This guest post is one that moved me to tears. It was written by the beautiful Rachael, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.
The argument of what is considered to be beautiful is a daily topic for many women within this generation. Too skinny, too fat, too small, too tall, flat chested and massive knockers – there’s so much controversy of how we should or shouldn’t look. One minute you’re looking at slender catwalk models and the next being greeted by average sized women in the latest beauty promotion. Body confidence is important and I live by the rule that aside from the occasional use of slimming pants once in a while – accepting your body is the best thing you can do for your mental health and in most cases physical health. I spent almost nine years of my life depriving myself of my natural lumps and bumps and overcame a variety of difficulties regarding how I view my body whilst struggling with obvious defects.
I was always a chubby kid, for as long as I can remember other children seemed ten times smaller than me. I became overweight in primary school and by the age of eight I was already fitting in to size 12 clothing. It was always obvious, even when I was a natural chubby youngster that I’d be the one to have boobs first and develop a womanly body as I grew older, but as attention was drawn to my body from a young age for being a bit different – I thrived off eating more. In some ways I thought this was expected of me. ‘The fat kid’, so I may as well carry on eating my sweets, By the age of 9 I was bullied badly for my increasing weight gain and this is around the time my relationship with food became some sort of a disastrous love story.
I starved myself of anything good – vegetables, fruit and nutritious meals purposely and lived off anything processed – burgers, chocolates and crisps. When I reached 13 I was coming up to 18 stone on the scales. As I began secondary school other girls my age started talking about boyfriends and fashion whilst the highlight of my day was lunch time. It was like I was possessed by food. It was the one thing that cheered me up and made me feel happy – biting in to something tasty. I always imagined in my head that I was a lot slimmer and it wasn’t a big deal and made up for my lack ‘looks’ by being bubbly and the class clown. I’ve always had a big personality and during the time of my weight issues, I’ve always used this as my disguise.
Reaching my teens also meant of course, the dramatic growth of boobs. I already had A cups from the age of 9 but when I hit 13 they seemed to appear out of nowhere. As my breasts began to grow naturally along with puberty and my weight gaining, I was horrified by what became attached to my chest. I developed an F cup, however my right breast never grew and took a stand still at a B cup. I always thought like my mum and elder sister I’d inherit a wonderful set of naturally large knockers and was appalled at how my breasts look. The insecurity of being so overweight and developing asymmetrical breasts took a very dramatic turn on my mental health. I felt like a walking joke, as the bullying got worse I lost the disguise of being able to laugh off the awful comments and with my right cup of my bra padded out with 4 chicken fillets to even out the differences, I felt like everyone knew my little breast secret.
At the age of 13 I began throwing up after my meals in a desperate bid to lose weight. I thought by losing weight, maybe my breasts would even out and I’d lose weight, therefore I’d be happy and slim. I decided I’d throw up my dinner every night to shed a bit of the unwanted weight and would do it until I’d lost enough weight to be considered ‘normal’. As the days, weeks and months went on I noticed that throwing up my dinner was making me lose weight, but not that much to be a plausible or a noticeable weight loss – I was still being bullied for being overweight and my breasts hadn’t changed in the slightest. I knew I needed to increase my weight loss regime but I still had a passion for eating hefty quantities of food. By the time I was 15 I began throwing up after everything I ate, but would often go back for another meal to compensate. I was purging and replacing the calories with other fattening foods. At 15 I began to face the consequences of my eating disorder as my body didn’t have a clue what was going on. Was I starving or overeating – it was a very dangerous and unhealthy contrast and at 16 I developed pneumonia and began to gradually turn gaunt and yellow.
By my 17th birthday I had been hospitalised for contracting various liver and stomach infections due to bile erosion. After having pneumonia and being unable to physically eat, my body kicked in to starvation mode and when I was well enough to eat – I decided against it. I’d lost so much weight not eating anything so I began my bid to keep this cycle of starvation in place. During the whole year of 2007 and 2008 I only ever ate a slice of ham a day and vomited any other food I consumed. I became bones, my skin was yellow and dry, the bags under my eyes resembled bin bags, I was tired, I was constantly in and out of hospital, my family was at despair and I dedicated my entire life to exercising and making sure my body was as tiny as it could physically be. I regularly vomited blood, I was unable to have braces on my teeth as the acid would of rotted my teeth noticeably with the braces and I was physically unrecognisable. By this point I was so ill I was no longer at school and spent months at a time in my bedroom by myself researching on ‘thinspiration’ websites and gaining new ideas of how to keep the weight off. I endured many illnesses through my friendship with bulimia – I had bronchitis, constantly had throat infections, I suffered from bad digestion and indigestion problems, my nails fell off, my hair fell out, at one point my eyebrows even began to fall out. My fingers where often blue and scabbed over from making myself vomit. At 19, it had been around 3 years since I had done a ‘normal’ poo.
