A Life by Numbers
Most people track their lives by songs, memories or world events. For instance I can remember the exact moment I bought my first Wham single. I was 10 years old and it was a Saturday morning in 1984. I'd been given my pocket money and I walked the long stretch of Withington Road into Bicester, clutching my pound notes tightly in my hand and praying that my local branch of Woolworths hadn't sold out. I later emerged from the store triumphant, swinging a small plastic bag at my side. The sheer joy of owning a copy of Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go was all mine.
I can remember the time I got my first pair of jelly shoes too. It was 1981 and I was 7 years old. I remember vividly sitting on the carpet of Mrs Harper's class at the end of the school day, my red and white gingham dress pulled over my knees, waiting desperately for the school bell to ring. My dad had promised to pick me up from school and take me into town to buy them. It was a hot day, I remember this because we had an ice-cream on our way home and I ate it whilst gazing adoringly at my pink glitter jelly shoes as they shimmered in the summer sun.
Like most people, I also know exactly where I was when news of the tragic death of Princess Diana broke. My husband and I were living in Cyprus at the time. We were driving to the outdoor pool when the announcement came across the radio. We neither of us spoke. Again, like most of us, I know precisely what I was doing when the World Trade Towers were hit. I was a few weeks away from giving birth to Eliza and I was resting on the sofa when the programme I was watching was interrupted. I couldn't take it in. I kept watching the footage and then gasped in horror as the second tower was hit before my eyes. As I cupped my arms around my huge bump, I knew that the world was never going to be the same again. And yet with all of these memories, both wonderful and horrific, not only do I know where I was and how old I was, I also know exactly how much I weighed.
My life has been dictated by the weekly reading on my bathroom scales. I know exactly how much I weighed on my wedding day and the day after Eliza was born. I even weighed myself on the day of my mother's funeral. For as long as I can remember, the ups and downs of my life have been in perfect synchronicity with the ups and downs of my scales.
I started to gain weight after Eliza was born. As I said earlier, she was born 12 days after the towers were hit and being married to a military man I knew I'd be going it alone for a while. During the first two years of her life, he would be home with us for one week every month. It was a very difficult time for us both. Whilst he was away, contact was limited and I missed him desperately, then he'd return and I'd be so excited to see him but we'd be arguing within the first few days as conflicts emerged because he needed normality and I needed a break from it.
The weekends were the hardest. Friday and Saturday nights, locked indoors, festering in front of the television, whilst the rest of the world was partying, it's no surprise that food became my source of comfort. I was lonely and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. And so started years of yo-yo dieting. Making myself miserable as I gradually corroded my understanding and enjoyment of food. Quick fixes, long fixes and everything in between. I allowed my weight to make me feel inferior, I truly believed that because I had a big bottom I was less worthy and could never be accepted by others. As my confidence was gradually chipped away I sought solace in material possessions. I'd buy Mulberry bags believing that if I was carrying one on my arm then I'd be more acceptable to others. I've said before that I wasn't necessarily unhappy when I lived in England, I just didn't know back then that I could be happier. Moving up to Scotland has changed my life in so many wonderful ways.
So why am I writing this blog post now? Well that's easy. It's all to do with Instagram. Most of you who are reading this probably follow my Instagram account. You know that I live a happy little life in a beautiful part of Scotland. You know that I love my Aga, my garden and going out for long walks with Sizzles. You would have gathered from my posts that I am essentially a happy person who is very contented with her lot in life. All of this is true. I have never lied to you. But Instagram is an illusion. We use it to promote the perfect version of ourselves. It allows us to filter what our followers see, we can crop down the bits we don't like and highlight the bits we do. We carefully contrive our images so that only the good bits are seen. And yet, we know that behind the facades, we all have worries, difficulties and personal demons. I really do make the best Banana Loaf ever, I truly have mastered pork crackling and my house is as neat and clean as it appears on screen (most of the time!). Yet whilst I have happily shared my little, genuine moments of contentment with you all, I have always held back one fact and that is that I am fat. There you go, I've said it. I've put it out there. You're probably now mentally scanning all of the photos of me in my Instagram gallery and wondering whether that's true. Trust me it is. All of my photos are carefully angled and edited so you only ever see glimpses of me, never all of me.
I began by taking pictures of my feet. This way I could be a part of my gallery, nurture a sense of ownership and identity with it without ever actually appearing in it. It's truly bizarre when you think about it but back then it was as much as my confidence would allow.
