“I often wonder what I could achieve if I wasn’t focusing on my own tiny war against myself”

Written by Stylist Team

1-20 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.


1. Cate, 32, executive assistant

“I was recently ghosted and, automatically, my first assumption was that he didn’t fancy me because of my size. I rarely admit it out loud, but thinking about my body takes up a lot of my brain space – it’s constant, and it’s the first thing I blame when I experience rejection.” 


2. Claire, 48, events and marketing manager

“Four years ago, I weighed just under 16 stone. Then I joined a slimming club. All the women I knew were going – my sister, my cousins, my neighbour – and I was celebrated as I started to lose weight. Now, I’ve taken it too far. I know I don’t need to be any smaller, but having spent years focusing on weight loss, with friends and family encouraging me to ‘keep going’, I don’t know how to reset my brain. My loved ones are worried about me, and I’m due to get help from a mental health service, but I know it’s going to be hard – and I’m worried about the impact my experience will have on my teenage daughter.” 


3. Dhaksayini, 29, film tech

“The sad thing is that most of the insecurities I have about my body are because somebody’s pointed them out to me. Everyone from family members to boys I’ve dated have commented on my body, and I haven’t been able to forget what they’ve picked out.” 


4. Faith, 31, copywriter and editor

“I teach yoga part-time and, because I’m often on show, I think I put pressure on myself to have an aspirational body for my students. I like to feel strong – I find it empowering – but there’s definitely an element of wanting to look lean.” 


5. Josephine, 34, events manager

“I’m dreading the day that I have to go and find my wedding dress, because there’s no way that I could go into a bridal shop and try on a dress in my size (I’m a 12-14). I’d only be able to look at a dress on a hanger. It sounds insignificant but, because of my job, it’s something I think about a lot. Now I’m in my 30s, I accept my body a lot more than I used to, but it’s at big life moments, when clothes feel important, that I feel the most conflicted.” 


6. Kathryn, 27, artist and photographer

“I started working on a nude painting of myself the other week, and it hasn’t been the experience I expected. I thought I was going to find it really difficult, but it’s actually been the best thing ever. I took some photos, then drew from them, and it’s made me look at myself in a completely different way. Bits of my body that I would have pulled apart before, like my rolls, were the most interesting parts to paint – and walking past the canvas feels comfortable which, a few years ago, would have been unthinkable.” 


7. Lola, database specialist

“It’s hard not to be influenced by diet culture: it’s everywhere. There’s always someone in your friendship group who’s lost weight, and the way people react is so celebratory. You can’t ignore that. But how do I talk to my friends about the way their weight chat impacts me without hurting their feelings or sounding jealous?” 


8. Michelle, 34, head of customer success and partnerships

“I work in a male-dominated industry and often I’ll be in a boardroom, in a meeting, and will be completely distracted by the snacks in the middle of the table. The men around me will eat their doughnut and carry on, very carefree, whereas I’m still weighing up whether to have one. Having struggled with eating disorders for 25 years, I often wonder what I could achieve if I wasn’t focusing on my own tiny war against myself. I have a great career, but I could be so much more successful if I didn’t spend 80% of my time criticising myself inside my head.” 


9. Sasha, 27, performing arts teacher and actor

“I grew up with two very skinny sisters. I was the chubby, ginger, curly-haired one and so, growing up, body image was something I was always working on – everyone’s aim was to be slim. I’ve always been into fitness and always tried to eat healthily and, at school, I was doing the same as everybody else in my friendship group, but I was still a bit bigger than them all. When I got into my 20s, it became about working out to feel my best. What I was doing was fully in my control, and I got into weightlifting and really enjoyed it, which meant that working out was no longer a hassle. I’m not trying to get skinny, I’m trying to get strong and feel the best I can about myself – it’s a mindset thing.” 


10. Laura, 28, content editor

“I still think about weight loss and weight gain a lot. What’s changed over time, though, is not how much I think about it, but how I think about it. I remember growing up I was constantly thinking I was too fat and eating too much, the narrative was constant and negative. Now, I question my thoughts so much more with kindness. Sometimes I will slip, and then I answer to myself much better. The intrusive thoughts will always be there, but if I know how to deal with them and redirect myself then that makes it so much easier.” 


11. Natasha, 24, environmental consultant

“I think the body positivity movement is great, and it’s good that a diversity of bodies is seen more now, but it also puts another pressure on women to always feel great about the way they look. It’s not truthful, and it’s really difficult because there’s constant pressure to be one thing or another. There’s always something that we’re expected to be, whether it’s the way we look or being happy with the way we look. I don’t know what the solution is, but the idea of body neutrality is much better. Your body is there, it is just a thing – and having done some not very nice things to mine, I’ve learnt to respect it a little bit more.” 


