I am mixed race and was adopted as a baby into a Caucasian family. My non-biological brother was also mixed race, but other than that we were surrounded by a 99% white community. We were ‘the black kids’, a novelty, a curiosity. People freely stared at us because we didn’t belong. Understandably I struggled with my cultural identity while growing up. I felt so ‘other’ and like I was never good enough. This was compounded by weight issues. My adoptive mother was extremely health conscious and encouraged me to eat a low fat diet at all times. Because of these factors, my body positivity was at an extreme low. I tried every fad diet going. Sometimes I would have relative success and people would comment on how ‘well’ I was looking, but I didn’t feel well on the inside, I felt worse. Every time someone complimented me on being thinner it just reinforced that being me wasn’t good enough. Being accepted and worthy was dependent on certain conditions – the main one being that I had to be thin.
I internalized all these feelings of being different and not good enough, and these feelings immediately created a bad relationship with food for me. Suddenly foods were ‘good’ and ‘bad’; I began eating as much as I could when no-one was looking; andI felt guilt and shame every time I ate. Over the years this disordered eating became a fully-fledged eating disorder – Binge Eating Disorder. I hated that I became fatter and fatter because it meant I was failing more and more in the eyes of those around me, but food became my only comfort and the only sense of control I had. Whatever emotion I was feeling, whatever bad thing I experienced, food was there. Overeating and bingeing became my way of trying to fill an ever-growing emotional void.
It wasn’t until I was well into adulthood that I realized how much growing up surrounded in mainly white culture had played a part in my negative body image and poor self-esteem. On finding my biological parents in 2006 I was suddenly immersed in a world where being bigger and curvier was the norm. Suddenly I saw my body shape reflected in my siblings and my aunties. In this culture you were encouraged to eat good food, and nobody minded if you were a bit on the chubby side. Suddenly, rather than being criticized for my extra wobbles and bounce, it was embraced and celebrated. I could finally embrace my body and with that, found body positivity.
It was at this point that I realized that all those years of trying to be thin and slender were completely unrealistic and unachievable for me. Genetically my body just wasn’t built to be that way. I realized I’d had a lifetime of my body shape being compared to and judged against a body type that was pretty much unattainable for me. I had been the ugly duckling – always failing to fit in, always failing to meet expectation – because I had been trying to be something I wasn’t. This changed everything for me. I was finally able to start realizing my own beauty and become the swan.
This is why it’s so important to me to campaign for diversity in media and the fashion industry. I have first-hand experience of what it’s like to be surrounded by one, narrow, band of appearance. People come on a spectrum, and all parts of that spectrum need to be represented, not just one. I am now a self love/body positivity advocate and a plus size model. I’m just one person, but I hope I can be part of the change to bring about a more diverse portrayal of body types and ethnicities.
What a difference it could make to have strong, confident, role models personifying a diverse, inclusive range of genders, races, sexualities and body types. In my opinion, if it stops just one person living through the self-hate and crippling self-doubt that I did, then it’s worth it.
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