‘I was always the skinny girl so I was terrified of growing a baby bump’
When 'skinny' is your thing... and then you fall pregnant.
By Alix O’Neill
I was expecting tears of elation. This was the moment I’d spent the best part of a year waiting for, but as I gaped at the pregnancy test in my hand, the happiness I felt was diluted by other emotions. There was panic I’d unwittingly harmed the baby after a boozy weekend, doubt I was cut out for such an enormous responsibility, and an element of fear – fear of losing myself and my (skinny) body to a growing baby bump and motherhood.
Thinness has been my thing for much of my adult life. I wore skinny like a favourite pair of jeans. Tiny breasts and a well-defined clavicle were comfortable, a second skin. Growing up, my looks didn’t come into the equation. A spirited kid with big dreams, I was going to be a playwright, an author, an FBI agent (lack of American citizenship wasn’t going to stand in my way). But as I entered my teenage years, everything seemed less certain. Humility was the ethos at my convent secondary school. Sure, you could have ambition – within reason. When I demonstrated an aptitude for French, I was rebuked for showing off, while my English teacher smirked when I told her I planned to be a writer.
Puberty did little to help my plummeting confidence. Braces, thick-rimmedNHSglasses and skin lubricated with an immutable layer of oil – I was the poster girl for awkward adolescence. My friends embraced the changes in their bodies, they knew how to work the extra layer of flesh on their hips. Me? I was all boobs and bum, self-consciously concealing the latter behind a denim Hard Rock Cafe jacket welded to my waist. I had an uncle I adored, a playboy with a Porsche and a perm. He dated leggy, immaculately groomed women who looked like Julia Roberts post-makeover inPretty Womanand carried expensive leather organisers in their expensive leather handbags. I imagined those diaries filled with important meetings in cities far more cosmopolitan than my hometown of Belfast. Lighting up a cigarette on his treadmill one evening, my uncle told me I’d be pretty if I lost the weight. I was a size 12. It was a throwaway comment, but it struck a chord, because I honestly believed that if I was thin, all that self-doubt would dissipate. I’d be sophisticated and successful, just like the latest glamazon on my uncle’s arm.
‘We’re scornful of the pressure piled on new mums to snap back into shape after giving birth, but praise our pregnant friends for having a neat baby bump’
So I did lose weight. Lots of it. It wasn’t even that intentional. I left home for university and was too busy partying to cook. The pounds fell off and, for the first time, I felt attractive. I dyed my hair blonde and ditched the glasses for contacts. Boys suddenly paid attention. They were rarely interested in a relationship, but I convinced myself that being physically desirable was enough. I was surrounded by talent and self-assuredness – students who had taken gap years, quoted Chomsky and mastered the art of the roll-up.
I wasn’t worldly or particularly academic, so I made a decision. I’d be the joker of the group, the good-time girl. Because that’s how it works when you’re a woman, right? From birth, you’re tacitly assigned your place in the world, reduced to a label. I was never going to excel in my degree, so I’d be the skinny girl with a GSOH.
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