Pretty dresses and body image

Striking a yoga pose

Striking a yoga pose

Trigger warning: disordered eating, body issues.

While I was visiting my parents recently, Mum said to me, “I reckon you might be at the perfect body shape, what do you reckon?”

I agreed with her. But it terrified me. Perfect?

I posted on Facebook that I had lost weight and was able to wear pretty dresses I got when I was 21. Lots of people liked it. My Mum’s friend Kay came over to visit when she saw the status, because she deduced that I was back for a visit, and she wanted to see me in the pretty dresses. So I indulged her doll-dressing desires, and she admired my clothes and my figure. But in an undertone she gave me some motherly advice, saying that I had to be careful talking about my weight loss, because people might get jealous.

Not long ago I was watching TV with some mates and that new TV show, Bringing Sexy Back, came on. My mates started to say how they wouldn’t like to be obese. I tried to say how it would such to lose heaps of weight and then realise you were still the same person, with the same problems and insecurities. They didn’t really get what I was saying, so I gave up trying to explain myself.

But there is a media narrative that getting skinny makes you confident, more happy, probably extroverted if you are shy. If I go back to the weight I was when I was 21, the logic goes, maybe I’ll feel young again.

Following on from that narrative, I remember when I was in High School, sometimes people would treat me like I had nothing to worry about because I was skinny. I wanted to tell them it was a lie. That we were all confused, messed up, pumped full of hormones that made us unable to think straight.

I’m fitting into dresses from when I was 21, but I’m so glad I’m not actually back there. When I was 21, I got intensely depressed. I lost my appetite and dropped kilos like they were soapy dishes. My family members would wrap their arms all the way around me and feel my ribs press against their soft bodies. Soft like bodies should be. “You’re disappearing,” they said. “I’m worried about you. Are you eating?”

I felt weak at that time. When I finally got my appetite back, I craved carbs. Rice, potatoes, bread. My mother served me a delicious meal of fresh veggies out of the garden with a little meat. The whole meal was cooked to perfection, and I cried because I just wanted rice, rice and more rice. I knew I was being ungrateful. I swear it was one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever eaten. It just wasn’t what I needed at that time.

I’m wearing dresses from when I was 21, but I’m not 21 anymore. When I was visiting in Victoria and my family commented on my body shape change, they immediately said, “But do you feel good?”

I do. I feel strong, not weak like when I was depressed and malnourished. I’m doing yoga and each week the poses feel more natural. I’m eating heaps. Lots and lots of good food. It’s not about conforming to some airbrushed magazine or an ana/mia idea of ‘beauty’. I still have a little stomach poking out. Not what the magazines would call a ‘bikini body’. But I feel good. Because step one of getting a bikini body is putting a bikini on. Step two is having the courage to go out in the world wearing said bikini.

This is bodily empowerment. Feeling healthy. Feeling strong. I almost certainly won’t stay this shape or size forever. Women’s bodies change, that’s just the way it is. But keeping this feeling of strength and health is worth way more to me than wearing pretty dresses from my past.


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