Then as my followers grew, so did my confidence. I began to believe in myself and in my creativity. I started to understand that being accepted by others was unconditional, it didn't require a list of unachievable attributes, I just had to be myself. And so, I started to post pictures of my face, not all of it, not yet, but snippets, carefully staged and processed.
During my first 12 months on Instagram, I had perfected the art of the personal portrait without ever actually showing my face. It's quite an achievement when you think about it!
I started Instagram on the 29th June 2016 (and yes, I know exactly how much I weighed on that day.). It all began with a photo of my little blue chair next to a jug of peonies. I couldn't believe people I'd never met were liking it and saying nice things. So I took more photographs and again these lovely people would comment, joined by more people and then more still. It's funny but when I first set out on my Instagram journey, my only hope that was by recording the little things that made me happy, I would be able to find some contentment, something that had eluded me for many years. What I didn't expect to find though was confidence and a sense of self-respect. As my gallery grew, so too did my positivity and courage. Suddenly I was taking photos of all of my face, not just a part of it. I was starting to put myself out there and it felt liberating.
There are some people who misunderstand Instagram. They worry that observing the perfect lives of others can bring about an acute sense of dissatisfaction with their own lives. To those people I say I think you've missed the point. It's about being inspired and encouraged by others. I follow many accounts of beautiful, stylish women who take selfies in doorways looking totally fabulous in their skinny jeans. I look at their images and I don't feel despondent, I feel grateful because they inspire me to appreciate the best parts of me, I can't wear skinny jeans like they do but I have other qualities. I am kind, I am nurturing, I am creative, I'm clever and according to my late mother, I give the best hugs in the world. I'm not perfect though. Nobody is despite the impression our accounts might give. I'm impatient, stubborn and prone to telling the odd fib or two. I have an excellent grasp of language and I can manipulate an argument and turn it on its head making the innocent party believe they are at fault. But most of all, I can make or break a day with my family depending on what the bathroom scales said that morning. And I'm tired of it. I'm tired of allowing nearly every aspect of my life being controlled by a series a numbers swinging from left to right behind a point. Because actually, when I put it all into perspective, I've spent nearly 20 years dieting and all I've actually done is get fatter whilst making constant compromises on food, sacrificing flavour for fat and being totally miserable along the way.
Then I had an epiphany; the kind you read about in magazines but dismiss as hogwash or wishful thinking. I was at the local bird sanctuary on the other side of the loch having a coffee with my husband after a lovely walk. My phone beeped with a direct message through Instagram. It was the Houses Editor of Country Homes and Interiors magazine asking me if I would agree to take part in a feature about my home. At first I thought it was my brother messing around and was about to reply, telling him to get stuffed, when my husband said I should just check its authenticity first. So I did and it was real. But instead of celebrating this moment I immediately recoiled in horror because it was all very well my home being in a magazine article but what about me? The world and his dog would see that I'm fat. My husband read my thoughts and his disappointment was saddening because like most lovers, he doesn't see what I see. I knew in that moment, enough was enough.
The saddest part is that this realisation has come so late in life. When I look back through photographs it's as though I wasn't even there. I was always the one behind the camera, not because I needed to be but because I wanted to be. There are only a handful of photographs of me holding Eliza as a baby, cuddling her as a toddler and playing with her as a girl. But for the most part, if you looked at our family album, it's as though she was raised by her father alone and it breaks my heart.
A year ago I told myself it was time to embrace who I was and start enjoying my life and that is what I'm trying to do each day. I am 43 years old and healthy. I have a beautiful home. I have raised a daughter who is confident, caring, balanced and ambitious. I am loved by the most amazing man who makes me feel special with the simplest of looks and the briefest of touches. I have an honours degree from a top ranking university, I have 20k followers on Instagram, I am privileged enough to live in a beautiful part of the world and due to the efforts of my hardworking husband, I want for nothing. And so, if the only thing wrong with me is that I have a size 20 bottom, then so be it because actually, I think I'm doing fine and there are people in this world suffering greater difficulties than mine.
So, this is me, all of me, taken this morning before the rain came in wth no editing or trickery. This photograph is for all of you out there. Thank you for following me, thank you for supporting me but most of all, thank you for helping me to accept myself, bottom and all.