It was recently announced that Instagram were going to ban the advertising of miracle diet pills on the platform, so I’ve written a lil’ thing about my past relationship with the products.
Content warning: disordered eating patterns/weight loss.
I can’t remember the first time I saw an advert for diet pills, but I remember the first time I took them. I remember the excitement that I felt as I was ordering them and the sense of electric anticipation before they arrived. I remember feeling SO hopeful; I couldn’t wait, I was so excited, desperate for my new life to begin. It never occurred to me that they wouldn’t work.
When they arrived I rushed them into my bathroom and hid them in the cabinet at the back behind the loo roll. I didn’t want anyone to know what I was doing. I suppose I must have been ashamed, that, unlike the rest of the world who seemed to have perfect figures that they didn’t even have to work for, I was cheating. I went about it the same way I did “motherlode” on Sims. I knew it was wrong but fuck everything would just be so much better. It was so worth it.
I stared at my body in the mirror and felt almost giddy at the changes that awaited it.
Finally, I was going to be beautiful. I was going to be all that I wanted to be and when that happened I would be able to actually start getting on with my life.
See, I spent a lot of time waiting to be thin. I’d lie awake at night, clutching onto the bits that society told me weren’t right and I willed them to go, because I couldn’t be happy as I was. This wasn’t it. This couldn’t be it. I had a whole future ahead of me and not one of my dreams included the weight I lugged around on my teenage body.
The pills would work and I would be happy.
Except, obviously, inevitably, they didn’t work, and the subsequent disappointment and shame I felt plunged my self worth to new lows.
I don’t remember ever liking my body as a teenager.
There were angles I’d found that I didn’t hate, and there were small mercies; my big boobs which helped to distract people from my bulging waistline, for example.
There was also that one morning I woke up after being sick over ten times during the night due to someone slipping something into my drink, with a flat stomach. Such was my desperation to be thin and excitement that, by throwing up everything in me including a lung and a kidney, probably, I managed to drag my half dead body into a pose so that I could take a photo of it: #priorities.
I never liked it though.
I never wanted to show it to anyone, or think too much about it.
I’d look at myself in the mirror, putting my hands either side of my stomach and stretching it, imagining how good life would be when I looked like that all the time. I’d put my fingers under my chin and pull the skin towards my throat, imagining my face without the (what I hoped was “puppy”) fat. Every time I put on a pair of jeans I would clutch at the backs of my legs, pulling as much fat as I could to the back so as to make my thighs look as thin as possible.
When I sat down I’d watch the rolls of my stomach envelop one another and I’d want to scream. I’d force my hands in there, squeezing until I left marks, willing the fat to go.
I stared at my friends with what was probably a sinister tenacity. I wanted to know how they did it. I envied them more than they could ever know.
And as they dropped scraps I would unceremoniously leap on them.
When one of them told me I could lose weight if I ate an apple before every meal I went straight to Asda and bought as many as I could carry (only stopping when a girl in my year got admitted to hospital having overdosed on some kind of fruit). When they told me to brush my teeth before breakfast so as to put me off my food, that’s what I did (although it never worked, I liked breakfast more than I liked my enamel). Someone said to drink a litre of water before every meal and sure enough, that’s what I’d do, resenting them only a tiny bit as I dashed to the bathroom in between every lesson).
I had always been desperate.
But I lacked the knowledge to do anything remotely positive about it. I hadn’t found a way of loving exercise yet, I didn’t know how to listen to my body or what to feed it in order to make it happy. It didn’t even occur to me that the hate I felt towards it was undoubtedly making it worse.
In subsequent years I have been able to forge out an almost entirely positive path for myself and my relationship with my body, and I am filled with sadness writing this. Remembering the stress and devastation that I felt. The desperation, the constant anguish, it breaks my heart.
Because it was relentless. It was my narrative. In the background of all that I did. I hated myself and I was screaming out for help.
And so when I was finally offered it, it’s no surprise that I snatched at it like a lifeboat in a storm.
They must’ve been from Holland & Barratt, or somewhere equally reputable. This was before Instagram, and diet pills weren’t really something that my friends and I talked about it.
I suppose we didn’t want to admit to it.
Either that or I was the only one lazy enough to want it and stupid enough to fall for it.
I don’t know.
But I ordered them, and when they arrived, I took them.
