A United Front

I’ve noticed that most of my posts start with “So…”

So, I got married this year. A fact of which I’m sure you’re aware, especially since I’ve now joined Instagram. This would be a fairly momentous occasion in anyone’s life, and it certainly was in mine.

I literally just wrote “we all imagine our weddings”, but then deleted it, because this isn’t true. Just because I had a secret wedding Pinterest board long before I got engaged, just because that board mutated into seven boards once I became engaged, it doesn’t mean I’m the norm, it doesn’t mean that everyone thinks like me. This journey of discovery is helping me realise that there is no ‘norm’. Times are changing, and things that have always been seen as being in the minority are being revealed as more prevalent than previously thought. When my parents married, they married young for the freedom it gave them. It enabled them to live together, to go on holiday together, to really be a couple. That’s not the case anymore, so people are marrying older, or not marrying at all because they don’t fancy it. It doesn’t affect the longevity of relationships, it’s just something that people choose to do or not do.

I imagined my wedding though, not in an obsessive way, just in a “that would be nice” way. Over the years the colour schemes changed, the dress changed, and thankfully the grooms changed, but one thing remained constant, and that was my image of myself as a bride. I was slim, and to me that meant I looked my very best, the most beautiful I could possibly look. In reality, I committed the ultimate sin, I went against the magazines, the TV shows, the advice of relatives and in-laws, and the general feeling of the western world, and I got married fat. This wasn’t entirely by choice to be fair, if I’d had it in me to lose the weight I think I would have made a valiant effort, but I didn’t. I’d like to say that this was a feminist stand, a brave and empowering protest against perceived gender obligations, but in all honesty I didn’t have room in my life to lose weight.

A lot of weddings follow the traditional model of taking place in a hotel or other such venue, with prescribed package deals that can be altered to suit the couple. You choose your meal, your place settings and your drinks package from a list of options, and someone takes it from there. This is a sensible way to plan the most elaborate party of your life. This is a good idea. This is not what we did. We wanted to make the day our own; we aren’t formal people and would have felt uncomfortable in formal surroundings. The thing Tony wanted most was to get married outdoors, and the thing I wanted most was to feel like myself on my wedding day. We chose an outdoor venue in Yorkshire in June. This is not as easy as it sounds. Strangely enough, unlike the rest of the world, and America in particular where you can legally get married anywhere, even up a tree if that’s what floats your goat, in the UK you can only legally be married under a licenced permanent structure. Otherwise, you have your ceremonial ceremony and then go to a registry office, which is not what we wanted – we wanted the ceremony to be real. Our day was to take place at the only place in North Yorkshire you can legally be married outdoors, in the Cruck House at the Yorkshire Arboretum, or the Wedding Shed as we affectionately thought of it. Turns out this was a terrible idea as it rained and we had to get married in the visitor’s centre, but it was a lovely thought.

The main problem of an unconventional wedding is also the main blessing: there are no packages to choose from. You get all the freedom of expression you like, but a huge amount of work and no one to share the load. Our reception took place in a marquee (by the wonderful Will’s Marquees – can’t actually recommend them enough) in the Arboretum grounds, and we had to organise everything ourselves – the loos, the bar, the caterers, the music, the decorations, the drinks, everything. I DO NOT recommend this approach. It was wholeheartedly the most stressful thing I have ever done and I certainly wouldn’t do it again. It was beautiful, awesome and felt just like us though, and we loved every second of the day so, you know, swings and roundabouts**. Realistically though, I had a huge amount of work to do, on top of my full time job and cyclic mental health difficulties. Something had to give, and losing weight was the non-essential item that I didn’t have room for in my schedule. To be fair, I tried at first, but it was just too much pressure at a time when I needed to feel good about myself and my anxiety was already through the roof.

I’d thought that, as a result, dress shopping would be a nightmare, a hideous, embarrassing, humiliating nightmare of body shaming and low self-esteem. It was, in my own head, but actually not so much in the shops. The first dress I tried on was a size 14 (hahahahahahahahahaaaaa) at the wedding exhibition in London. It was utterly, utterly beautiful, and utterly over-budget, from a gorgeous shop in Brighton called Leonie Claire, and the owner deserves a special mention for The Thing She Said to Me. She encouraged me to try on the dress in question, stating that I’d be surprised what sizes I could fit into, just to get an idea of what they’d look like. I felt embarrassed and as though I had to justify my existence, so I said something along the lines of “well, the diet and exercise start here!” in a hearty, over-compensating way. She turned to me, and quietly said, “No. Don’t change yourself, not for this, not just for the sake of one day”. And I was floored. This person who makes a living selling wedding dresses, who didn’t stock a single thing in my size and therefore was unlikely to make a sale, went out of her way and actively advocated for me not to feel I had to change myself. I’m so thankful to her, I’m sure she thought it was just a small gesture, but to a plus size/curvy/fat/whatever bride starting on a journey through an industry that is inherently against her, it was everything. Thank you Leonie Claire, so much. I’m sorry I couldn’t afford the dress!

