When I was 18, I barely ate. It wasn’t that food was the enemy like it is for so many other girls – and indeed, like it was for me through periods of my early teenagehood. It was more that it took up so much energy to cook and depression had a firm hold on me. I started university with good intentions: I’d cook regularly, I’d join the gym. Instead, I found myself in an endless cycle of lectures, Cup-a-Soup and naps.
Without even trying, I became the thin girl I always wanted to be. The one that I felt pushed into being thin by the rigorous body policing that went on at school. I didn’t even notice how unhealthy I’d become, all that mattered was that I was a size 10. I paraded my thinness around my hometown like a badge of honour in the hope that those who had put me down for being chubby and unfit throughout school would see this new, thin me and feel guilty for all the pain they put me through. I was untouchable.
My relationship with my body image fluctuated endlessly throughout university. Finally giving in to the advice that exercise would be some sort of panacea for my mental health problems, I joined the gym in 3rd year and within two months, ran a 5K to raise money for Health in Mind. I finished it in 32 minutes – not the best by any stretch, but my best. I don’t think it was the exercise itself that improved my mental health per se, but rather the fact that I knew I was challenging myself and smashing little goals every day. The knowledge that I was strong enough to do something incredible like that carried me through the next six months.
And then 4th year hit and everything changed. To put it in perspective, I just wrote that it went wrong, but on reflection, I don’t think it was “wrong” – just different. I comfort ate my way through my dissertation, drank way too much cider as a “reward” for my hard work (okay, I’m just making up excuses now – I drank it because I love it, and it’s still like my kryptonite), and gym time was practically non-existent because my workload was just too exhausting. I piled on so much weight and it wasn’t even until I’d graduated and took a long hard look at my selfie that I realised how much of a sedentary lump I’d become.
But recently, I’ve noticed how totally badass my body has become. I truly think it’s all because of roller derby. You never truly shake off mental illness, even if you’re “recovered” in most aspects of your life, and there’s still this voice in my head telling me that I should lose some weight, get those razor cheekbones back, get back into my size 10 jeans. But then, I look at what I’ve become. Would I trade my strength and newfound muscular thighs and DDs just for cheekbones and a sense of pleasing those that don’t matter? On some days yes, but most of the time…no. Because I’m gradually beginning to embrace this lucrative thing called “self-worth”.
My body is home. It’s strong. It can do so many things. I can skate at top speed for five minutes without getting winded. Other things I can do on skates include jumping, weaving really fast around cones, hitting people, getting hit by people and recovering in seconds…the list goes on. I cycle just under eight miles every day. I can power up hills on my bike without getting off to push like I used to. I can run 5k with barely any walking breaks – I’ve not quite beaten my 32 minute personal best, but I’m down to 35 minutes after not running for two years so I’d say that’s awesome, and even more awesome when you consider it used to take me half a 55-minute PE lesson to do the 1600m at school because I’d be so out of breath. I can hold onto my toes without bending my knees. I can leg press over half my body weight and I’m constantly building on that. I am the queen of squats, if I do say so myself. I’m far from ripped, and I’m carrying a bit of belly, and there are so many days I weigh myself and think “how on earth have I gained weight when I exercises SO MUCH?” (muscle, that’s how). But I know I can do amazing things. I refuse to believe anyone who tells me otherwise.
In the end, it’s not what your body looks like, it’s what it can do. Every day I’m amazed by how far I’ve come and I really hope that by striving to do more and more badass things every day, I’ll finally be able to conquer the demon that tells me that my looks and how others judge me are more important than my own happiness.
Our bodies deserve more than to be war-torn and collateral
Offering this fuckdom as a pathetic means to say,
“I only know how to exist when I am wanted.”
Girls like us are hardly ever wanted, you know
We’re used up and we’re sad and drunk and
Perpetually waiting by the phone for someone to pick up and tell us that we did good
Well, you did good.
I know I am because I said I am.
My body is home.
– Mary Lambert