I weighed myself constantly, still eating as much as I had done before but enjoying it now, knowing that the diet pills behind the bog roll in the bathroom cabinet would be working their magic before long.
I basked in the secrecy and excitement of it all. I suppose this is what it feels like for middle aged men when they start up affairs with their secretaries. It was fun, apart having the constant threat of everything blowing up in your face.
I waited, imaging the compliments that would come rolling in, the clothes that I would wear, the new friends that I would make.
I was going to be so happy.
Imagine how much time I was going to have for other things when “hate myself” was removed from the top of my to-do list every day.
Maybe I’d start running.
More likely, I’d start drinking dry white wine and complaining about boys with my friends in swanky bars.
It’d be cool to do both.
I did neither.
(Until many years later, no thanks to the diet pills, rather, the realisation that I am chuffing perfect as I am right now, worthy of all love and dry white wine and capable of doing anything I set my mind to… hello. I ran a marathon this year!!)
They didn’t work and I was heart broken. I’d invested so much, financially, yes, because the diet industry didn’t become a billion dollar one by pricing things low, but also emotionally.
I’d put it all on this.
This was it: my last chance at being happy (I was a very dramatic teenager, in case you can’t tell) and it was gone.
Diet pills broke my fucking heart.
That I thought I needed them.
And that they didn’t work.
Two immense sources of pain for me.
As I have grown I have found a way of loving myself. I did lose weight, but that wasn’t what caused me to be happy in the end. That was just a byproduct of the positive changes I was able to make; that I found exercise… More importantly, I found exercise that I LOVED, and I became more educated in food (no thanks to a bastard of a time with IBS) and my lifestyle changed entirely.
I have also worked incredibly hard to achieve “self love”. This is something that I have practised, actively and regularly. I compliment my body, I thank it for what it does for me. I look at it, kindly, fondly, slowly. I listen to it and I give it what it wants. I stopped fucking weighing it. And remind myself often that I was not put on this earth to spend every day wishing I were smaller. I’m actually trying to take up more space.
I’m also learning to eat intuitively, I will write about this, when I feel I have finally got to grips with it fully, and with that I am able to feel stronger and happier than I ever thought possible.
And when I look back now, to the dark place that I was in, I hate more than anything the things that caused me to feel the way I did: the culture that perpetuated, relentlessly, this idea that thin was always better, the fact that diet pills existed, that models were so small, that so much focus was put on a girl’s appearance.
I look back and I see a great injustice and I have worked hard, in the intervening years to draw attention to these, speaking out against diet culture and the unfair and unrelenting pressure on us all.
And a source of great pain and frustration for me has been the advertising of weight loss products on Instagram; the “influencers” posing with their skinny coffees, the celebrities crediting their “weight loss” (which is actually just a good angle and a quick photoshop) with diet pills.
I read the comments, full of young women brimming over with that disastrous combination of hope and self loathing, saying that they have put an order in and I want to scream.
I want to scream at the money hungry celebrities, prying on the insecurities of the young people that follow them in a bid to make a quick buck.
And I want to scream for the people that are buying them, I want to tell them that they don’t work, but that they really don’t need them to. This is not the way to lose weight. This is not the way to loving yourself.
You can’t grow love from a place of hate.
And we turn to diet pills out of hate.
No one ever looked at someone they loved and thought, I know what you need, you need a laxative.
The whole sorry thing has caused me great sadness over the last few years.
And so, when it was announced yesterday that Instagram were going to ban “miracle” diet product promotions, I damn near jumped for joy.
When I was younger, Instagram didn’t exist and still I felt the way I did.
I cannot imagine how much worse that would have been had the platform existed then, but I do know that celebrities’ wouldn’t have had to work particularly hard in order to sell me something.
I ate three apples a day cos a girl with a flatter tummy than me told me that it was a good idea.
Fuck if Kim Kardashian had told me that my own teeth had diet pills hidden inside them I’d have pulled ’em out and cracked them in half.
Instagram also said it would start hiding promotions for cosmetic surgery and other diet products from under 18s. The new policies will also apply to across Facebook, which owns Instagram.
This is very good news.
I’m lucky, that I was able to get through the minefield of my teenage years and get to where I am today.
I am thankful for that every day.
We have a lot of unlearning to do, as women, as a society, surrounding our bodies.
And this move by Instagram will, I hope, go a long way in helping that.