12. Cayleigh, 29, media

“I would say I am quite thin now, but when I was in my early 20s I used to be a little bit chubbier. Then one summer I was working three jobs and not eating much. I lost a lot of weight and everybody in my life commented on it, which was really weird. It wasn’t intentional, I didn’t think I was unhealthy or consciously change my lifestyle, I just happened to lose weight, probably for a very unhealthy reason actually, but people were so congratulatory. A few of my close friends asked if I was OK because I was losing weight, but everybody else was so happy about it and that really changed my view that weight doesn’t equal health.” 


13. Daisy, 29, e-commerce manager

“I only realised a few years ago that I’d had an eating disorder at 17, and the way that started was that I had crippling pain. It turned out to be an ovarian cyst that went undiagnosed for ages, but it meant I wasn’t eating because I was in so much pain. Then, one day, I remember taking my top off to have a shower and seeing my ribs for the first time and thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve lost loads of weight’ – but after I had surgery and the cyst was removed, I was obsessed with being thin. I remember you could look up celebrity weights online, and I wanted to weigh the same as Katy Perry, despite the fact I’m 5’11 and she’s 5’8, and that really impacted me. Now, I think about weight loss a lot but I don’t weigh myself– I’ve started to find enjoyment in working out so it’s definitely more about how I feel rather than how I look.” 


14. Carol, 42, community strategist

“When I was younger and spent all my money on clothes, I ate KFC everyday because it was really cheap. I was skinny so people thought that I was healthy. I did exercise because I needed to for my mental health but my god, my diet was horrible. And when I started to gain weight, people who knew me didn’t question my diet because I looked skinny. They assumed I must be healthy. I started to realise that I needed to re-learn how to eat – vegetables might be boring but nutrition is important.” 


15. Silvia, 32, finance

“The relationship I have with my body has changed recently. I’ve always been traditionally ‘skinny’ but my family have always spoken about – and judged – people’s shapes and it’s had an impact on me. I would be lying if I said I didn’t care about my shape and how I want to look, but I wouldn’t judge somebody for how they look and I wouldn’t not date somebody because they look different to the ‘standard’. I think social media has helped and I’m really happy about the body positivity movement and seeing different bodies.”  


16. Belinda, 25, account manager

“My parents are Nepalese and in our culture, body weight and image is very important. It’s very scrutinised. My older sister definitely bore the negative brunt of it, she was the one who was more under the glare. As I got older, things started to get more stressful and my relationship with food started to change quite negatively – which was also impacted by growing up in the time of size 0. I remember being 12 and doing sit-ups in my room at night, then I went to boarding school where that culture was quite prevalent. I remember twins in the year above who basically competed with each other through dieting and they both got hospitalised. When I went to university, things were quite stressful and my mental health suffered so I took that out on my body and I became detached from it. I was constantly unhappy, and in my second year I got Bell’s palsy as a result of stress. I’m not sure what the turning point was, but I had this moment about 18 months ago where I realised that throughout my life, the only constant with regards to my physical body was that it’s there to support me. So why was I being so horrible and critical of this thing that’s only ever been there for me? The only time it’s reacted badly is when I’ve abused it. Even at my very worst, if I took my body for a run then it ran. It did exactly what I asked it to do unless I abused it, so I realised I should probably try and thank it more.” 


17. Rachel, 25, sexual violence researcher

“I’ve always been fat, I came out of the womb fat – that’s just how it is – but fat girls are better at dieting than anybody else. I knew that I was really good at following diets and losing weight, right up until I reached the point of not wanting to do it any more so I would just bounce back to where I started. On the basis that I knew I was never going to be thin, because I couldn’t physically get there, I decided to do the work and seek out people who would make me feel positive about myself. That’s probably not the perfect route into the learnings – I’d love to tell you that I woke up one morning and realised I was a goddess, but I can’t – but the good beliefs I have come from a whole bunch of voices and authors, like Sofie Hagen, Susie Orbach, Jes Baker – and watching Jo Brand on the telly. Not just because she’s fat, but because she just doesn’t give a shit.” 


18. Ceri, 34, account manager

“When I was nine, my great aunt called me fat. We were at my grandad’s funeral, and it’s one of my earliest memories. I’ll never forget it, and it’s not necessarily that it ever affected me consciously, but once you start thinking about weight, I don’t think you ever really stop.” 


19. Amanda, 36, doula

“For me, it’s always been about managing the way I talk about myself, to myself. I think the body positivity movement has allowed me to accept that I may not look the way I want to right now, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be a stylish person, a happy person, that I can’t have that piece of cake. I went to a wedding last weekend and wore a dress with a cut-out for the first time in years – definitely since having my son. I had rolls and pouches, but I knew I had to walk out of my hotel room and tell myself I looked great. I really gave myself a pep talk because I think we have a duty to ourselves, and the women around us, to fight to be OK with the way we look.” 


20. Cassie, 19, student and actor

“I do acting and, in that world, I’m categorised as mid-sized. The thing is, I don’t know any famous actors who are mid-sized – they’re either plus-sized or slim. I think about that quite a lot. To be successful, should I be one or the other?” 

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