. There are also some videos by inspiring individuals who thoughtfully convey their experiences and advice. I hope these resources can offer some help or even just provide a source of education and learning*
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAgawjzimjc – Ashley Graham Ted Talk ‘Plus size? More like my size’
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UN7F_374dNM – BBC ‘Man Up’ Series – Men’s battle with body image.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Au62AcSDsw – Lili Reinhart’s Glamour Talk about body image
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDLJ-7dyWu8 – Michelle Elman talks ‘Non Binary Body Positivity’ with Roly
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJtZd6z_aNk – Jameela Jamil – ‘Body Image, the Kardashians and Social Media’
Anything by Jameela Jamil is truly insightful, reassuring and informative, especially the open conversations she holds around body image and through her ‘i-weigh’ platform, there are some particularly informative conversations surrounding the body image of men which may be of interest.
Jade Bedingfeld (she/her)
Hi! I’m Jade. I’m currently an Undergraduate student at Bath. I decided to write this blog post, since I’ve always struggled with body image and I hope that by being vulnerable and sharing my experiences that I may be able to raise some awareness and open up conversations, as well as demonstrating that if you are experiencing any form of a negative relationship with your body, that you aren’t alone and together, we may just be able to start to break down the barriers of stigma. Thank your for letting me platform my experiences and thank you for reading this far. Please be kind, always.