Writer Stephanie Yeboah spent years resenting and apologising for the way she looked - until she realised enough was enough. Here she shares how she came to find peace, confidence, and a deserving dose of self-love...
‘Maybe she’ll fare better in the boys’ jumper instead,’ I heard the sales assistant whisper to my mother apologetically; her eyes gazing over my plump, 11-year-old frame and assuming I wouldn’t be able to hear.
It was the middle of summer, and my mother and I were out shopping for my new secondary school uniform. After what seemed like hours of trying on various sizes of shirts and jumpers that didn’t fit, we ended up buying the baggier, frumpier boys’ uniform. I glanced from the look of frustration and embarrassment on my mum’s face, to the pitying look in the sales assistant’s eyes. In that moment, it was gleamingly obvious to me that there was something about me that evoked a negative reaction in others. It was one of the first occasions in which I was made to feel incredibly aware of my body, and how much bigger it was than others around me.
From then on, the battle-lines had been drawn between myself and my body, and secondary school took centre-stage as the battlefield. Over the next five years, I felt shame, disgust and hate towards the way I looked. I was bullied throughout school for being fat, which triggered the depression that I would eventually be diagnosed with a few years later. I turned to emotional eating, which in turn made me put on more weight, which made me an even bigger target for bullying. And so it went on.
I dreaded PE. In the changing rooms I was surrounded by bodies that were so much smaller than mine; the perfect environment for comparisons to fester. While the other girls wore cute training bras, I wondered why my already-saggy boobs were wrapped in bras that wouldn’t be seen out of place in the maternity section of an underwear store.
When I mentioned to my dad that I was being bullied due to my weight, the response I was met with was: ‘maybe if you weren’t fat, you wouldn’t be bullied’. Hearing that from someone who was supposed to look out for me and my wellbeing was enough for me to decide I deserved the abuse I got.
The resentment I had towards my body led to self-harm and problematic diets. I began to internalise all the hatred and negativity, blaming myself for being fat, and therefore ugly.
I carried these toxic thoughts into my 20s. I began bleaching my skin because I thought being whiter would at least allow me to reap the societal benefits of being a lighter colour. I wanted to be seen as desirable and attractive and I wanted to be taken more seriously at work, instead of being dismissed as the ‘sassy dark-skinned girl’. I didn’t stop bleaching my skin until I started to notice that it was taking on an unsightly, grey tinge that burned.
I focused all my efforts on my weight instead. I joined a plethora of liquid-based, costly dieting clubs, and even went so far as to lose four stone in four months by using laxatives, fasting and developing Bulimia. Being fat allowed me have an eating disorder which could be hidden in plain sight, as people started to notice the weight loss and congratulated me on ‘looking the best I’ve ever looked’. I continued calorie counting and binge-eating as the approval from others almost became like a drug that I thrived off.
Ahead of a trip to Barcelona in 2012, I had lost a dangerous amount of weight in order to fit into a bikini. I was the smallest I’d ever been, but my mental health had suffered tremendously as a result. I didn’t feel happy and I’d made myself incredibly ill. As I looked at the reflection of a smaller me in the mirror of that hotel room, it finally dawned on me that I had been living my whole life for the approval of other people. I had taken my body to its limits. I had been starving, abusing and harming my body for all these years, when all it had ever tried to do was keep me alive. I realised instead of apologising for my body, I needed to apologise to it.
After I flew home, I sought to find others who looked like me. That’s when I stumbled upon the body positivity community on Tumblr, featuring a myriad of fat, dark-skinned bodies like mine. They were bodies that scrunched and stretched and creased, with hyperpigmentation and stretch marks adorning them like artwork. For the first time in my life, I saw that I wasn’t alone.
Becoming involved with that community was the most important thing for me, and a real turning point. I started posting images of myself on my Tumblr page. I curated my social media feeds to only show bodies that looked like mine. I shared all of my thoughts and feelings on my blog and I began therapy. I wrote letters apologising to my body for all the pain and hurt I had put it through, as well as daily affirmations to myself.
Slowly, I started being more daring with my outfit choices: a crop top here, a short skirt there. When people stared, I was able to better control how it made me feel, and would turn it into something positive instead (‘they’re just staring because they know I look amazing,’ I’d tell myself.)
It has taken sixteen years of pain, anguish, self-hate and tears, but I finally feel that at the age of 31, I’m at a point in my life where I can proudly and confidently say that I absolutely love myself, and my body. The journey to achieving self-love isn’t linear - I have had major bumps along the way - but it’s important to know that these relapses are normal.
I now embrace the prominent yellow stretch marks that I once would cover up with foundation. I proudly show off the cute dimples of cellulite in my thighs that I used to cover up with leggings. I wear colourful citrus colours to highlight the mahogany of my skin. I adorn my boobs and side fat with beautiful satin and lace bras that make me feel incredible.
My marks and scars leave behind tales of strength and courage. My saggy boobs will one day, hopefully, nourish any children I have and keep them strong. My skin colour has been passed down to me from a nation of people known for their beauty, tenacity, grace and strength. I know I am beautiful, regardless of the amount of weight my body holds and ultimately, that is the message that we should all tell ourselves. We all have value, regardless of body shape. Regardless of whether you are fat, slim, tall, short, disabled or able-bodied, healthy or unhealthy, we are all deserving of respect and peace.
Learning how to love ourselves in a society that consistently tells us that we are only deserving of love if you look a certain way isn’t easy. But, once you make the first step by telling yourself that you and your body are worthy of that love, you will reap the benefits for the rest of your life.
Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.
You Might Also Like