“Some people take themselves to an obsessive place and don’t realise it”

Written by Stylist Team

61-80 of Stylist’s 100 women sharing their thoughts on weight. Portraits by Sarah Brick.

Trigger warning: This article talks about eating disorders, weight loss and calories

Body positivity, self-love and wellness have replaced the quick weight-loss and fad diets that dominated our youths. But how easy is it to erase the impact of the diet culture we grew up with? Have we really moved on or have our true feelings about weight and body size just become shrouded in secrecy and shame? We held an open photoshoot for Stylist women to tell us – honestly, and without judgment – how they really feel. Here’s what they had to say.


61. Nadia, 36, body image researcher

“I struggled with anorexia for most of my teens and 20s and spent a lot of time in hospital. It was a vicious, self-destructive illness and, although I recovered before I started my career as a body image researcher, my experience definitely influenced my decision to go into this field. I still have poor body image days, and it can be hard to reconcile feeling bad about my body with the work I do. But I’ve learnt to be more compassionate with myself.” 


62. Rebecca, 39, public speaker

“I think it’s important to be honest, so here it is: I want to get a tummy tuck. This is nothing new. There’s video footage of me, during a C-section when my first child was born, asking the doctor to “slice off some of my fat while you’re down there”. I suck my tummy in when I meet new people, it’s muscle memory. I’m naturally a very confident person yet when I drop my kids off at school all I see is the other mums who have flat stomachs.” 


63. Chloe, 25, Stylist’s fitness writer

“I have a love-hate relationship with working in the fitness landscape, because I notice the traps of diet culture everywhere. So many of the workout challenges that are sugar-coated in feminist empowerment are still, ultimately, about losing weight and chasing a narrow body ideal. Protein goals have replaced calorie counting, but the fixation is still on the perfect nutritious plate. The pressure to grow muscle and lose fat is virtually impossible to achieve at the same time. It’s all there, just more insidious.” 


64. Cam-Tu, 34, supply teacher

“It’s scary to see the cycle continue in the kids I teach: weird challenges where they try to fit their fingers around their wrist as a badge of honour, or fit their whole body through the arms of their boyfriends. The idea that girls should be small and delicate is still strong, but I do see flickers of change. I had a Year 11 class flick through glossy magazines and they all said, ‘Yes, these images are beautiful, but they’re obviously all photoshopped.’ They’re more aware than we were.” 


65. Anna, 33, photography assistant

“I have made a much bigger effort as I get older to enjoy my body and appreciate it for all the amazing things it does, but I still can’t help placing a lot of value on the way I look. I know in my head that it shouldn’t matter, but 33 years of societal conditioning is really hard to undo. I look back at my 20s and I try to remind myself that what I weigh has never actually correlated with how happy I’ve been.” 


66. Kiran, 25, Stylist’s digital lifestyle and commerce writer

“If there’s one thing that influenced the way I defined and looked at body image when I was growing up, it’s celebrity figures in the media. At the time, they were incredibly thin and dare not talk about how they achieved this ‘desired’ look. Secrecy, all round. It’s only recently, since models like Ashley Graham, Paloma Elsesser and Jill Kortleve have come on the scene, that I’ve started to see a shift towards a dialogue around health, fitness and being OK with your body that isn’t so toxic. Factored in with the issue of comparison culture seeming less important to me as I get older, I definitely feel a lot more comfortable than I used to.” 


67. Kitty, 36, Stylist’s executive fashion director

“My norms around women’s weight come from my mum, my grandma and diet culture in the media when I was a teenager – I recently watched an old clip of Chris Evans asking Victoria Beckham to step on the scales on TV after having one of her babies (TFI Friday in 1999). I definitely have a better relationship with my body since having kids. I eat largely nutritious meals, as I struggle to get through the days without wilting if I don’t eat reasonably well, but I eat unhealthy snacks every day and won’t restrict myself the following day for having indulged. I didn’t like that I didn’t feel myself when I was heavily pregnant and in the immediate aftermath of having babies. I think that’s quite a deep-rooted thing. Hopefully I can be kinder to myself if I gain weight in the future.” 