The dress I did choose was by Truvelle, an American designer, and I bought it from Heart Aflutter, a small studio in Hackney. If you’re looking for something beautiful and unconventional I strongly suggest you give them a try. They have the most amazing selection of floaty, glitzy, vintage-y, modern-y, and ethereal things, most of which can be ordered in plus sizes, and their seamstress is frankly incredible. I loved my dress. I loved the way it looked, the way it made me feel and, most of all, the way the entire bottom third was covered in matte rose gold sequins. It was perfect. It’s not remotely what I expected to wear, I’d pictured a lot of lace, but I’m so pleased I chose this dress instead.

Anyway, the fact is that I got married fat. I was a fat bride. I went against every promise I’d ever made myself to not be a fat bride, and instead was a fat bride. In my panicky moments pre-wedding I worried about people looking at me and thinking “bloody hell, she’s fat!”, I worried about Tony looking at me and thinking “aaarrghhh!!!”. In the wise words of my incredible bridesmaid though, who looked me steadily in the eyes and spoke slowly as if teaching a child – “I think they know”. No one spontaneously combusted of shock as I appeared at the end of the aisle in my dress. My groom didn’t pass out from sheer disgust at my inability to materialise as a size 12 on our wedding day. There were no Biblical plagues, no rains of frogs, and, most disappointingly, neither Buffy nor the Winchester brothers appeared to foil the inevitable apocalypse. I was fat, I was tall, taller than Tony, as I usually am, and we had a wonderful day that we’ll never forget, for all the right reasons.

Looking back, the day is basically a blur. The week before was the most stressful of my life, I slept for two hours each afternoon as I was thoroughly drained and exhausted, and I felt indescribably tense and anxious at all times. I’d made the mistake of being in charge – I was the person who knew what was going on, I had all the information, all the supplier details and all the timings, so I was the person everyone asked, and that was too much for me. When it came to the day itself though, it was easier. That was the day where the member of venue staff, our bridesmaids and our groomsmen took over, and we could just enjoy the ride.

I don’t actually remember what the ceremony space looked like. I don’t think I ever really looked at it. I walked in, nervous, excited, with my dad, and kept my eyes fixed ahead to where I was going, to Tony. At all times I looked at him, or at the person speaking – the registrar, or the reader – I tried not to look at everyone else and be overwhelmed by how many people were looking at us. What I do remember is the way Tony looked at me. In that moment it seemed ridiculous to have ever thought he might be disappointed when he saw me. The way he looked at me is exactly the way I always wanted to be looked at on my wedding day. He looked wonderful, standing there, waiting for me, I probably looked at him in exactly the same way.

I remember what he said to me, I’ll never forget that, and I remember the part where he stopped to loudly blow his nose before starting his vows *cue laughter*. I remember referring to Philip and Tiger Lounge in my vows *cue cheering*. I remember calling him weird, and having not anticipated the laugh it would get, and the subsequent fact that I would have to wait for it to subside before I could add “…and I’m weird”, so for a few moments it just looked as though I’d called him weird, with no explanation, on our wedding day. After that I remember interminable posing for the camera, feeling consistently buoyant and happy, barely eating anything, and, inexplicably, not needing a wee all day. Which was weird, but convenient. I remember the immense stroke of luck that was the double rainbow, and our guests running and shouting at us from too far away so that we’d turn around and see it. I remember spinning around like a fool with my new husband to Bellowhead. I remember the task force involved in bustling my dress, and those who attempted to shield the spectacle with skirts and umbrellas. I remember one guest going into raptures because she was “finally ON Sean Bean” (table name), and another requesting to take home the “Patrick Stewart” table flag. I remember feeling loved, absolutely, positively loved, and feeling immense love in return for every one of our friends and family members who were there. I remember how happy Tony looked, how much fun he seemed to be having. I remember the Jagger-off between my husband and the resident dance-enthusiast, how the guests parted to let it happen, and how one participant decisively removed his jacket when the song started.  I remember driving us to the B&B at the end of the night, just the two of us at last, and eating week old pretzels (courtesy of my glove compartment) and hand-dipped chocolate strawberries (courtesy of the B&B owner) in bed when the dust finally settled and we realised how damned hungry we were. In that moment, it was like the wedding hadn’t happened yet. We were snuggled up in bed, the same as always, feeling happy and content to be there with each other. It may sound like a complete come down, but it wasn’t, at all, in fact it was the exact opposite. After all, you get married because you like the way things are and you want them to stay that way all the time. We felt exhausted, dazed, unsure of what had happened, but content to be snuggled up at last, and very, very happy.

