After Emma Watson’s wonderful and articulate and inspiring and important and ACCESSIBLE speech on gender equality at the UN in New York this week, another kickass lady has spoken up and gone and ruddy NAILED IT. And uh oh… it got me thinking. Don’t worry fellas; there should be something in this post for you too. Hopefully. But let me just have a moment…
Lena Dunham. You know, her of Girls fame who, thanks to the series taking the (very fun, and very watchable) stereotypes of Sex and the City and kind of showing them up a little bit, has made all those who’ve watched it, or have listened to her speak or read her words (oh hi, Lena’s Twitter) for more than a millisecond at least think, at least momentarily, about what it means to be ‘pretty’ in the conventional sense. Girls, as I’m sure you’re aware, is full of funny, well… girls who are raw, confused, disappointed (frequently by their sexual encounters) and most of all gloriously cringetastically awkward. What’s glorious about that? Well, because we’re all pretty awkward, aren’t we?
This week Lena has released a mini-series of videos offering candid advice about various issues and woes our wonderful generation(s) are busy traversing. The reason I’m shaking my pom poms at the screen on this particular occasion is because for all the excellent and/or popular vloggers out there, the dominant video gene appears to be on beauty. Which is fine, because we all love a new mascara, but in these videos, albeit produced to publicise her new book, Lena is reaching out, in no more than a few minutes apiece, with something entirely real (as does her book, we’re told), covering topics like bad sex, friendship and body image. She also happens to be bloody funny.
Why do I care? Why am I getting all soapbox on you lot about it? Well… I get a whoooolllleeee lot of emails asking me about fitness, about body image, about the isolating nature of type 1, and ultimately about the grappling of numbers – insulin units, blood glucose readings and… the scales. Diabetes CAN be entirely dangerous when it comes to one’s perception of the body, their body, all bodies, for the simple reason that it forces you to count, measure, analyse, and obsess over anything and everything that passes your lips. There is guilt attached to certain foods that send your blood sugars off their narrow acceptable path. There’s no ‘everything in moderation’ about stuffing your face full of bread and jam at 3am as quickly as possible to fix a hypo.
I’m not speaking from a higher plane here – I absolutely wasn’t immune; am not immune. Behold.
This is a picture that shows a ‘phase’ of me that I’ve never shown on here before. I’m at my graduation ceremony, a couple of years before I got my shit together and started this blog. 21 years of age – it should have been the happiest time of my life, but I look at this and I know that despite that puffy smile, I was sad. Really sad. This former phase of me lives on, hidden in the depths of a friend’s Facebook album (cheers Internet), detagged by yours truly long ago. But I know it’s there – the evidence of yesterJen. Sometimes I seek it out and look at it just to really clarify how annoyingly happy I am these days, for the most part at least. I also know that I’m now irrevocably happy because I perceive myself to be so; because of the values I now place on what happiness is, six years after that picture was taken.
I’ve evolved into a different version of myself now, one that I’m mostly happy to accept. The number 1 catalyst for this acceptance? I stopped giving myself such a devastatingly hard time. Being my own worst enemy resulted in lonely bingeing, absolutely seismic self-loathing despite the shiny happy exterior, the sense that you’ll never be good enough because you’ll never be thin enough, nor will your boobs be the right size, nor will anyone ever look at you because you’re this disgusting thing. Horrible isn’t it? I wouldn’t speak to my worst enemy like that, so reserving it for myself for those few years was nothing short of entirely destructive. I recently went home to Mum’s and found a couple of my old journals. It saddened me so much that all I ever seemed to write about was my weight and my latest diet, and my all-encompassing frustration at not living up to the person I thought I should be – which was entirely defined by the way I looked. Somehow I was ignoring a lifetime’s worth of personal achievement – being kind, being a good friend, working hard, all the rest of it – and defining myself solely by how much of my gut I could pinch. The consequences of this? The gut steadily got bigger, and the self-loathing increased beyond measure. In that picture I’m nearly two stone heavier than I am now – the biggest I’ve ever been. My diabetes was entirely ignored because I didn’t care to do my body actual good, to treat it with respect, or to look after it in the way that a body deserves.
