REAL Talk with Lydia Okello
In my 26 years, I’ve spent many, many hours devoted to the study and dissection of style. Poured over magazines, scrolled blogs, kept up with Fashion Week. Name-checked up and coming creatives. Made sure I knew every It Girl, watched as many fashion documentaries as I could and kept up with the weighty tomes, filling my head with the fantasy of fashion, of glamour and beauty. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’ve likely spent a similar fraction of time agonizing over all the things that I wished were different about my body. What my life would be like as a lithe, pale wisp of a body. How successful I would be if I could somehow will my corporeal being into the very opposite of what exists in reality. How much “more” my life could be if I could just be someone else. Someone thinner, more acceptable. It seems that my endless admiration for fashion inadvertently fuelled my uncrushable self-hate. Kind of a tricky spot for a personal style blogger, right? It turns out the remedy rests somewhere between self actualization and a rejection of any physical norms I’d accepted as gospel.
It’s murky when I started to loathe, even hate, my body. When I started to hit puberty I became acutely aware of my body in relation to others. It’s hard for an 11 year old to understand why they are being made fun of for having a big butt. Hard to contextualize adult men giving me sly, knowing smiles in the summertime, glancing over my body in a way that I’d never seen. I knew I was changing physically, but I didn’t really know what that could mean. Between “looking 17” when I was 12 and growing up first generation Ugandan-Canadian in a sea of decidedly paler faces, I learned quickly that I hated taking up space. Cheeks hot when someone pointed out how “weird and fuzzy” my hair was, how dark my skin was, the width of my hips. I felt so much shame, and horror at what my body was turning into. I wanted to be undetected, to disappear.
In high school, this phenomena only worsened. Adolescent gawkiness paved the way to aching, deep self hatred. I internalized any negative comment about my appearance, hanging on to passing remarks for years. Rounds of “No, my *insert body part here* is so much uglier than yours” were commonplace. I devised a plan to carve myself into something worthwhile. I exercised excessively, tried to restrict what I ate, and posted before and after photos of “success stories” to reference on a daily basis. I was convinced that the only way I could ever truly be loved was the thinnest version of this body, the body I felt cursed by. As friends started dating, I cried myself to sleep, wishing that my body could be lovable. One day, I decided that I had enough. Out of despair and desperation, I planned to hurtle my body into oncoming traffic on my 16th birthday. I still don’t know what stopped me from doing it. I hated myself (as I reminded myself on a daily, if not hourly basis) and I felt like I had nothing to live for. So why keep living?
I wish I had a sweet anecdote from that day. Why I didn’t go through with my plan. But I don’t. I still don’t know why I couldn’t do it; I just know that I didn’t.
So. Time passes. I work on my (inner) self, piece by piece. I move into the big city from my small city, attend fashion school. I start blogging, and quickly found the intersection of being obsessed with personal style and existing in a world which treats your body should stay hidden can be devastating. But, through blogging, I found so many wonderful folks with bodies like mine. I found many bodies nothing like mine, as well. And something peculiar happened: Did this mean that maybe, just maybe, I looked okay too? It happened very slowly, but over time it crept in. I’d failed to see where my infatuation with the Anna Wintours of the world had fallen short: a singular ideal of beauty. Beauty of bodies that are enhanced, poked, prodded and manipulated, then presented as truth. I had wasted so many hours wishing, praying for a body that doesn’t exist. Wasted so much time hating the body that allows me to feel, to dance, to laugh until tears stream down my face. What could be more affirming, more beautiful than being alive?
Now, when summer rolls around I don’t spend time sitting on the sidelines anymore, tugging my bathing suit over the softness of my thighs. Don’t waste time debating whether my stomach looks too fat to head to the beach. I’m too busy tiptoeing into the deep end, big butt and all.
Click here to check out the suit Lydia is wearing