A man and woman on self-loathing and how they finally saw past their body hang-ups

I’m a pretty ballsy person. But I wanted to back out of writing this story so bad. Why?

Because I’m a size UK 10 woman who is about to tell you that I hate on my body. All. The. Time.

Samantha McMeekin, 27, GLAMOUR’s Deputy Beauty Editor said…

I mean that’s just unacceptable in this day and age, isn’t it? We’re all meant to be self-loving the crap out of ourselves, chubby bits and all. I can almost hear the patter of a thousand keyboards tapping away in protest. “Stop it! You’re beautiful“, “If you hate your body, you should see my stretch marks!”, “You couldn’t be further from fat!”

Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m not overweight. I know I’m not ‘fat’. My lifestyle is pretty good. I eat a fairly balanced diet, weakened slightly with wine and fast food, but still acceptable. I do know this…

But I still slap my boyfriend’s hand away when he tries to touch my stomach spooning. I still don’t like looking in the mirror when I only have a bra and knickers on. And I still get frustrated and occasionally have full-on tantrums when I put on jeans and a top to go out, but all I can see in the mirror is my big fat f*cking gut creating a bulge where I want it to be flat.

I usually scream at my boyfriend to leave the room at this point and we end up late to the party because I have to find something else to wear and then re-do my makeup to hide the crying eyes.

Sounds way over the top and dramatic for someone with a ‘normal’ bloody body size doesn’t it? In fact, seeing it in written words, I think I sound utterly pathetic and should get over myself (also, poor boyfriend). But I also know the next time I go to put on a bikini, I’ll be back to detesting my cellulite-ridden bum and wide hips.

I don’t think I’ve ever shared this internal body hatred with my friends. My pals all have different body sizes and shapes, so talking in-depth about the dislike of your figure just doesn’t happen. Nobody wants to risk offending the other, or be seen as just seeking attention and praise for how fit their body actually is.

Our body issues have become so surface-level I can almost predict the conversation.

ME: I feel so fat (can’t ever say I ‘am’ so fat because if friend is bigger than me – offensive)
FRIEND: You don’t look it!
ME: Urgh I definitely put on like 10 pounds on holiday.
FRIEND: Oh my god I always put on over holidays, but cheese is just too good.
BOTH: Proceed to talk about how good cheese is for twenty minutes until conversation ends.

I respond to my friend’s complaints about weight in the exact same way. Because although I evidently have strong opinions about my own body, unless they stack on 45 pounds in a month, I rarely have an opinion on theirs. I don’t judge my friend’s bodies, so why am I so harsh and a little self-absorbed about my own?

The conversation with my boyfriend goes way differently. Because unlike my friends, the poor soul has dealt with the brunt of my self-loathing for years.

ME: I feel so fat.
BOYFRIEND: Do you want to go for a run? We can go to the park and do a workout too…

Damn, he’s good. See, he long ago gave up on feeding my personal fat-shaming. Because that’s exactly what it is. And if I really want to do something about it I can – but that’s entirely up to me. A life of boiled chicken, kale and twice-a-day workouts will always be there.

My problem is entirely mental (no surprises there), but it’s my outlet that’s wrong and exacerbates the problem. Grabbing angrily at my love handles isn’t going to make them shrink, crying over an outfit that doesn’t look right will just make me late and if I keep telling the person I’m sleeping with how fat I think I am, he’ll get fed up pretty quick.

The key to quieting my hate lies in an alternative outlet. Some find theirs by spreading ‘body positivity’ like confetti, with tummy roll Instagram posts and a ‘who cares?’ attitude. Others start a fitness challenge, documenting every up and down of their journey. Some eat kale (yuck).

For me, it’s talking about it. Hence the long rant you just read. I don’t want to just whinge to my friends on a surface-level anymore. I want their favourite healthy recipes. I want their support when I start a new fitness class. I want them to come over and watch movies with popcorninstead of sinking twenty cocktails and getting nuggets on the way home. I want their glorious advice and help. I want the conversation to go like this:

FRIEND: How are you today?
ME: Well, I didn’t exactly feel happy in my jeans today so I was thinking we could go for a walk instead of coffee?
FRIEND: Yes, of course! I’ve been feeling dead lazy lately too.
NARRATOR: So they set off into the sunset wearing matching lycra. And then got coffee afterwards.

Because no matter what size you are, you should be able to talk about your body without risk of shame, ‘fat’ or not.