It affected every single element of my life – education, relationships, jobs, family and friends. I couldn’t go out for a meal without having to run off to the bathroom to throw up.
My breasts at this point had lost a lot of their content, so I was now left with asymmetrical sacks with nothing in them. The phrase ‘oranges in plastic bags’ could not of suited my chest more. I could never find a bra to fit, I could never wear certain tops or dresses and when it came to being intimate the fear of exposing my breasts and being laughed at made it impossible to feel comfortable around men. Sleepovers with friends in general was an issue as I’d always have to sleep with my bra on lined with my chicken fillets. The physical discomfort of wearing a bra constantly was awful and I often found the textures of the chicken fillets I wore made me develop rashes and eczema on my right breast. I felt like a complete alien or like I had breasts from a joke shop attached to me. I didn’t see the point in bettering my health as what would be the point – I’d still be ‘ugly’.
By the age of 21 I had reached my peak of unhappiness with the way my life was. I didn’t feel I had an eating disorder, I felt the eating disorder had me. My breasts grew saggier as I kept fighting to be skinny and I was diagnosed with anorexia in 2011. I was so disgusted by this diagnosis as I always thought that I wouldn’t let myself get that bad, after all I only started throwing up here and there when I was 13 to keep some pounds off. So how an earth was I ten stone lighter. I was diagnosed by doctors with bulimia when I was 16 but as that was such a long time ago, I thought despite clearly being bulimic, that diagnosis would of ‘ran out’ and I was actually normal. I completely forgot how to eat, I would prepare food and was thinking of throwing it back up as soon as I’d ate it. As my anorexia really kicked in, as soon as I’d ate a meal I would naturally start throwing up without even having to encourage it. It was embarrassing and degrading. I had no confidence and had encountered several failed relationships due to my mentality. Receiving compliments felt like I was still being bullied only now I was being patronised. As my last relationship ended during this time I realised how much my life affects other people and deprives me of the natural things that occur in life – I was now depriving myself of happiness, love and sex. The bulimia and the anorexia had began to eat away at my family, friends and partners. I’d get taken out for meals by my previous partner and leave him sat in the bar whilst I spent half an hour in the toilets pretending to ‘poo’. Looking back it could not of been more obvious what I was doing yet nobody quite knew how to help me any more. I’d seen every councillor, doctor and psychiatrist you could but I wasn’t ready then to let go of my life as I knew as soon as I admitted defeat I’d have to regain weight and the prospect of that petrified me.
At the age of 21 I decided I needed to do something with my breasts at some point to have a chance of feeling confident in life. I’m not saying surgery is the only option here for people with asymmetrical breasts, but my case was so severe and extreme that it was the only thing that could be done. I think surgeons need to be given gratitude for how much they can change someone’s life. Surgery is very serious and there’s a lot of stigma around it. I feared even getting surgery would instantly make me one of those ‘Hollywood plastics’ and I’d still be unaccepted by everyone. It wasn’t until I spoke to a surgeon and he assessed me that I learnt it was very common to have surgery and it is acceptable. I saw a private surgeon as I had previously tried via the NHS and was rejected due to my BMI. The surgeon I saw told me I’d need full re constructive surgery – loose skin removed, both breasts reshaped (my smaller breast was tubular shaped whilst my bigger one rounded), I’d get implants to even out the asymmetrical difference and my nipples replacing. Going to see a surgeon and learning that I could have this issues fixed was appealing – it was like the answers to my prayers, however, no surgeon will operate on someone with bulimia and anorexia. I was also rejected by the monthly instalments of the £5,600 surgery as I didn’t have a credit rating to prove I could pay such repayments. The double news of rejection and feeling like the last surge of hope I had left to be taken away really difficult to cope with. I starved and starved myself to the point waking up was a struggle because I was so undernourished. I began applying to jobs as an escort in a desperate bid to get the funds together for the surgery on my breasts, I started drinking heavily and took drugs to block out the realisation that I was trapped like this forever.
I think my parents really realised at this time how much my life had been overruled by my breasts, eating disorder and lack of confidence. I cried most days after I found out I couldn’t get the surgery and I didn’t care what I did I just wanted to get money together. I worked two jobs and went to university whilst coping with the side effects of an eating disorder and one day I cracked. I broke down completely and hit the lowest I’d been.
