I wanted to start a place on the blog where we hear from everyday women of all ages, sizes and walks of life regarding body diversity, struggles, confidence and the pressures of womanhood. I want to hear these stories because they remind me that I am not alone in my thoughts and my shame and I am sure they will bring the same sense of comfort and community for many of our followers as well.
Today you will hear from me, because in order to ask vulnerability of others we must first share ourselves.
I have had every reason to be confident straight from the womb. I am lucky enough to be able to do a lot of things well and I have always been a charismatic and outgoing individual. I am the youngest in my family, with two brothers who are 5 and 7 years older than me. One of the first moments I remember feeling body shame was on the playground in grade 3. My mom had bought me a brand new dress from K-mart and I sported it at school the very next day. A girl walked me over to a boy in our class and asked, "Chad, do you think Julia looks fat in this dress?" He replied, "Yes." In grades 5 & 6, I would keep myself busy with any activities I could at lunch time. One free lunch hour I ran out into the field to join my friends, only to be informed later that day by one of my girlfriends that "while I was running out to meet them, everyone was talking about how my fat jiggled as I ran."
Due to the age difference between us, my brothers always had much older, attractive guy friends around the house, and naturally I had crushes on most of them. One day in the backyard when I was approaching adolescence, my brother's friend Aaron decided it would be a good idea to point out that I had "gotten fat."
This was around the same time that my dad started making comments about not wanting me to feel pressure to finish everything on my plate, and that I shouldn't take seconds if I didn't need them. I also distinctly remember my father poking me in one of my stomach rolls when I was learning to drive at 16.
Yes, no one was going to use the word "thin" to describe me, but I was a size 10, and a healthy size 10 at that. I had been shamed into believing not just by media and culture, but the human beings around me (and at a very young age), that I must be "fat."
I stayed at 163 pounds and a size 10 until I stopped playing competitive hockey at the beginning of high school. I remember I had gained over 10 pounds and was feeling very depressed about it. I liked boys (I liked fashion even more), but at this point in time had already bought into the lie that as long as I was the size that I was, I would be single. A lie that I sadly still buy into today.
The idea behind guilt is "I did a bad thing."
The idea behind shame is "I am bad."
I am convinced 99.9% of women carry around with them immense shame, specifically around body image. The idea that they are "bad" because they have stretch marks, or loose skin, or they can't stop gaining weight, or their boobs aren't big enough (and the list goes on).
Once shame creeps in, it can be very difficult to remove. Transitioning from a place where we believe we are bad, to a place where we believe we are "worth it," feels insurmountable — as if whatever shame we carry will follow us to the grave.
In grade 12 I got active again, to an extreme. I had swim and dive practice every morning before school and wrestling practice every day after school, and was watching everything I ate. I got down to under 160 pounds. At this same time I visited our family doctor for an annual check up and when he was finishing up, while I was naked laying under a bed sheet, he proceeded to tell me that "we had a weight issue. Skinny people aren't just skinny you know, they work at it everyday and it's hard work. Sometimes when I'm hungry at night I just have an apple and a glass of milk."
When I was backpacking in Australia after high school all I could think about was how badly I wanted to look like some of the girls around me did in a bikini. I look back now on pictures from that time and wish I'd had more grace for myself. I wish the Julia then could have seen herself the way the present Julia sees her.
When I was home from university for the summer, one of my closest girlfriends kindly reminded me that I could give any of my nice clothes that don't fit anymore to her, because I was probably never going to fit into them again.
In my second year of university I had decided to take on a double degree in Business and in Theatre. This meant that when everyone was doing their business home work, I was in rehearsals. When I should have been sleeping, I was studying for my business courses and when I should have been making healthy food choices, I was drinking coffee and eating cafeteria food. By the time I graduated university I had gained more than the freshmen fifteen and had never been asked out on a date. Anything that had ever happened or not happened to me in my romantic life, I had attributed to my weight. Any negative emotions I felt because of this fuelled more emotional eating because at this point everything was too far gone, at this point I was no longer worthy of love
because of my weight.
because of the shape of my body.
because of my size.
To demonstrate how a person arrives at a place of shame and unworthiness, I present to you a diagram:
Unless you are at a stage in your development as a woman to have built up a pretty strong barrier to these external forces, we can be lead to a place where all the voices surrounding us about our worth regarding our body have great authority. I started Nettle's Tale because it was the strongest opposing voice I could muster up. Nettle's Tale is my fight back. The message, the images and the way the suits fit are all my way of gaining lost ground for women now, as well as future generations. I want to see society and media transformed into a culture that celebrates body diversity.
As for my personal journey — I am leaning into accepting myself as I am, and exploring what daily habits and healthy choices look like for me when they come from a place of worthiness instead of punishment. For years I have exercised as a punishment, and not as a gift to myself because I deserve to be healthy and to be the best version of myself I can be. I have eaten a second donut to punish myself into further failure instead of just eating it because I wanted to and its OK to eat donuts sometimes. I am not always a failure or a success, most of the time I just "am." Arriving at a place where I fully accept my body as is, instead of wishing it was different, will truly be one of my greatest successes in this life time.
Click here to be like Julia! (or just to get her suit)