When I was twelve years old I stood naked in front of the bathroom mirror and evaluated my body. Why do I have a flat chest? Where are these hips I've been promised? Why do I, to all extents and purposes, look like a prepubescent boy?
When I was sixteen years old and miraculously grew a pair of double D's overnight, the stream of shame shifted. Why do I have stretch marks? Why can't I stuff my hips into skinny jeans? Why does my tummy roll and my thighs wobble and my arms flap?
These naked evaluations always ended with the same question. A question that has come to haunt me.
How can I change the way I look?
I was, after all, an adolescent of the early noughties, when beauty standards were dictated by the faux pas of the model-formerly-known-as Jordan. When the term 'size zero' was plastered across glossy magazines. When Kate Moss said, 'Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.' The girls at school were obsessed with fake tans and fad diets and 'shaven havens' so before I even had pubes, I was being told to shave them off. This rampant policing of my ever-changing body shape has, inevitably, left me riddled with insecurities.
This means that as a size 16, six foot tall woman with a 38 E bust, my adult body challenges my self esteem every single day. For years, dressing became a careful act of diminishment, where I would deny myself cute crop tops and pencil skirts because they weren't 'flattering.' Flattering meant I couldn't eat bread and I had to wear industrial boob-minimising bras and two pairs of spanx - even though I'd spend all day fishing them out of my arse crack. Flattering meant high camera angles and mastering my full-body-picture-pose so I took up as little space as possible. Flattering meant miserable and I was set to endure this misery for the rest of my days because that's just the way girls like me were supposed to feel, until I joined Instagram.
Instagram, for those who don't use it, is a social network much like Twitter except you post pictures. At first, I followed my friends, agonised over filters for my arty shots of flowers and enjoyed a feed populated with photos of pet cats, crap dinners and happy holidays. Then I found Instagram's 'discover' function which began recommending the accounts of 'plus size' body-positive women like Ashley Graham, Bae Doe, Frances Cannon, Tess Holliday and Isabel Hendrix. I was captivated. I'd never seen pictures of confident, happy gals who looked exactly like me -- fat rolls and all. And not only were these women celebrating their bodies, they were actively encouraging me to reassess my relationship with mine, with hashtag movements like #selfloveclub, #effyourbeautystandards and #celebratemysize. It was a joy to behold and overtime, following these women became an antidote to years of conditioned self hatred.
After all, platforms like Instagram allow us to choose the content we consume, so instead of being battered over the head by the body shaming bumf of traditional women's magazines, I've carefully curated a community that reaffirms my self worth rather than systemically dismantling it. This is not only massively liberating -- it's revolutionary. Women from all over the world are coming together and collectively saying no: we refuse to hate ourselves. We refuse to give in to the carefully designed dogma that exists to profit from our self loathing. To the industries that actively rely on it. To the thousands of products and shops and adverts that furiously think up of new ways to humiliate us. No. We're smarter than that. We're rising above it and instead of shaming each other to feel better about ourselves, we're choosing love and acceptance as our tools of female empowerment. It's incredible, and I am so much happier for it.
When I was twenty six years old I stood naked in front of the bathroom mirror and thought YAAASSS QUEEN you are killing it and if someone were to describe you in a book then voluptuous would be the leading adjective. But, don't forget, your worth is not determined by the flesh that clings to your bones and your contribution on this planet is not going to be measured by how much you're glowing right now. So get outside and reinvent what it means to be female. Because you already are, just by loving yourself.