After a lifetime of being ‘invisible’, Liv Ralph, 25, lost five stone, gained a new-found confidence and discovered people were treating her in an entirely different way. Liv is a content creator for an agency and lives in Battersea, south-west London. Here's her story...
Standing by the poolside bar at a hotel in Ibiza, I caught the eye of a man who was ordering drinks for his friends. I smiled back and tried to strike up a conversation, just to be friendly, but he completely blanked me and walked away. It was as though he hadn’t even seen me.
Deflated, I tried not to let it get to me but it’s impossible not to feel hurt when something like that happens. But I was used to being ignored. As my four friends – all slim, glossy and beautiful – kept being chatted up or having drinks bought for them, I was on the sidelines, dancing and laughing and trying to enjoy myself but feeling completely invisible.
Moments like that at the bar made me more conscious of my 16.5 stone (106kg) body than ever. I knew deep down that something needed to change and remember coming home from that holiday feeling low and saying to my mum: ‘I can’t do this on my own – I need help.'
I’d always been overweight, even as a child growing up in Portsmouth. Both Mum and Dad are slim but the other women in our family have always struggled with their weight so I am convinced that part of my problem is genetic. But Mum is also a great cook, someone who shows love through her cooking and so although I wasn’t eating unhealthily, I’d simply eat too much.
People said I carried the weight well and when I was a young teenager I really didn’t care what I looked like. With my mane of bushy long dark hair and the fact that – at 5ft 6in – I was taller than many of the children in my school, I looked like a giant.
Children calling me 'Hagrid'
Other kids nicknamed me ‘Hagrid’, after the character in Harry Potter. I’d hear the odd comment about being ‘too big’ and boys would be embarrassed to be seen with me. I was the ‘see if you can pull the fat one’ kind of girl. But I can’t say I was badly bullied. I had accepted long ago that I was never going to be as pretty or as slim as many of the girls in my school. Thankfully, I was confident and secure in myself.
But as I reached the age of 18, something in me began to shift. I was less and less happy with my looks and really wanted to do something about it. I tried so many diets – obsessing about calories, hitting the gym hard, not eating after 4pm – but nothing was sustainable. I’d lose one or two stones and then pile it back on. I even lost a stone for the Ibiza holiday but put it all back on in that one week while on holiday.
By the age of 20 I started looking into weight loss surgery. My nan knew how unhappy I was and helped me financially, giving me £10,000 for a gastric sleeve operation in 2018. It was a key moment for me.
The surgery is not for the faint-hearted and you really need to go into it with your eyes open. It should only be used as a last resort. The surgeon, Nick Carter, took away around 80% of my stomach so that I simply couldn’t eat as much as before and my appetite was suppressed. He warned me that I really wouldn’t know how the operation would affect me psychologically. But I’ve never looked back.
The weight began to drop off almost immediately. Whereas before, I’d eat meals but then be snacking around them, now I can only eat around half a meal at each sitting. It makes eating out a bit of a nightmare as I can usually only eat a small portion and then take home a doggy bag for later. But I don’t regret it for a moment.
As each stone came off, I began to notice my confidence soaring. People I’d known for years would come up to me and tell me how slim I was looking. I made more of an effort with my make-up, mum highlighted my hair for me – which looked awful – so I went for the full blonde look with extensions. I love the blonde new me and don’t think I’ll go back to being brunette.
I looked like a different person and I noticed I was getting more attention from men. Boys who wouldn’t look twice at me at school were suddenly fancying me and asking me out. It was a strange feeling and some people ask if I resent the fact that they didn’t like me when I was bigger. After all, I’m still the same person underneath. But actually, I’m not. I think my personality has changed. I’m far more confident. I don’t blame men for finding this Liv more attractive than the old one.
Not long ago I noticed that on TikTok people were sharing ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots of themselves to show their own ‘glow-up’ and I thought: ‘I’ve got a great one!’
I posted pictures of myself as a 16-year-old, all baggy trousers and big hair and then one of the slim, blonde new me. People were astonished. Some didn’t believe it was me. Some said I was ‘beautiful’. Others said I looked ‘sad’ now. Lots of people said it was all fake – that I’d had lip fillers or cheek implants - but I really haven’t.
I’ve always liked my face and I’ve got full lips and big eyes which stand out more now that the fat from my face has disappeared. But the only thing fake about me is my hair extensions.
The video now has over 6.5 million views and 1.2 million ‘likes’ which is incredible but I’m no social media influencer. I take these pictures of myself to record the changes and because I like seeing my new reflection. My dad is always taking the mick about all my ‘selfies’ and there’s still bits of me that I don’t like. My stomach is one area that I’m uncomfortable with and will be saving up for a tummy tuck at some point.
But from certain angles, I do like what I see and know that I can look beautiful now. Certainly, I know that if I ever returned to that bar in Ibiza and chatted to a guy, he wouldn’t blank me anymore.
I'm single at the moment and dating is a nightmare in London, but now I'm more confident I've become very choosy. I'd like someone who'd do anything for me, who's comfortable in himself too.
Watch: How to maintain a healthy weight through good nutrition