My Body Feeds My Mind


The only time I remember not giving a shit about the way I looked was when I was about 6 years old on a beach in just my pants. The thrill of just being able to run about, there was no fear, no worry. I wasn’t looking down at my small protruding belly and thinking, “what are people going to say? I must cover this up or find a way of covering it up.”

It all changed when I hit around 12 years old. I started to realise I was bigger than the other children in my primary school, the comments started, but it wasn’t the kids around me, it came from the adults. I could hear them talking about “my size”, “what they were going to do about it”. That’s the first time I felt a real fear, I find it hard to describe. It’s the same feeling I get now if I haven’t done something that’s super important or I have an argument with someone. It’s as if the oxygen has temporarily been taken out of your body and your stomach temporarily becomes bottomless.

They tried to do things for me, they tried to temper my diet, but I would eat in secret. I would sneak into the fridge or cupboards, I would always find a way. It was my comfort. I guess I just wanted to be able to eat normally and enjoy it. The immediate guilt after doing this each time was shocking. I felt as if I wasn’t allowed to eat like other people.

By the time I was 16, I had become a big girl. I could always see the other school kids looking at me with judgement, but because “I was the funny, confident one”, I didn’t get as much hassle as I suppose I could of. It came from the strangers, the young guy on the street with his group of pals that thought it was funny to pick on the fat one, the old man on the bus that would complain about not having enough room to sit down. The tutting, the sighs, the feelings that you were a fucking burden each and every day.

My parents obviously had my well-being in mind, but when you face comments, looks, judgements each and every day, the effect on your mental health is so overwhelming that you start to give up. The vicious circle of trying not to eat and then binging was becoming exhausting.

I hit rock bottom about 3 years ago. My size was affecting my health and the periodic bullying from members of the general public was becoming unbearable. I have now been on a weight loss journey for about 2 years and getting there. I still, however, worry about what people think about me every single day. You walk down the street and if someone looks at you longer than a glance, you automatically assume they are thinking badly of you. That’s where my mental health has still to improve. It’s the one thing I find so hard to change within myself. Some days I don’t give a shit, I have more important things to think about, but others, I just want to swamp myself in a sack like a Dementor and float along like an apparition.

I know there are thousands of people that think like this. I pass people and see the sadness or fear in their eyes. I just want to pull them to one side, hug them and tell them that I know how it feels. I know the pain, I know they just want to be “normal”.

At what point did we get to this stage? Introduce a very young child to someone that is not conventionally what we deem normal, someone that might be scarred, someone that may be disfigured, someone that might have lost a limb or indeed someone that is overweight and they will not pass judgement. I fucking hate this society. I hate that we have got to this point of making people feel that they can’t exist in a way that they want. A way of complete acceptance and one that appreciates our differences.

No doubt there will be one person reading this that will think “but you can’t change some of those things, you can change your weight and it’s your fault”. Well mate, fuck you. That’s my response. There are many reasons that people put on weight or are overweight. Steroids, underactive thyroids and mental health issues that make you not want to look after yourself.

The impact on my mental health has been extraordinary. For all the bad reasons. My anxiety and panic attacks come purely from the social situations that have led me to this. The negative thoughts that have manifested themselves into moments of unadulterated fear. The hyperventilation, the shaking, the pins and needles in my fingers and toes, the need to camouflage myself to blend into the high street or on public transport. The normality that people crave.

Then, I think no. No, I want to stand out, I want to be different. I want people to notice me. I want them to see this and understand that we can’t all be something that certain cretins have decided is “beautiful”.

It’s inevitable that you will look at someone and make some form of judgement. The next time though, I want you to really challenge what it is about that person you noticed that made you judge. How does it affect your life? If you are worried about their health then I get it, we want to make sure those we love and care about are happy and healthy, but there are ways to approach this. Offer support, offer your time, offer your kindness. And to the strangers? Just smile at them. 

[Halina Rifai]

Halina Rifai