I was 18 when I spotted my first stretch mark – I tried to wash it off, says body positivity campaigner Felicity Hayward06/05/2022
The first time I saw stretch marks on my stomach was in 2007, when I was 18 years old and staying over at my then-boyfriend’s house in Leeds.
In the shower I noticed these small, purple squiggles on my tummy.
At first I thought my jeans had stained my skin, and I tried to wash them off.
But after a couple of minutes of scrubbing, it dawned on me what they actually were.
All I could think was: “Oh my god, I’ve ruined my body forever.”
The only time I’d seen stretch marks before was in celebrity gossip magazines – as something to be ashamed of.
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Growing up in Bury St Edmunds, I was always the biggest girl in my class – just because my body wasn’t straight up and down.
When I was 10, I had to wear large boys’ shorts in PE, as I couldn’t fit into girls’ ones.
It was so embarrassing, especially as all my friends and I wanted Britney Spears’ washboard abs. For most of my time in secondary school, I was a size 16.
It’s just my natural body shape – I’ve always had a big bum, thighs and stomach.
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As a teenager, I felt very lonely, because I never saw my figure reflected in TV or films.
Even though size 16 is the UK average, I wasn’t able to shop in Topshop like all my petite friends.
When I was 16, I went on the Calippo diet – where you survive on ice lollies only.
I lasted a day and a half before giving up – it’s the first and last diet I’ve ever been on, because I just love food too much.
Listening to my grandma Sybil, now 92, I learned that my body was something to celebrate.
As a size-6 woman, she’d say things like: ‘‘Look at your lovely big boobs – I’ve always been flat-chested.”
It taught me from a young age that everyone wants what the other person has.
When I couldn’t find anything that would fit me on the high street, Grandma would take me to charity shops and car-boot sales.
In my late-teens, everyone got to know me as the girl with the polyester tea dresses.
That’s when I realised how powerful fashion is in building up confidence. It was body image armour that screamed: “Rather than hide myself, I’m going to wear the most ridiculous outfits so you can’t miss me.”
Rather than hide myself, I’m going to wear the most ridiculous outfits so you can’t miss me
Aged 21 in 2010, I was studying photography in London and fell in with a crowd of fellow misfits.
I finally felt accepted and was more confident than ever as a size 22.
The following year, while dancing around to Diana Ross in an east London pub, I was scouted by fashion photographer Miles Aldridge.
I couldn’t believe it – modelling was something I’d never considered, because back then, Kate Moss was still fashion’s poster girl.
My first major commercial campaign was for TK Maxx in 2012 and I was so happy to see the images in my local store.
When I went home that Christmas, I was approached by a group of girls in a club who’d teased me at school. As they fawned over me, I ordered a bottle of champagne.
The barmaid asked how many glasses I wanted and I replied: “Just a straw, please.”
Then I turned around, smirked and said: “Merry Christmas, girls.” It was the best moment of my life. Though now I feel bad for them, because in school they were probably battling body image demons of their own.
On the face of it, the fashion industry is changing, but even now I get mistaken for a runner or the cleaner when I turn up to shoots.
I left my first agency when I overheard the agents describe me as the “fat girl”. I felt like I was a gimmick to them.
As a plus-size woman, it’s always in the back of my mind if guys I’m seeing are fetishising my body and aren’t actually interested in getting to know me.
But whenever I feel like that, I put on one of my leopard-print catsuits – they make me feel unstoppable.
It’s taught me to never underestimate the power of personal style.
- Does My Butt Look Big In This? A Body Positivity Manifesto by Felicity Hayward (£16.99, Greenfinch) is out on Tuesday.
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