For years I hated the summer. Sure, it was a time of lots of fun, and it was nice to see a little less rain, but for me, the summer meant one thing. Sweating. I’m sweaty at the best of times, but the heat of summer presented a particular challenge for me. How could I stay cool enough not to die, while covering up as much of my revolting body as possible?
Not for me the floaty dresses and daintily strapped camis, no, I was wearing opaque tights and long sleeved t-shirts under sleeveless tops. I was the one wearing jeans on holiday in August in North Africa. I was the one insisting to my friends that ‘I’m actually a bit chilly’ as sweat dripped down my back. I was boiling. I was uncomfortable. I was miserable. And yet, I truly felt there was no other way.
Like many women who grew up reading magazines which dictated that certain items of clothing were only to be worn by certain body types, I felt that my body was to be hidden. At a size 18/20/22, the fashion industry had made it clear to me that my arms and legs were to be covered at all times, and I was nothing if not obedient. And sweaty.
It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties, when I discovered plus-size bloggers, that I realised that there was another way. These women were all about throwing out the rule book, and not only were they getting their arms and legs out, they were wearing bloody bikinis! And, wait for it, they weren’t even apologetic! It may seem silly now, but truly, this was mind-blowing to me. Years of feeling like my body was too disgusting to inflict upon the eyes of anyone I might encounter suddenly felt foolish. My body was my body, and I didn’t owe it to anyone for it to look a certain way. If I wanted to wear a sleeveless top because it was approximately one million degrees out, then dammit, I was going to wear a sleeveless top.
I started by taking my cardigan off in public. I only lasted a few minutes. After that, I wore a dress without tights to the shop
Unfortunately, making the decision to wear clothes which were more appropriate for the temperature was only half the battle. The reality of putting them on my body was the most challenging part. Having never worn shorts, or a bikini, or a string top, the garments just looked strange on me. My bare legs under a skirt looked pink and ham-like. I wanted to crawl back into my jumpers and tights. Instead, I forced myself take some baby steps.
I started by taking my cardigan off in public. I only lasted a few minutes. It felt illicit, slightly dangerous and like everyone in the place was looking at me. I knew in my head that that wasn’t true, but years of believing that your arms are too hideous to be seen will make you think some crazy thoughts. The next time I was out and too warm, I did it again. The time after that, I wore a dress without tights to the shop. Each of these small pieces of action bolstered my courage. It still felt strange, but less so each time, and thus far no one had stopped me to tell me to put some more clothes on.
The true turning point came during my next holiday, for which I bought a bikini. I was sick of wearing one-pieces, of wrestling myself into them in the morning and then in and out of them every time I needed to go to the toilet. The bikini I purchased provided almost identical coverage to my one-piece swimsuit, aside from a thin, pale band of skin on display just below my boobs. I may as well have been naked though, when it comes to how I felt the first day of the holiday making my way to the pool. Day by day, however, it became more and more comfortable, and by the end of the holiday I was not only wearing a bikini, I wasn’t even covering myself up with an enormous kaftan every time I stood up from the sun lounger to get in the pool.
The change has been enormous. It’s not that I now believe I have the world’s most beautiful body, it’s just that I don’t believe I owe it to anyone else for it to look a certain way. I do, however, owe it to myself to be comfortable. I owe it to myself to not live my life feeling a constant sense of failure and apology because I don’t have arms to rival Michelle Obama. I owe it to myself to accept myself, as I am, and to give myself permission to live my life now, rather than hiding away while I wait to have an acceptable body.
Whatever part of your body you feel you have to cover up, you don’t. Truly, you don’t. If you’re too warm, get it out, whether it’s your arms, your legs, or (GASP) your tummy. Yes, it’ll feel strange the first time, but by the fifth time you’ll barely think about it. And I’ll be damned if you won’t save on anti-perspirant.