We missed Philip though, obvs.

On 10th June I married the love of my life. It was a frankly glorious day, but I couldn’t tell you all the details. Almost two months on I’m still not used to referring to him as my husband, and am surprised to see him wearing a wedding ring. I have officially (well, at work and on social media, I’m yet to fill in all the forms) transitioned to my married name, but I’m still surprised every time I hear it. Tony opened a letter addressed to me the other day because he glanced at the envelope and saw his surname! Life hasn’t really changed though, not really, we just had a really wonderful day with almost everyone we love, to celebrate the fact that we chose to spend our lives together.

Here are some pictures taken by Henry Lowther, our very, very talented photographer.

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**What does this even mean?! Yes, swings and roundabouts, these are standard playground equipment, and you’re stating their names. If you’re trying to depict a scenario in which occurrences balance each other out, this is not it!

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The Fear

fat

I wish I were as fat as the I was the first time I thought I was fat. (Thanks www.someecards.com)

The first time I thought I was fat I was a size 14. Yes. A 14. It was my first year at Uni and, up until then, it was the biggest I’d ever been. To set the scene – I’m 5ft11” and a pretty sturdy build. I’m big, I’m tall and a 14 on me looks like a 12 on most other people. Up until I left sixth form I was a 12, and I looked pretty damned good in it. I possessed the most precious of all the gifts that are wasted on the young, a high metabolism, and could pretty much eat whatever I wanted and still look hot. I was also intrinsically lazy, and as such never learned how to keep fit and slim.

Once I hit university I discovered alcohol. Oh, I’d discovered it long before that, of course, I mean, this is Britain after all. However, I was equipped with a series of crippling fears when I was younger, a lot of which hung on until, well, until this year actually. They were very strong, particularly, and most enduringly, the Fear of Sick. I was absolutely terrified of the thought of throwing up, or of anyone throwing up near me. This extended to seeing people on TV throw up, and even hearing stories about people who might have, once in their lives, thrown up. It got so bad that I once, when about 13 years old, begged my next door neighbour to let me spend the summer holidays with her because the thought of getting on a ferry to France and getting inevitably seasick filled me with such revulsion and fear that I couldn’t sleep, I developed weird eating habits and I felt sick every day because I could think about nothing else. I used to avoid eating meals that were too big in case they made me feel sick. I refused to eat eggs or chicken because I was convinced they were going to give me food poisoning – a fear only exacerbated when I took the Basic Food Hygiene course at age 16  (spoiler: everything can and will kill you, but only after making you horrifically, ruinatiously sick).

I had a routine when travelling in cars – I’d put my headphones on, listening only to music I already knew, nothing new, and refuse to speak to, listen to, or even acknowledge anyone, whilst praying silently that I wouldn’t throw up. I used to measure journeys in tapes (I know, I know, I’m ANCIENT) and refuse to consume anything but dry toast and water before getting in the car. This was probably because of the time I threw up croissants, melted cheese and dandelion & burdock in our brand new Rover. I still seriously hate Rovers. Trains were the only method of transport I considered “safe” as they didn’t generally make me feel sick, and if we were travelling for more than half an hour by any other medium I would spend my days thinking up creative excuses to get me out of going, even if the destination was somewhere I really, really wanted to go. In my mind the end did not justify the means.

It never occurred to me, at this point, that this wasn’t normal. I knew that other people didn’t have a problem with throwing up, but I think I just assumed that everyone felt that way about something, but for some it was heights or snakes, or some other reasonable threat. It never occurred to me that this was a phobia, an excessive, obsessive phobia that had literally taken over my life. Of course, I didn’t want to limit myself to just one phobia, oh no, I cultivated two or three others – dentists, and insects and spiders, being the most prolific – which I also dealt with incredibly unhealthily, but nothing even came near to my Fear of Sick.

