Living in a woman’s body: I was obsessed with being thin, then I became pregnant and felt invincible

After years of disgust, I saw the possibility of beauty in my body just as it is. Now I am the happiest I have ever been

My body is an accordion. Not because it sounds horrible. I mean, it does. It clicks and cracks and honks, and when I try to sing nicely my son screams from the pit of his soul, like I’ve brandished an axe. No, what I mean is, it’s like an accordion because, for 32 years I was squeezing her in. In and in, for a half-life.

On a BMI chart, I’ve always been “obese” – technically, ill. So for decades I saw my body as defective, disappointing and disgusting. If I looked at it, I felt the kind of hatred and repulsion I normally reserve for racists or people who say “hashtag justsayin’” out loud.

From age nine to 32, I adhered to every type of diet. I didn’t miss out the one you think would shrink me; I did that one, too. Several times. I lived in a cycle of starvation, control and obsession, followed by bingeing and sometimes purging. That’s what serial dieting is: disordered eating lite.

Then, bang! An explosion of change. I got pregnant with my son, and my physical metamorphosis cast a spell. Suddenly, my bigness had a purpose and I felt like a king: invincible, glorious. I stripped in swimming pool changing rooms without a single care, like a thin person or a Spanish person, or a man. It felt delicious.

Jessica Fostekew.
A new sense of purpose … Jessica Fostekew. Photograph: Joanne Warren

It didn’t last, but it had sown a beautiful seed in me. Not of self-love or self-worship – I don’t believe such perfectionistic grandeur is necessary or useful, or sometimes even honest – but of gratitude and acceptance. The possibility of seeing some beauty in my body just as it is, at any given time.

Many things happened over the next two years to compound this feeling. Firstly, I discovered weightlifting, which brought me joy and power and had fuck all to do with losing weight. In fact, I grew and continue to grow brilliant muscles. I also discovered a burgeoning, freeing pansexuality smashing its way into my formerly heterosexual life. Lastly, and surely not by complete coincidence, I underwent a complete reeducation about food and eating. I discovered the incredible Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size movements. I found big, beautiful bodies being proud on Instagram. I had some good therapy.

I host a podcast about eating and, fewer than 50 guests in, I realised that virtually every woman I spoke to had, at some point, made themselves sick. To be thinner. The normality of it slapped me; the universality of it as a female experience.

I realised that millions of women, like me, were trapped in misery by a lie that has been woven into our DNA for generations: the value of thinness. Because miserable women are quiet and cowed and, best of all, we’ll buy anything you promise will fix us.

Well, my eyes are open now. And my wallet is closed. I’ll take this body in a large, bitches. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not immune to the noise that suggests my body is better when it’s smaller, but I am the happiest and the healthiest that I have ever been. I’m really fit and really strong, and I eat many varied and wonderful nutritious foods. I’m slowly, lovingly, filling her back up. This accordion. Hearing her sigh. Stretching her, yes. Growing her. And I cannot believe that, in 2022, it still feels transgressive to glory in that.

Jessica Fostekew is a comedian, actor and writer

Jessica Fostekew

The GuardianTramp

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