My parents are absolutely incredible people who deserve awards for the amount of times they’ve helped me in to an ambulance, sat and told me until they are literally blue in the face that I did not have to treat myself the way I did and generally just parented me and let me cry on and with them. My parents arranged, in secret that they would fund my breast reconstruction surgery. I had no idea about this, it was February the 23rd 2012 and that morning my mum sat me down and begged me to eat a piece of toast. I always remember this day because for some reason I noticed, to be frank how awful I looked through the lack of food in my system. We had a small chat about me not eating and usual I shrugged her off and went to my bedroom to continue exercising. That evening, my best friend (of 16 years, who has supported me through all of this) was round to stay, we were all sat in my living room and my dad randomly announced he had the cash saved up ready to get my operation. The absolute shock of finding out that another human could be so generous, thoughtful and offer me this hope was overwhelming. I don’t think I have ever cried so much from happiness. The guilt of my parents paying for my operation was hard to accept and took a HELL of a lot of reassurance from them – they told me I deserved it and I began to believe that maybe I did.
My operation got booked for the 23rd of June that year on the condition that a doctor can sign me off as being healthy. I had no choice but to beat anorexia now, there was a life changing operation and my parents had went out of their way to raise the money for me. I owed it to them and I owed it to myself. A few weeks after booking my operation I went food shopping and devised a healthy eating plan, I knew I had to prepare myself for my recovery and I had to do it myself. I sat and ate my first full meal in years – 10 pieces of pasta, 5 cubes of chicken and half a pepper and I actually enjoyed it. The feeling of food in my stomach was really hard to get to grips with and the urge to just start throwing up was tempting but I resisted it. Everyday I ate one small meal and over the weeks I increased to 3 meals a day. I still exercised lightly but this time it was enjoyable, it wasn’t a chore. I went on bike rides with friends and did sit ups whilst singing along to music, I began to get a taste of great food and how to have fun with general exercise. I began going out for lunch with big groups of friends, I had people round for dinner and cooked for them, I even went on a few dates and ate in front of them. The massive ‘click’ that happened in my head the day I booked that operation gave me a date to work towards, something to focus on. As my weight increased and I had to throw away my small clothes, a part of me was still heartbroken that my love affair with food had ended. It was honestly like an abusive marriage break up. To live with something day in, day out and get treated so badly from it and wake up one day and throw it aside was awful. I longed to have bulimia and anorexia back sometimes but it’d click again that I had to move on and do what’s right for myself.
By May 2012, I had put on 2 stone and a natural size 12-14. Every woman in my family is at least a size 12, it seems it’s in the genes to have bigger hips and wider thighs and whilst I still had bad days of looking in the mirror and disliking the bigger woman that was in front of me, my confidence soared. My hair started to grow and was soft, my skin looked so clear and even, my fingers had cleared up, I’d lost a lot of body hair (which grew during my anorexia) and I received a lot of attention for my curvy frame.
I had my operation in Manchester and my surgeon was always honest with me. He told me my asymmetric breasts were the worst case he’d ever seen and was baffled as to why the NHS hadn’t agreed to fund my op. He told me there was no guarantee they would be 100% perfect but he would do everything he possibly could to ‘fix’ them. The staff at the hospital were incredible and supportive and deserve recognition for how helpful, genuine and lovely they all were to me. I woke up with asymmetrical breasts on June the 23rd and woke up again after the operation and looked down to see two massive jumps the same size. I was a bit out of it but just seeing my boobs in bandages was one of the best moments of my life.
I recovered well from my operation, I continued to eat well which at times was a struggle as it was the first time I’d not been able to exercise as I was obviously restricted with my movement. My breasts looked fantastic – the surgeon had achieved more than what I or he had hoped for and my breasts looked completely perfect and natural. We had planned to aim to make my breasts a 34DD however when the measurements in came in after healing I was wearing a 32H or a 34G depending on which shop!
And that leads me to today. I’m still a size 12-14, I still eat healthy and I’m still in the process of replacing all of my old clothes to bigger ones that cater for my figure and of course, my breasts. I have never shared my story outside of my mum, dad, sister and three close friends. I decided to make it public as my struggles with weight, eating and my breasts has been a long journey. I have truly accepted myself and my body now. I feel by sharing my story I can celebrate all I have overcome and would like to think people who relate to similarities in this story can see that wonderful, positive things can happen. I deprived myself for so long of curves, health and happiness. My past has a lot of baggage but my future is so free from it now. I look forward to meeting a man who when he reminds me I’m beautiful, I can truly believe it. I’ll wear my dresses with pride knowing I can now appreciate what’s underneath the fabric. Every time I look in the mirror I vow to pick out the positives, because the hard work I did to get to this point, the support from family and friends and work of my surgeon needs celebrating and I am never wasting another second of my life worrying about calories, food and starving. I am just a very normal, average young woman but I hope now that people realise exterior is often very misleading and it was judgement that goes back almost 15 years that allowed me to think badly of myself. I think my eating disorder and surgery will come as a huge shock to those who know me but we need to be honest here, even such normal people as me struggle with such difficulties so I imagine it’s a lot more common than we think.
I am excited about my future and making the most out of my wardrobe, body, breasts and life through honour and honesty.