It was this fear that kept me from truly “discovering” alcohol. I was happy to get drunk, but I was always careful to stop well before the Danger Zone. It’s a shame really, as the music and club scene in Hull in the 90s was such that being drunk would have considerably improved it. It wasn’t until I started University and discovered the overwhelming freedom of having absolutely no restraints – of being able to smoke without doing it in secret, or being able to spend all my money in one day without being chastised, of missing every single lecture in a week with only a slight slap on the wrist to show for it – that I truly embraced alcohol. I was already drunk on what I thought was freedom (please note the massive, gaping errors in my logic), what more harm could actually being drunk do? After all, wasn’t I invincible? It’s strange, because the fear of throwing up never left, but the love of being drunk started to rival it I suppose.

Anyway, at a size 14 I thought I was huge. I’d always had an unhealthy relationship with food. My Dad, a fit and healthy person who watches his weight and does regular exercise to stay strong and fit, never really grasped the fact that I was a very tall teenager who was constantly hungry. Every time I tried to eat enough at mealtimes he would ask me “Do you really need that?” which would shame me into putting it back. I very often went to bed hungry and actually dreamed about food. It was my own sense of shame though, not his input, which led me to feel embarrassed and gluttonous. Whereas anyone else would have spoken up and said “Actually, yes, I do need it, I’m a growing teenager who is already taller than you, and I’m really hungry”, which he would’ve understood, I kept my head down and felt ashamed.

This led to eating in secret. When my parents were out I’d run to the kitchen and eat a sandwich before they got home. When my friend and I started going into town on a Saturday daytime we would always have McDonalds for lunch because it was forbidden. I felt I needed to hide what I ate, and project a façade of healthy eating and mini portions when at home. I suppose I developed the same approach to alcohol too. Either way, eating was something to be ashamed of, and eating at home often seemed to be a contest of who could eat the least. I remember taking half a pastrami sandwich and a mini can of Weight Watchers soup (also known as coloured water) to work for lunch one day when I was 25, only for my Dad to say “Do you really need all that? I only eat fruit at lunchtime”. I literally despaired.

It is no one’s fault but mine, and certainly not my Dad’s, that I was not equipped to deal with freedom. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of co-dependency – an inability to set appropriate boundaries and control one’s behaviour. It was just unfortunate that the message I’d managed to retain was that enjoying food was bad. For this reason I saw it as a treat, a comfort, something to be treasured because it wasn’t really allowed. Which is why, when I got upset over the fact that I’d started to put weight on I would eat to make myself feel better. And then drink, to make myself feel better after the eating. And then eat because I was drunk and hungry. And then drink because I felt bad……

What came next was an absolutely abominable relationship with a severely damaged and stunted individual, a series of truly terrible grades (lowest scoring person in my faculty to fail the first year, and still ever so slightly proud…), a marathon of nights out I couldn’t remember, and a steady upward creep of the needle on the scales. I’m simplifying of course, the years between 18 and 24 were some of the worst of my life, to such an extent that looking back actually frightens me, but you get the idea.

So, yeah, I wish I were as fat as I thought I was the first time I thought I was fat. Size 14 is my target size nowadays. I’m currently a 20, and when I started this blog I was a 22 (not this post, this blog, that would be the fastest weight-loss EVER), I’m aiming for a 14 because I think it’s reachable and sustainable. It will also get me back into the pretty high street dresses that call to me as I walk through shopping centres. Man I love clothes….

The issue I’ve always had though is that I kept trying to diet. I spent years trying to cut down on certain types of food, but constantly relapsing into a spiral of shame and pizza, wondering why nothing ever worked. It wasn’t until I accepted that I was an addict, and applied to food the same logic that alcoholics apply to alcohol, that I finally started to see results. And it’s easy. It genuinely is. Sometimes I have a massive craving for pizza, or ice cream, or crisps, but every mealtime I make healthy, informed choices on autopilot, and I sincerely enjoy them and then feel good.

So I’m going to do something now that I find incredibly difficult, and have been working up to the whole time I’ve been writing this. I’m going to post my least favourite picture of myself, right slap bang next to a picture of me as a size 14 when I was about 26 years old. This is not an exercise in shaming, or a way to punish myself for being fat and ugly, this is something that feels right. I’m acknowledging the people I have been, and I’m accepting them both.

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And for the purpose of documentation – this is the most recent photo of me, taken on Saturday. It’s terrible quality as it’s been zoomed in on, a lot, but it’s what I have.

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