Prison break

Are you a prisoner? I was sentenced to life in prison. I didn't wear an orange jumpsuit, but I did live in clothes just as baggy and unflattering. I was stuck in a bad body image prison, a prison built for hiding the "crime" of gaining weight. I was cemented into clothes that would hide my body and newly found curves. After gaining 4 stone of weight restoration I had sentenced myself to life in baggy clothing. For the first few months after gaining weight I didn't wear anything that actually fitted me, anything that was skin tight, and definitely nothing that actually showed skin. That meant no tight jeans, no leggings, no vests, no shorts, no dresses, no skirts, no crop tops and no way a swimsuit or bikini, and it took me months to have the confidence to step back into a leotard after being away from one for so long. So for many weeks it was either, joggers, jumpers, pyjamas, or a onesie. I hid my body everywhere I went. 


Being stuck in bad body image prison I missed out on lots of things. A tan on holiday, starting back earlier to dancing, parties and social gatherings. All because I found facing clothes that, ‘fitted' my ‘new’ healthy body difficult to feel comfortable in. I just wanted to feel confident in my new body. When I was underweight… nothing fitted me and now I had to face that what clothes a few months ago where to big for me now probably were too small for me. Which meant that a lot of the clothes in my current draws wouldn't fit me anymore. So number one step to breaking out of prison was to throw away all the clothes I owed that would now be too small for my new healthy figure... this was a lot of clothes. A couple of charity bags full later I had eliminated all "size skinny" clothes... I was left with joggers, jumpers, pyjamas and my onesie... (just the clothes what I had been imprisoned with) ironic right! I told this to my Mum… at the time I was embarrassed but her response, "A shopping trip is in order” and a big cuddle. So that's just what we did. I stocked my draws with clothes that would now fit me and my new body. 


But even with the possibility of wearing clothes that now fitted rather than being too small sitting in my draws I still always opted for a baggy t-shirt and joggers. Was I ever going to wear jeans again? Was I ever going to get out of the baggy jail bars in bad body image prison? I sat on my prison bed, surrounded by tight fitting clothes pinned up on my cell walls. Did I have the courage to wear them and get out? I peered at my cell bars and at my baggy clothing lying on the bars roping around them. They were keeping me in. (This doesn't mean get rid of your baggy clothes, we all love a pyjama day once in a while) but it did mean putting on the clothes that were pinned on the walls. I could have easily stayed in bad body image prison forever, but did I want to? No! 


Gradually I began wearing clothes that fitted me. Every now and again, I would challenge myself and wear out jeans and tops that didn't fall under "baggy". These moments when I wore fitted clothes began to feel special and I started to enjoy them. People in my family immediately started to tell me how wonderful I looked in my new clothes, and soon after I started to believe it too. These clothes made me look much more attractive than my dads’ baggy t-shirts. With all these complements about my new wardrobe that fitted, I started to feel good and comfortable. People were proud of me finally embracing my new shape. 


Not long after I began to wear jeans and tighter tops, my bare legs appeared and I actually started to live in shorts. I wore shorts so much that the postman in Burghfield common knew me for my bare legs whenever I was out walking and nicknamed me, ‘purple shorts girl’. What a comparison, hey! A few weeks after my shorts addiction… I was in a bikini on the beach, and then a few more weeks after that and I was pulling on a leotard ready for my first class back dancing in over a year. (It is possible!)  


Wearing all these new clothes I started to appreciate and acknowledge what my body does rather than how my body looks. My bare legs may not have a thigh gap and look stereotypically "perfect" but they have the power inside them to help me walk, jump, and run. My bottom in a leotard may slightly wobble, or have cellulite (which is natural) but it gives me the energy in my muscles to dance, and hold my rotation while dancing. My body can create another human! Now no matter what it looks like, what amazing stuff it can do beats whatever way it looks. 


I finally escaped bad body image prison and broke free. But breaking my chains wasn't only about changing my wardrobe. In fact some of my worst moments in bad body image prison was when I was without a wardrobe. The most torturous times in prison was when I was naked. I had such a bad body image of myself that I used to barely be able to shower and would have to close my eyes to avoid looking at my body to see any part of my bare self. I even avoided mirrors. Bad body image prison also prevented me from dating. I didn't want a man closer enough to see my body clearly or touch my body, especially naked! I had to rip off my own orange jumpsuit myself… before anyone was ripping it off for me!


I'm finally out of prison and my eyes are wide open. It turns out I was the key to breaking out of prison the whole entire time. It was simply me that had to change, the prison wasn't moving and bad body image prison convicts hundreds of people each day. Because it isn't only those that suffer from eating disorders that are critical of their bodies. In our image-obsessed culture, a majority of people will experience bad body image prison, low confidence in their skin and a feeling of embarrassment for their bodies. Everyone will experience these differently and to certain degrees, suffers with eating disorders obviously much higher, but the point is that we all need to love ourselves more, with or without an eating disorder. 


Don't stay trapped, remember what the key is. (I mean who the key is) It took a lot of time but now I love my new body, I love my imperfections and I love my bare skin, I love it so much I keep my eyes open when I shower now. I am beautiful, and when you realise you are beautiful too, the prison gates will open. I have trashed my orange prison jumpsuit and it’s never coming back, now it’s your turn to rip off yours.

Photography by: Miro Arva

Photography by: Miro Arva

Margherita Barbieri