Mel discovered that the answer to her healing took a brave leap of faith to do something outside of her comfort zone, only then did she discover that she was capable of everything she’d previously told herself she couldn’t do. We think she’s a ‘f**king soldier‘ for overcoming her limiting beliefs too!
When I was a kid I loved Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan. Neighbours was one of my favourite TV shows and I really, really wanted to go to Australia. I thought it sounded like the coolest place in the world, but my family told me it was very far away and very expensive to get to. We mostly went on holiday to Butlins which, if you’ve never had the pleasure of going to, involves hyperactive kids and incredibly drunk parents. I knew there wasn’t much hope of ever getting to Australia.
Nobody I knew in my hometown in the Midlands ever went travelling. Gap years were for rich kids. Backpacking was for sporty types who wanted to go trekking and kayaking. I hated sport. I got laughed at for coming last in cross-country at school. I hated PE lessons because we had to wear gym shorts and I hated my thighs. On holiday, I was even embarrassed to wear a swimming costume in front of my family – I wore a big baggy t-shirt over it whenever possible.
When I was in my early twenties, a friend from my home town announced, quite suddenly, that he was going to travel around the world. This friend was like me, working in a minimum wage job in hospitality, and he referred to our town as the “black hole of dreams.” I’d already tried to go to university and dropped out. My confidence was low and my anxiety was at an all-time high.
My friend travelled around the world for about ten months. He sent me emails telling me about all the people he’d met and all the awesome stuff he was doing. His family weren’t rich – he’d saved up all that money himself. I’d told myself for so long that I was too poor, too fat and not sporty enough to do anything like that, but my excuses were proving weak. But, there was the whole swimsuit problem…
My first swimming lesson at primary school did not go well. We each had to get in the pool so the teacher could see our swimming ability. I was so scared that I couldn’t get my arms and legs to work. I felt myself sinking, literally and metaphorically, as the entire class laughed. I was bullied a lot at primary school for being the weird, fat, poor kid with divorced parents, but I was also teased by adults outside of school too. It’s taken a lot of therapy to work through the pain of constantly feeling ashamed of myself.
My friend came back from his travels. He kept telling me “if I can do it, you can.” A female friend at work was planning to go to Australia. Seeing another woman plan a trip alone was the final push I needed. It took years of saving up money, but eventually I bought a working holiday visa for Australia. I lost myself in the logistics, until the day I booked flights. That’s when sh*t got real.
How was I going to survive so far away from my family? What the hell was I going to wear on the beach? I looked at those frilly dress-style swimming costumes that bigger women are expected to wear. Why should we have to wear horrible frumpy things, or be expected to cover up, just to make other people feel more comfortable? So I bought a tankini – a halter top and bottoms. It felt nicer than a swimming costume, but it wasn’t as scary as a bikini. I still wasn’t sure I’d be able to wear it in public. In the few weeks before my flight, with help from friends and my parents, I continually countered my inner critical voice. I didn’t refer to it as that back then – I thought it was normal to have those kind of negative thoughts. My inner critic told me I was going to fail. That I’d run home to my parents again and get laughed at.
Just before I left, my friend gave me a pep talk. He said if I ever doubted myself I should look in the mirror and say “I’m a f**king soldier.” I told him that was f**king stupid. He kept saying, “mate, you’ve just gotta do it – tell yourself, I’m a f**king soldier.”
So I was in the toilets at Heathrow airport, my stomach in knots, sitting on the loo, saying over and over in my head, I’m a f**king soldier. I didn’t care if it was stupid at that point, I had to try it.
I thought I’d probably just spend a few months in Australia and then miss home and come back. I ended up travelling for over five years.
Going travelling is often seen as a form of escapism, and that’s okay. Sometimes you need to get out of the town you grew up in so you can start to heal. I met people from all over the world and my confidence grew. I continually proved myself wrong and did things that I never thought short fat girls from the Midlands were allowed to do. I wore my tankini on the beach every bloody day, because getting on that plane was the scariest thing I ever did and I was damned if I was going to let swimwear defeat me.
On reflection, maybe it wasn’t about swimwear after all. I channelled all my anxieties into my body in the hope that I could change it. If I just lost weight it would solve everything. When really, it was a childhood of being told I was never good enough and constantly being asked to change myself. Through all my different travels, living a life of swimming in the sea every day and eating all different kind of foods, I never lost weight. I spent four months in India and got very sick. I barely ate for weeks, and I still wasn’t thin. It was at that point I made the promise to myself that I would never try to force my body into a different size or shape. All that matters is my health and that I have a healthy relationship with food with no rules, no dieting, no restrictions. It doesn’t matter what size I am – it’s my mental and physical health that matters. I will never be thin, and that’s fine. I am no longer afraid of being fat. There are so many worse things to be than fat.
Learning to be more comfortable in swimwear was just the side effect. What I learnt was a wider perspective, whilst un-learning all the rules I grew up with. It’s a long journey of self-love, but I’m pleased to be learning about the world and myself, and I hope to now be able to help others who’ve been through similar things. I work for an eating disorder charity and I’m training to be a counsellor. Everyone deserves to feel good about themselves irrelevant of where they come from or what they look like. But it starts with doing something scary – pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. It’s worth the leap of faith, I promise.
Keep up with Mel’s inspiring blogs via these social media platforms:
FB page: The Compassionate Feminist
We are no longer taking submissions for Amy’s book; #EmergingProud through Disordered Eating, Body Image and Low Self-Esteem, however, if you have a story of overcoming personal adversity you’d like to share, please CONTACT US HERE to find out how to get involved – together we could help to save lives ❤