As outrage at the thigh gap spread across social media last week, rightly condemning the pressure for women to try and achieve an unnatural ideal that for many is physically impossible, female body image is once again in the spotlight. And while the latest unrealistic fad is undoubtedly worrying, there's one other equally disturbing aspect that is seemingly ignored - the response.
In the backlash against extreme dieting and unhealthy amounts of weight loss, there is a certain woman on every newsfeed who will proudly proclaim 'Real women have curves!', or 'Men don't want skin and bones - they want something to hold onto'. And so, everyday, I am told that I am not quite real anymore.
I am naturally a slim, size 8. I have a small bum, narrow hips and am a lifelong member of the itty bitty titty committee. In short, I do not have curves. I have a very health relationship with food (I love a good steak and chips), and have visited a gym once in my entire life. And because I have a body shape that for many is difficult to achieve (just as it's impossible for me to gain a stone or two), there is a certain kind of woman who feels it's acceptable to comment on my weight despite that fact that I wouldn't dream of mentioning hers. 'Oh, darling, you look like you don't eat a thing', I'm told. Imagine the horror if I said the opposite. On a night out, a group of women call me skinny, a stick. Would they be so forthcoming if I was fat?
For some reason, it's considered different. Because I have a body shape that a lot of women want, I can't have possibly ever worried about my weight. It's open season on nitpicking the slim girl's figure because she must feel sexy and beautiful all the time, and won't possibly mind if someone compares her to a skeleton to make themselves feel better.
Well, here's the truth. I didn't feel beautiful, when one of the boys I had a crush on at school ran up and asked me if I was anorexic in front of his friends. I didn't feel sexy when a group of builders drove past in a white van, shouting at me to eat some food. I didn't feel confident when my old teacher used to watch me eat as a result of unfounded concern. And I certainly didn't feel popular when a colleague told me I was stick thin, and I had to run to the toilets to cry alone because no one would understand if I dared to argue that my weight was none of her business. 'Well, it's alright for you...', is the usual response.
As with many girls, it took me a long time to be happy with myself, and finally I am very proud of my figure. Yet each and every day I am told I am not real, somewhere deep down that confidence shakes. I will not go back to the girl who tried to eat a loaf of bread slathered with butter before bed in order to try and gain a few pounds. Nor will I lack confidence in a bikini and envy the size of other women's breasts, because I know that in spite of some people's insistence otherwise, I am a real woman. Let's stop countering this obsession with the likes of the thigh gap by demeaning other types of women. It's time to realise that we all come in all different shapes and sizes - including mine.