This isn’t a pity party at all – I feel the need to say this because I know I’m far from the only one who has grappled or is grappling with these feelings and issues, diabetic or not, slim or large, tall or short, outgoing or cripplingly shy. Is it surprising that females who have type 1 are at twice the risk of developing anorexia or bulimia? I really think not. I don’t know that diabetes was really the source of how I felt, but years of counting and measuring and constantly being told that insulin – the drug we as diabetics have control over – makes you store fat, led to a very complicated logic in my head for some time. Importantly, noone told me about any of this when I was handed a lifetime supply of Novorapid and approximately 400 leaflets upon crashing head first into an everlasting type 1 world, aged eight. Diagnosis aside, a lesson or two in school about this stuff would, I believe, go a lot further than memorising the entire periodic table.
Well then miss life-is-bed-of-roses-now, how did you come out of this, to a very significant extent at least? Well, it came in time, and it came for a number of reasons. I think that to an extent, that awkwardness and peer comparison is part of that very vulnerable period where you’re discovering who you are and what you’re about. But ultimately it came from acknowledging the things I WAS, instead of the things I WASN’T. The first step was when I sort of figured out what I wanted to do after my dancing dreams got cut off, and I went and pursued that germ of a passion with a serious fervor. I cut out toxic friendships, did things that made me smile, and ultimately I along the way I learned to understand what I stood for, what I believed in and what I treasured. Steady weight loss came after all of that as a consequence, not the driving force. I steadily dropped to a more natural body weight (which is no size eight incidentally, and that’s grand by me) because in the end it wasn’t about the weight at all. If I was exactly the same size there and deliriously happy, then great. But it wasn’t about that. It was about me liking me.
Sure, some days now I feel good about my body, and some days less so. I’m still my own worst critic, but to a level that’s healthier, on things that matter more than the size of my jeans. I exercise because it makes me feel like a superhuman. Usually I don’t need my waistband to tell me I’ve not been eating well – my mind is already screaming at me through a sluggish haze. Eating well gives me clarity, and I do what I can to maintain that so I can function to my best. How do I measure myself now? Who, or what do I compare myself to? I compare myself to myself. I look at myself in relation to my decent and realistic expectations of me as a person, not as a size; the one I want to be in terms of the things I value and the way I act. Excuse me while I get all zen for a second: If I go to sleep in the knowledge that I’ve given the best of myself to this world – be it professionally, as a friend or to a stranger in the street, then I count myself as successful. If I take care of myself and those I love, then YAY ME I’M FREAKING AWESOME. If I pursue my passions and interests as often as I can, then hell yes life is good. As long as I’m kind to the people around me, including and most importantly myself, then I’m doing ok. If I go through my day with an open mind, without being bitter, without judging to harshly or being too impatient, then I give myself a mental high five before I drift off. That’s what makes me confident. That’s what gives me the courage of my convictions. That’s what makes me happy, and then I can send that positivity on. I’m doing my tiny tiny bit in the hope that this nice world stays nice. Good things come of living like this, I assure you that.
And so we need more Dunhams and Watsons and Adlingtons and Morans for our girls, and likewise for boys. Women who speak up, and are admired for the things they say and the passions they irrevocably and unquestionably hold. Who are respected for their drive, not their waist measurement.
It took me years to get to this point. Years of reading and learning and growing and evolving and understanding and experiencing and LIVING. I very slowly, very steadily, very cautiously found my way. Yes, while absolutely making mistakes and being extremely awkward about certain things. But in the process I managed to just about sort it out myself – dismissing that ridiculous logic, and those horrible horrible criticisms of myself, reserved especially for me and me alone. But if I could sum it up, for free, in 130 seconds, I would just sit myself the hell down and watch this, and forget about your outrageously slim ridiculously tall born beautiful ‘I just woke up like this’ airbrushed idea of reality and listen to this girl and her absolutely correct belief that being a powerful, sexy, confident PERSON (yes, not woman, we’re all inclusive here) is entirely up to you.
Final thought: Found this the other day on Instagram (sorry, there’s no credit) and it stopped me in my tracks. This.