New Year, More Me!

We’re now in the midst of January, and many are following a “new year, new me” health and fitness regime.

Most of us over-indulge at Christmas. Too much rich food and too much booze.

Everywhere you look, it seems people are trying to lose weight and tone-up. Fair play to them! Do what makes you feel good.

But just to break the trend, here I am trying to put on weight!

Okay, so…I’m teeny tiny. Pixie sized! My weight has always been fairly consistent and never really fluctuated.

Of course, my condition influences this. Muscle weighs vastly more than fat, right? Well, I have very little muscle mass. And so my BMI is always going to be much lower than the average.

I won’t lie, I’ve always consciously monitored my weight and my calorie intake. Not due to vanity, but practicality.

I am non-ambulant and therefore cannot transfer independently. I get thrown around a lot! From chair to chair, chair to bed etc. If I were significantly heavier, life would be much more difficult!

People who struggle to lose weight often ask me how I stay so tiny, considering I’m unable to exercise. Well…

~ Growing up with older brothers helps! I’ve always scraped food off my plate onto theirs. And they were always happy to finish off any food I left.

~ Study food labels and count calories.

~ Self limitation. I’ve almost trained myself to say no when someone offers me chocolate or a biscuit. Bad, I know.

~ It might sound silly but, over time your stomach does shrink and your body adapts. You learn to function on fewer calories.

*Now, to make it absolutely clear, I am in no way dictating, advising or advocating such bad habits! I am very much aware that this is unhealthy behaviour.*

So, why do I now want to put on weight?

When I’m ill, I eat less. When I’m really stressed, I stop eating. In these instances, I am NOT consciously monitoring my weight.

Over the past 2 months, I have unintentionally lost weight. This will no doubt affect my overall health and wellbeing, reducing energy levels and leaving me vulnerable to infection and illness.

Believe it or not, increasing calorie intake is far more challenging (for me) than you might imagine. It’s difficult to break the habit of a lifetime!

Before, I would go literally all day without eating a thing. No breakfast, no lunch. I would then pick at my dinner and that would be it.

I am now constantly reminding and forcing myself to consume food and drink, little and often, throughout the day.

If I can put on half a stone, I’ll be happy. I’ll still be skinny, but I’ll be healthier. That can only be a good thing!

Body Image & Disability

I was born with a rare form of muscular dystrophy, affecting my body and physicality. I have a severe scoliosis (curvature of the spine) which, for various reasons, is not surgically corrected. This causes asymmetry and a shortened torso. Joint contractures mean I am unable to stretch out my arms or legs. Furthermore, the muscle wasting nature of my condition results in extremely thin limbs.

Illustration by Jess Oddi @TheDisabledLife

Now 31, I look very different from other women my age. My pixie-sized stature is emphasised by the scoliosis. In place of womanly curves, are unwanted and abnormally crooked humps and bumps. This visible contrast negatively impacts my sense of self and makes me feel odd, weird, and self-conscious.

I love fashion but fashion doesn’t love me

Over the years, I have desperately sought to hide my body with shapeless, baggy clothes. Anything resembling a potato sack is a winner. I live in leggings because jeans are a no-go and frankly, they are the next best thing to pyjamas!

Clothing manufacturers don’t cater for my body since it doesn’t meet standard criteria. Shopping is not an enjoyable experience. It is a frustrating and disappointing struggle to find anything at all to fit, let alone look flattering. Most of the clothes I buy have to be returned which makes me wonder why I bother at all – well, simply because I can’t roll about naked!

Accepting my unique body

Do I love, embrace and celebrate my unique body shape? Hell, no! BUT – I have slowly and gradually learnt to accept it. After all, there’s absolutely nothing I can do to change it. So why stress myself out over something I cannot control.

Exercise isn’t an option for me. I can’t go to the gym and buff-up. And why should I resort to cosmetic surgery? Why put myself through pain, trauma and financial strain simply to conform to societies high and unrealistic standards of beauty? Okay, it might make me feel more confident to look a little more like the average woman. Then again, it might not…

Societal standards of body beautiful

Our perception of body image and beauty is arguably increasingly influenced by social media, particularly Instagram. Heavily airbrushed, edited and filtered selfies are everywhere to be seen. With a smartphone, we can all look like a celeb from a magazine spread!

But this is misleading, unrealistic and unattainable. I can’t relate to the pouty, posers of Instagram. Honestly, can anyone?!

Diverse bodies are sadly under-represented in the media. This is starting to improve but there is still a long way to go before the presence of disabled bodies on our screens becomes mainstream.