68. Lisa, 45, Stylist’s editor-in-chief

“My moral compass and the reality of my thoughts are deeply out of sync. I genuinely believe women shouldn’t have to diet or conform to a certain body standard, and of course I accept bodies fundamentally change during and after pregnancy; the creation of a baby is miraculous, it’s a small price to pay. But I just don’t like the fact that mine is different now. I never look at other women with the crucifying lens I use on myself and can’t see the problems many of my friends complain about regarding their own bodies, I think they all look great. Unfortunately, that logic evaporates when faced with my own full-length mirror.”


69. Susan, 45, Stylist’s commercial editorial director & head of travel

“I grew up in the 80s when women in leotards did keep-fit on morning breakfast shows and Weight Watchers was all the rage. Magazines told you how to lose 7lb in two weeks. My mum dieted. She’d cook low-fat family dinners from Rosemary Conley’s cookbook, count her points and follow things like the Cambridge milkshake diet, even though most of the time she was a size 10. It didn’t impact my own relationship with my body but I did become aware that women treated food differently to men – that they followed more rules and restrictions, and that weight and feeling good about yourself were intertwined. I am very conscious of that in relation to my young daughter now. I do not want her to use the word ‘diet’ or see food groups as virtuous and evil. The word ‘treat’ is banned from my vocab. Food is fuel and I don’t want her to see it in any other way.” 


70. Sarah, 35, photographer of this project

“I’ve struggled with my appearance since I was a teenager. I always hated my face (and got called ugly by kids at school), so thought if I was skinny that made me better-looking. Thankfully, as I’ve got older, my attitude towards my appearance has changed. I can’t pretend I don’t have days where I feel ugly or fat, but I am getting better at dismissing those thoughts. I wasted so much time when I was younger worrying about how I looked and fixating on diets. I’m slowly realising that my appearance should be the least interesting thing about me and that there is so much more to life. Shooting this project for Stylist was a really meaningful experience for me, seeing all these wonderfully different bodies. Each person I photographed had something unique about them, and collectively we look like the best cross-section of real humans. While our bodies in these photographs are all aesthetically pleasing in their varying shapes and tones, it’s the accompanying stories behind each body that I find fascinating. I hope everybody involved in this feels proud.” 


71. Bhatsi, 29, architect

“I’ve come to a very comfortable space with my body and I’m not really pushing it to be something. I love it however it is; I love it however it’s going to be. I do not have problems with it. I’ve let go of everything that tied me down to a certain way to be. I could be anything, and I need to respect my body, however it wants to be.”


72. Lauren, 25, marketing

“I grew up not really liking my body very much because I got bullied at school. And people were just quite mean to me because I wasn’t the skinniest, but now I look back I think, actually, I was normal. They had their own issues. I think they were projecting. When I got to secondary school, the bullying got worse because I didn’t look like everyone else. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve got my own style and I’ve become more confident with who I am. I really accept myself now, but I still have bad days where I think, ‘Hmm, not feeling too good body positivity wise.’”


73. Amy, 42, Stylist’s group production director

“I have hang-ups about my physical appearance coming out my ears (which have unusually long lobes, as it happens), but weight has never really been one of them. It’s not like I’ve ever loved my body – the idea of parading round in a bikini, as Nora Ephron urged all 26-years-olds to do, made me shudder even then – but it remained pretty much the same regardless of what I ate, and for that I was grateful. The only time I’ve really obsessed about my body was over what it was doing internally, when I couldn’t pregnant. And when it finally happened, five years and many, many rounds of IVF later, it was the happiest I’ve felt in my skin – having sworn my maternity wardrobe would be all boyfriend shirts and kaftans, I was reaching for the bump-revealing bodycon before my 12-week scan. It’s only recently, aged 42, that I’ve become more aware of my weight. After several attempts to buy jeans online (and keeping two uncomfortably small pairs, convincing myself they would stretch or I would shrink), it’s time to admit I’ve gone up a dress size. But the truth is, it doesn’t bother me that much, not really. This summer I’ll be chasing my three-year-old down the beach in a mumsy swimsuit and that’s just fine by me.” 


