Stephanie Yeboah spent years resenting and apologisin­g for the way she looked – until she realised enough was enough. Here, she shares how she came to find peace, confidence and self-love

- Fattily Ever After: A Black Fat Girl’s Guide To Living Life Unapologet­ically by Stephanie Yeboah (Hardie Grant) is published 3rd September

Stephanie Yeboah reveals how she found self-love after years of resenting her size

Maybe she’ll fare better in the boys’ jumper instead,’ I heard the sales assistant whisper to my mother apologetic­ally, her eyes gazing over my plump, 11-year-old frame. She assumed I wouldn’t be able to hear.

It was the middle of summer, and my mother and I were out shopping for my new secondary school uniform. After what seemed like hours of trying on various sizes of shirts and jumpers that didn’t fit, we ended up buying the baggier, frumpier boys’ uniform. I glanced from the look of frustratio­n and embarrassm­ent on my mum’s face, to the pitying look in the sales assistant’s eyes. In that moment, it was glaringly obvious to me that there was something about me that evoked a negative reaction in others. It was one of the first occasions in which I was made to feel incredibly aware of my body, and how much bigger it was than those around me.

From then on, the battle lines were drawn between myself and my body, and secondary school took centre stage as the battlefiel­d. Over the next five years, I felt shame, disgust and hate towards the way I looked. I was bullied throughout school for being fat, which triggered the depression that I would eventually be diagnosed with a few years later.

I turned to emotional eating, which, in turn, made me put on more weight, which made me an even bigger target for bullying. And so it went on.

I dreaded PE. In the changing room I was surrounded by bodies that were so much smaller than mine; the perfect environmen­t for comparison­s to fester. While the other girls wore cute training bras, I wondered why my already-saggy boobs were wrapped in a bra that wouldn’t be seen out of place in the maternity section of an underwear store.

When I mentioned to my dad that I was being bullied due to my weight, his response was ‘maybe if you weren’t fat, you wouldn’t be bullied’. Hearing that from someone who was supposed to look out for me and my wellbeing was enough for me to decide I deserved the abuse.

The resentment I had towards my body led to self-harm and problemati­c

diets. I began to internalis­e all the hatred and negativity, blaming myself for being fat, and therefore ugly. I carried these toxic thoughts into my 20s. I began bleaching my skin because I believed being whiter would at least allow me to reap the societal benefits of being a lighter colour. I wanted to be seen as desirable and attractive and I wanted to be taken more seriously at work, instead of being dismissed as the ‘sassy dark-skinned girl’. I didn’t stop bleaching my skin until I started to notice that it was taking on an unsightly grey tinge and it was burning.

I focused all my efforts on my weight instead. I joined a plethora of costly liquid-based dieting clubs, and even went so far as to lose four stone in four months by using laxatives, fasting and developing bulimia. Being fat allowed me to have an eating disorder that could be hidden in plain sight, as people started to notice the weight loss and congratula­ted me on ‘looking the best I’ve ever looked’. I continued counting calories and binge eating as the approval of others became like a drug on which I thrived.

Ahead of a trip to Barcelona in 2012, I had lost a dangerous amount of weight in order to fit into a bikini. I was the smallest I’d ever been, but my mental health had suffered tremendous­ly as a result. I didn’t feel happy and I’d made myself incredibly ill. As I looked at the reflection of a smaller me in the mirror of that hotel room, it finally dawned on me that I had been living my whole life for the approval of others. I had taken my body to its limits. I had been starving, abusing and harming my body for all these years, when all it had ever tried to do was keep me alive. I realised instead of apologisin­g for my body, I needed to apologise to it.

When I returned home, I sought to find others who looked like me. That’s when I stumbled upon the body positivity community on Tumblr, featuring a myriad of large, dark-skinned bodies like mine. They were bodies that scrunched and stretched and creased, with hyperpigme­ntation and stretch marks adorning them like artwork. For the first time in my life, I saw that I wasn’t alone.

Becoming involved with that community was the most important thing for me, a real turning point. I started posting images of myself on my Tumblr page. I curated my social media feeds to only show bodies that looked like mine. I shared all my thoughts and feelings on my blog and I began therapy. I wrote letters apologisin­g to my body for all the pain and hurt I had put it through, as well as penning daily affirmatio­ns to myself. Slowly, I started being more daring with my outfit choices: a crop top here, a short skirt there. When people stared, I was able to better control how it made me feel, and would turn it into something positive instead – ‘they’re just staring because they know I look amazing,’ I’d tell myself.

It has taken 16 years of pain, anguish, self-hate and tears, but I finally feel that, at the age of 31, I’m at a point in my life where I can proudly and confidentl­y say that I absolutely love myself, and my body. The journey to achieving self-love isn’t linear – I have had major bumps along the way – but it’s important to know that these relapses are normal.

I now embrace the prominent yellow stretch marks that I once would disguise with foundation. I proudly show off the cute dimples of cellulite in my thighs that I used to cover up with leggings. I wear colourful citrus colours to highlight the mahogany of my skin. I adorn my boobs and side fat with beautiful satin and lace bras that make me feel incredible.

My marks and scars hold tales of strength and courage. My saggy boobs will one day, hopefully, nourish any children I have and keep them strong. My skin colour has been passed down to me from a nation of people known for their beauty, tenacity, grace and strength. I know I am beautiful, regardless of the amount of weight my body holds and, ultimately, that is the message that we should all give ourselves. We all have value, regardless of body shape. Regardless of whether you are fat, slim, tall, short, disabled or able-bodied, healthy or unhealthy, we are all deserving of respect and peace.

Learning how to love ourselves in a society that consistent­ly tells us we are only deserving of love if we look a certain way isn’t easy. But, once you make the first step by telling yourself that you and your body are worthy of love, you will reap the benefits for the rest of your life.

‘I realised instead of apologisin­g for my body, I needed to apologise to it’

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 ??  ?? Stephanie at three years old (below) and at 13 (bottom)
Stephanie at three years old (below) and at 13 (bottom)
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 ??  ?? Stephanie now understand­s the beauty of her own body, turning years of self-hate into self-love
Stephanie now understand­s the beauty of her own body, turning years of self-hate into self-love
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