Josh Newis-Smith, 29, GLAMOUR’s Celebrity and Entertainment Editor said…

Last week I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation in my gym changing rooms. Two hench men – fit in both senses of the word – were discussing their body weight in considerable detail. One was on a protein-based mission to increase his size and the other determined to trim down. Neither of them, in my opinion (not that that matters), needed to change a thing, but still, after an incessant number of workouts in the last seven days, they still felt there was room for change.

What startled me the most was the realisation that these two chaps discussing their bodies in such detail was a manifestation of a daily conversation I have in my own head. Every day is punctuated by time looking in the mirror scanning my body and thinking I am a completely different size to the one I objectively am. Some who know me will find this surprising as I regularly appear composed and confident within my own skin. However, for me, being at one with my inner self is completely different from being at one with your outer shell.

Body struggles and hang-ups are not gendered, they affect everyone despite society traditionally seeing them as ‘female problems.’ Personally, as a man, I feel there isn’t enough of a conversation around the male quest for perfection and socially, there are rarely any safe spaces to openly discuss it without facing judgment from our peers.

I have always struggled with my own personal perception of my body. I have gone through phases of wanting to be stick thin to thinking in wildly unhealthy ways about how many ribs I could feel or how much non-existent fat I could pull away from my stomach. There are times when I think I can feel my stomach wobble when I walk after not working out for one day. I have gone to great lengths to mentally confirm that this isn’t the case – namely regularly getting my work BFF to feel and inspect my stomach.

Many will also be surprised to know these mental stumbling blocks haven’t ever quenched my hunger for a good golden chicken nugget… or twenty. I have repeatedly been involved in debates with people of all sizes about how maintaining a positive body image plagues everyone at some stage. Live on Sky News for instance – when debating Alexa Chung’s involvement with Marks and Spencer – I was told by a fellow journalist (who thought Alexa was a negative role model due to her thin frame) I didn’t have an opinion on the matter because I was ‘thin.’ Just FYI: thin people can eat burritos by the bucketload and still have body image issues. I know that personally to be a cold hard fact.

My personal journey with my own body image has gone hand-in-hand with my attempts to grapple with masculinity. As a gay man, within ‘my’ community there is now an insistent need to appear devoid of feminine qualities. The persistent social pressure is to bulk up, pump some iron and appear ‘straight’ acting. No one should appear anything other than their true self but many feel a pressure within a social group that is meant to embrace one and all, to attach themselves to a historically engrained notion of manliness. Just because I write about fashion, host high-octane celebrity interviews and occasionally squeal, it doesn’t make me any less of a man than the body builders in the gym. That realisation alone has taken well over a decade to come to.

Fancying men and being sexually active with men has also shaped my own misguided perception of my body – when you are in bed with a boy, there are direct comparisons that can easily be made: He has better abs than me; his arms are more defined than mine; I am thinner than him – are just some of the thoughts I regularly have when I encounter another man’s body.

Sometimes I spiral into a social media stalking frenzy where I scroll through an Instagram feed of a perfectly toned Adonis and mentally tick off all the faults with my body. Knowing that most of these images are airbrushed in some way does give me some solace but the ‘you aren’t good enough,’ voice constantly lights up in my head in a manner akin to the light fittings on the Vegas strip. I am the first to admit I regularly use Facetune myself, which not only makes me part of the problem but further feeds the internal battle I have with my own physical appearance.

Personally I have made progress to overcome this by looking at my problems objectively as if someone else was seeking me out for advice. Firstly, admitting to myself that I put a healthy body through unhealthy and immense pressure was a great step towards helping myself. From there, the ‘self help’ advice I would dispense could actually sink in and extinguish the thoughts alight in my head. Changing the internal conversation and opting to focus on positive elements in my life allowed me to adopt a more uplifting mindset – not to sound like a retrograde Gwyneth Paltrow.

Equally, I find it increasingly hard to grapple with the idea of ‘body positivity’ as I don’t understand why, as a skinny person, it’s become increasingly controversial to say I am proud of my body. As I take steps towards loving my frame more, it seems I am not openly able to say I am actually proud of it; which in itself is a big step forward for me mentally.

Every journey (and good piece of journalism) should have a beginning, middle and an end. But as I write this, I realise my relationship with my body is something that changes hour by hour, day by day, week by week so there will probably never be an ending – especially when we look down the barrel of the ageing process. Many variables can creep in and unsettle my determination to be the ‘sassy independent man’ I know I can be but just like most men, I weave my own complex tapestry when it comes to body image. But discussing it, or admitting you have a problem, is the first step towards understanding and combatting the pressures we place on ourselves.

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