74. Maheney, 26, pharmacy dispenser 

“A turning point was my first girls’ holiday, just before starting uni. All my friends are slimmer than me, but it was a girls’ trip, we were going to a really hot place and I couldn’t be in long-sleeve tops or wear my jeans. I had to dress for the weather. I was surprised by how comfortable I was in a two-piece swimsuit or with my arms out all the time. And no one’s looking at me. I know no one’s looking at me, and it’s just a good feeling. That holiday was really freeing.”


75. Hannah, 49, Stylist’s acting executive fashion director

“I have a layered relationship with my body. I was never concerned with my weight as such but was certainly preoccupied with my boobs (size 34G at their biggest) from my early 20s. I finally took the leap and had a breast reduction after my first child was born and was thrilled with the results. Only 12 months later, though, I discovered I had breast cancer and had to have a mastectomy; I was devastated on every level. Some years out the other side I now realise that we take our bodies for granted. Our current culture is overly concerned with body type and we seem to overlook the fact that we wander around in these incredible, resilient, extraordinary skins. We owe them a great deal so I am all about respecting and celebrating that.” 


76. Dina, 27, policy advisor

“I started climbing a few years ago. Because it’s a sport where what you’re using is literally just your body, comparing yourself to other people is basically impossible because no one is you. No one is as tall as you are, as short as you, or as heavy as you, or has the same kind of shape or size or anything like that. That has been a very positive thing for me and helped me to focus more on feeling healthy and strong, rather than looking a certain way. I’ve got much broader shoulders now than I used to have and there are certain things that I can’t wear because of that, but then I remember that’s because I can climb rocks, that’s really cool.”


77. Gemma, Stylist’s content director, email & commerce 

“I’ve thought about my body more in the last two years than all the ones that came before, and I point the finger of blame squarely at the first lockdown. Having never struggled with my weight before, it just didn’t occur to me that swapping walking to and from the office for 90 minutes a day for practically zero activity would have an effect. If I could speak to March 2020 Gemma, there’d be a few choice words uttered. Because without that regular commute, I’m now the heaviest I’ve ever been – and although my head knows there’s nothing wrong with that, that we live in body positive times, that weight is just a number, my heart sinks every time I look in the mirror or struggle to fit into my clothes. But am I motivated to do anything about it? Of course not. Because I’m still secretly hoping that I’ll wake up one day and magically be back to my old weight. That’s how it works, right?!” 


78. Nicole, 39, film producer on maternity leave 

“It’s interesting the conversations that arise around your body: while pregnant, after pregnancy, people’s expectations, what people think is appropriate. ‘Oh, yes, breastfeeding, you’ll lose the weight that way.’ Like I have time to care. Call me in a year and maybe we’ll talk about it. I don’t own scales and I don’t worry.For me, weight specifically is more about how you feel, not about a number, because I just don’t find it very relative. I think number obsessing is a very dangerous activity. Some people take themselves to an obsessive place and don’t realise it. I’ve always stripped that away and gone with how I feel, more than anything, which works.”


79. Anonymous

“The sad thing is, I tell so many of my friends not to obsess about weight yet I find it so hard to take my own advice. I grew up in the 90s when diet culture and fat-shaming was at its most toxic, so I was conditioned to think from a very early age that I was overweight. If I’m honest, I’ve never been able to shrug it off. Even training for a marathon, at peak fitness, I still spoke so awfully to myself when looking at myself naked in the mirror. Now I realise that this is decades of learned behaviour that I’m only starting to unpick stitch by stitch, but now I’m entering my 40s, I think it’s only going to get harder. I do love my body – it’s my home. My dancing partner. I just need to learn how to be kinder to her sometimes.” 


80. Claudia, 33, architect and illustrator 

“I would be lying if I said I don’t look at some trousers and think, ooh, I’d love to wear these but I know they’re not going to fit me the same way as they fit the model. And that’s fine. There are going to be other trousers that fit me as I want to look. It’s the same way I look at an athlete and think, ‘I’d love to do this pirouette’, but that’s not me.”

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