It’s mid-July, and I find myself wanting to rip anything off that dares to cover my limbs. Today, on the bus home from a job interview, I slid off my black tights and stuffed them in my bag. This is what summer does to you: you stop caring.
Well, in a perfect world we would stop caring. But we do care, don’t we? And the world knows it. Adverts for anti-cellulite creams, emails advising you on the most flattering bikinis for your body shape, articles about getting the perfect beach body.
And it’s not just us, it’s the whole world. Articles on “fat-shaming”, blogs encouraging us to celebrate our flaws, obesity statistics constantly in the news – it’s hard to keep up with what it’s okay to be and think. But I’m out of the loop with which celebrities have cellulite where and what diets are the new best thing. And not just because I don’t read Closer magazine.
Throughout my teenage years I struggled with my body. For years I oscillated between starving myself until my periods stopped, binge-eating until it hurt and envying others until I cried.
As the years went by I gradually realised there were far more interesting things going on in the world to keep my mind occupied. But it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve gradually learned to be completely happy with my body. I’ve reached what magazines would call “body confident”. And my newfound confidence has nothing to do with my weight.
A couple of years ago I spent an entire month having panic attacks. My brain assaulted my body, and I fell for the tricks it played on me. I was exhausted, and terrified I was dying. But it had a profound and lasting effect on me that has gradually conquered the harsh critic of my younger years.
I don’t mean to belittle actual near-death experiences – I was convinced I was dying at the time. But my body fought the anxiety. It came through the month in one piece, unscathed and stronger than before, despite my doubting it. When my breathing turned my arms numb and I feared I would lose consciousness forever – my body kept me alive.
Anxiety forces you to pay too much attention to your insides and focus on every little pain. But now, although I do still do this sometimes, I look at my body from the outside. Legs that have held me up when I thought I would fall down and never get back up. Arms that have lifted me from restless sleeps.
Worrying about the size of my thighs doesn't feel important any more. Something has shifted. Frustration and jealousy has been replaced with gratitude. Now, I remember what it feels like to think your one and only body is failing, and I could never criticise it again. Anxiety led me to distrust my body, and anxiety forced me to accept that I have to trust it.
My body is far from perfect – whatever that is. But I’ll be proud to dress it in shorts and skirts this summer.