“I just want to own a body and it be the least interesting thing about me”

Written by Stylist Team

 21-40 of Stylist’s 100 women sharing their thoughts on weight. Portraits by Sarah Brick.

Trigger warning: This article talks about eating disorders, weight loss and calories

Body positivity, self-love and wellness have replaced the quick weight-loss and fad diets that dominated our youths. But how easy is it to erase the impact of the diet culture we grew up with? Have we really moved on or have our true feelings about weight and body size just become shrouded in secrecy and shame? We held an open photoshoot for Stylist women to tell us – honestly, and without judgment – how they really feel. Here’s what they had to say.


21. Angharad, 32, account manager

“For the first three months after having a baby, people accept that it’s the fourth trimester and you’re allowed to look different. Then as soon as those three months are up, everyone expects you to look exactly how you did pre-pregnancy. I found that hard because I’ve put on a bit of weight while I’ve been breastfeeding, and it feels like I’m bigger when I’m not supposed to be. I had a few days of feeling bad, but then I put all of the jeans that don’t fit me in the attic and thought: I’ll look at them next year.” 


22. Claire, 38, delivery director

“I’ve put on weight recently, and I can often get a bit upset that my body doesn’t look and feel the way it used to. But I think that might be wrapped up in the ageing process, too. I’m approaching 40, and I have two images in my head of what 40 looks like. On one hand it’s celebrities who are very glamorous, very put together, very trim, and know their style. Then, when I think about a lot of the women in my life, most of them were mothers at 40. Because I don’t fit in either of those camps, I don’t really know what this age is supposed to look like for me. But I’m finding that focusing on what I want my body to do, rather than how I want it to look, is helping.” 


23. Hajira, 29, civil servant

“I think I’ve always had a difficult relationship with my body and weight. I grew up in an Asian family, and there’s something about the way I was expected to be a petite Indian girl that made me feel insecure. And the unsolicited negative comments from my parents – such as, “You’ll never find a husband if you don’t lose weight” – stuck with me. Luckily, I wasn’t looking for a husband, but it had a huge impact on me as a child. Everyday, it was just me and my body. The thoughts of dieting, being thin, under-eating, yoyo dieting and being really cruel to myself defined my teenage years. Now, of course I’m still critical of myself, but I definitely feel more positive, and what really helps me is looking at photos of myself from the past. I’ve always been hyper-critical, so seeing pictures of me looking great (even though I didn’t think so at the time) helps me put things in perspective.” 


24. Gabi, 39, events manager

“When I got pregnant, I spent the whole time thinking: it’s fine, I’ll get my body back. Now I’ve given birth, people are constantly telling me to be proud of my body and I don’t know if I want to be – I want my old body back. I know I should be proud, because I’ve grown two babies, and I am proud of what it has achieved, but I don’t necessarily want it to look the way it does.”  


25. Kerry, 43, nursery teacher

“I have never weighed myself. I’m really not interested. And I think it’s awful that, when you go to the doctor for a check-up, they automatically weigh you. When a nurse told me I should lose a few inches from around my waist, I just replied that I was healthy and I didn’t think I needed to lose anything. I have two children and I’ve made a conscious effort to avoid talking negatively about myself in front them – or in front of anyone else, for that matter. I never think, ‘I shouldn’t eat that’, which I see some of my friends doing. Why the hell not? The world has conditioned us to believe that we should look and live a certain way, but I want to die happy, so I don’t adhere to any of that.” 


26. Katie, 26, fashion communications and logistics

“Growing up, I was very skinny and it was my biggest insecurity.I wanted to cover up, and was really self-conscious about how bony I was but, because lots of people see being thin as a good thing, I felt bad for complaining about it. A bit later on, I went on hormonal contraception and gained weight, and now I feel much more comfortable. I’ve really learnt that none of us chose the body we’ve got, so we really shouldn’t judge people. I catch myself when I’m judging other people, too, because I know what it feels like to have your body commented on.” 


27. Hannah, 26, marketing manager

“Through seeing change in the media, I do feel less conscious about food and weight than I did when I was younger. At the time, there was only one body type that was shown everywhere, whereas now it feels a bit more diverse, particularly in print and on social media. But I do think there’s a way to go – TV has a lot to answer for in terms of who is visible, particularly reality TV, which feels like lots of carbon copies of the same ‘attractive’ person. And even when they make a song and dance about having a ‘curvy woman’ as part of the cast, it never feels like real representation.” 


28. Hazel, 40, PA

“I’ve always been quite a perfectionist in life, and after I turned 30 that started to manifest in my image. I’d wake up and the first thing I’d do is look in the mirror, standing side-on – if I could see my ribs I was happy. It started with an interest in health and fitness and switching to a plant-based diet, but soon I was exercising seven days a week. In lockdown, this sort of perfectionism and fixation with how I looked from every angle become more amplified. I’m fully aware of it, but it’s really hard to undo that pattern of behaviour. Sometimes I think if I stop or reduce my workouts to five days a week I’m going to put on weight. I know it’s ridiculous and irrational, but still I continue.” 


29. Jessica, 26, student and social consultant

“My relationship with my body has been quite rocky and stressful ever since I was 16. Sometimes I just feel gross and like I want to change the way I look immediately, but today I feel better than I did as a teenager. It’s a journey and I’m still not quite there with feeling happy with my body or at least relaxed about it, but the goal is to expend less energy thinking about it.” 


