It all started very innocently with me clicking a link in a fitness page’s Instagram caption, and ended very frustratingly with me bawling in front of the series 4 finale of Girls (I’m not the only one who kind of wishes Hannah had gone back to Adam, am I?).
See, I forget sometimes that Instagram is all staged (yep, mine is, too). It’s all hashtags and likes and selling our best selves. Yes, there’s genuine connection and a whole lot of realism if you look for it, but even the most straight-talking, body-positive posters consider what they’re going to post before they post it and do so in order to engage their people. ‘Tis a fact of life. We’re all just building our “personal brands” out here.
So, there I was, gawping at this girl’s phenomenal physique, teetering on the precipice between admiration and ‘I basically hate you right now’-level envy. And then I did what I never should’ve done in that situation, and I tried on a new bikini.
It didn’t go to plan. All my mind chose to see were the soft bits and pink bits that no Insta model has. I couldn’t tell if it was the cut of the bikini that wasn’t working for me, or the colour of it, or just the kids’ leftover pasta I’d had at work, but I wasn’t eyeing the svelte and sculpted image I’d had in mind.
Cue an evening in which my mood spiralled downwards, tiredness played with my emotions, and (total honesty here) I ended up crying on the settee because I was all alone (melodramatic? moi?).
I know what I’m supposed to do in moments like that. I’m supposed to text a friend or my mum, or read something funny, or do something nice for myself like have a bath or go to sleep. But actually in the moment, it’s hard to remember much apart from how rubbish I feel and how much I apparently want to prolong it.
Today I woke up still in a mood (sleep can be magical, but not when you consistently get two hours less than you’re meant to). So I figured it was time to change the record. I voice-messaged my friend – just saying out loud that I felt crap helped put it into perspective. I made a good breakfast – actually, the same breakfast of porridge that I have day in, day out (my flatmate finds this very funny), because it’s always reliably comforting. I started ghost-writing an article about the things it’s OK not to have figured out by the time you’re 30 (I chose this out of the titles I’d been sent in the hope I could self-soothe during the writing process). I had coffee with a friend who always knows precisely what to say. I headed to Oxford Street to return the offending bikini and try on pretty new ones. And as I read an article by Ann Friedman on reclaiming the word ‘ugly,’ I bit into the slice of white buttered toast that came with my veggie breakfast (at 2pm) and decided that it was SO worth having a bit of a belly bulge in a bikini at the beach.
See, I find it too easy to see myself as just a body. No matter the wonderful things I do, the places I go and the things I learn, I’m no more than the sum of my body parts. And it certainly isn’t some Instagram model’s fault that I feel that way. I ought to be celebrating her, and women like her, for the work they put in to get the bodies they have. For their apparent confidence, for their strength. But at the moment, I’m not always a big enough person to be all YOU GO, GIRL. At the moment, I’m too prone to comparison and letting myself feel not-good-enough because of other people’s so-called lives. At the moment, I too easily slip into seeing my job not as bettering myself on the inside, but as, in Lindy West’s words, “being decorative (and within a very narrow set of parameters).” (And yes, it pains me to even type these words.) So I’ll just keep policing my own Instagram use. I’ll try to laugh with friends when I even think about berating my body (I mean, it might have bulges but it’s still pretty amazing). I’ll channel the six-year-old girl I look after, who once got out of the bath, stuck her protruding tummy out even further and said, beaming, “Look at my belly; I’ve eaten so much food!”
And for god’s sake, I need to get more sleep. Sleep makes almost everything feel better.