30. Lucy, 46, psychosexual coach

“Where I am now, I’m as confident as you possibly can be about your body. In my 20s and 30s I had all the general hang-ups people normally have, and also I had absolutely enormous tits – I mean enormous. So I was always hiding my body because of the male gaze that came with that. I had a boob reduction when I was 39 and that completely changed my life. It’s a difficult one, because on the surface level I can say yeah, I’m totally confident now, but ultimately society dictates that that’s not always the case. I think there’s a huge paradox at the moment, particularly in the media, between what’s being said – love your body, own it, strength, power – and the fact that I’ve never seen people needing more validation than they do now. There’s clearly something going wrong.” 


31. Sandie, 51, disability campaigner, model and speaker

“I have to work at loving my body every day, it’s a conscious relationship. When I was younger, I suffered physical, emotional and sexual abuse and my husband had many affairs, so I felt there was something wrong with me for a long time. I hated the way I looked even though I was tiny, and disordered eating felt like the only way I could control my life. There came a time in my later life when I became disabled, and I was unable to exercise my way out of hating my body. And I thought, ‘Well, I can’t hate it any more, because this is the only one I’ve got’; I realised I had to find a way to love my body as it was. The difficulty now is that a lot of the body positivity ethos is about loving your body not just for how it looks, but for the way it functions for you – that doesn’t apply to me or most of us in the disabled and chronically ill communities. It’s a case of finding a new narrative.” 


32. Alix, 40, editor of Stylist magazine

“My teens and 20s were a time when diet coverlines sold magazines, bodies with ‘flaws’ were circled in red ink on front covers and Spice Girls were weighed live on television. All of those things undoubtedly contributed to the pervasive and constant thoughts of weight, food and thinness that played in my mind like the loudest, most obnoxious heavy metal band. Today, I live in world where body positivity and self-love have taken centre-stage and I’ve had two daughters who have changed my relationship with my body. That heavy metal band is turned down so low that sometimes, if I’m really lucky, I can barely hear it. After too many years of cruelty, the rules and restrictions are all but gone.” 


33. Jessica, 38, comedian

“My dad’s only love language is food. During my childhood, every difficult emotion or conversation was dealt with by giving me food, and my only option was to receive it. Unfortunately, he was simultaneously obsessed with how much he hated fatness. So I grew up with this impossible dichotomy of being constantly fed beyond fullness, but not being allowed to physically show it. So, from the age of nine, I started dieting. Grapefruits, Atkins, the lot. It wasn’t until I hit my 30s that I realised the cycle of restriction followed by inevitable failure and bingeing was, in itself, disordered eating. I just thought it was the way women were supposed to live; that we were doomed to say “I’ll be happy when I’m thinner” forever. But we’re not designed, bodily or psychologically, to stay hungry all the time, it’s just not sustainable. It’s a tough thing to unlearn and it will take more than one generation, but my god, it will be worth it.” 


34. Natalie 41, content creator

“When I feel shit about my body, I have bad sex. I’m not able to be present because I’m too busy thinking, ‘Do my tits look saggy? Is this person looking at my rolls? How big does my bum look in this position?’ and that means I’m less likely to have an orgasm. So for a while I thought the key to having better sex was to lose weight. But after I got divorced, I started exploring pansexuality and it changed everything. Having sex with women has been a freeing experience: I spend less time thinking about my cellulite or ‘performing’ to an idea of sexiness that has long been shaped by the male gaze. It’s given me a newfound appreciation of womanly curves. Especially my own.” 


35. Stephanie, 33, author and content creator

“Working in social media helped me repair my relationship with my body. The first time I posted a full-length picture of myself I didn’t look at my notifications for three days because I was so scared of the comments. But there was nothing but praise there. I was like, finally I’ve found my people. It’s not always perfect but it’s been a game-changer for me.” 


36. Alice, 28, tech founder

“Like so many people, when the pandemic hit, my need for control skyrocketed. For me, that manifested in an eating disorder and exercise addiction. Eventually my doctor told me I was at serious risk of cardiac arrest if I kept exercising at that rate, so I was admitted to rehab. I told all my friends I was going on a work trip because I was so ashamed and, honestly, I think that made my illness worse. Now, post-rehab, I can say I’m in a far better place. The key thing for me is encouraging others to talk about eating disorders, because it’s become harder than ever to communicate what you’re going through but it’s so important that you do. Ultimately, I dream about the day I can wake up and go to bed without thinking about weight at all. I just want to own a body and it be the least interesting thing about me.” 


37. Alex, 33, body confidence activist

“Until recently, I despised my body and wanted to crawl out of my own skin. I have done a lot of work and had a lot of therapy – and I realise that is a privilege – and now I’m in a great place. It’s unrealistic to say I will never have any sort of negative feeling about my body, and I am at peace with that – the difference is that now I can acknowledge it without it sending me down a destructive path.” 


38. Ngoc, 28, creator manager

“My family has never been shy about telling me I should lose weight, so in protest I’ve never stepped on a set of scales. But recently I dropped a couple of dress sizes and my parents’ reaction is hard to ignore. It’s like suddenly they’re proud of me, they’re posting me on Facebook, they want me to go to every family function. It’s mind-blowing.” 


39. Victoria, 54, deli manager

“Dress sizes can really mess with you, especially when you’re being told that a size 14 is equal to an ‘extra large’. I’ve got a wardrobe full of outfits I’m ‘going to get into one day’, and yet regularly feel like I’ve got nothing to wear. My advice to women everywhere? Buy the dress that fits you now.” 


40. Emily, 21, student

“I’m naturally very slim: I struggle to put on weight and find clothes that fit me well. It was hard growing up, when people like Kylie Jenner are held up as curvy ‘goals’. People don’t want to hear it though: they just tell me I’m lucky that I can eat whatever I want.” 

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