I’m so uncomfortable.
Three years of hard work, and I’m stuck here, sweating, trying not to breathe so I don’t bust a shirt button under my graduation robes.
This ought to be one of the best days of my life, and I just want to get out of here, get into my pyjamas, and eat until I fall asleep.
– July 2009
Ahhhh, memories. That isn’t a particularly fond one, I can tell you. I’d been looking forward to graduating for as long as I could remember – I’d always wanted to go to university, and I’d always found the idea of wandering around in cap and gown romantic and exciting. Yes, I’m a nerd. I know. But it wasn’t anything like the day I’d been looking forward to, despite glorious sunshine, a beautiful campus, and the company of my family, my closest friends, and my then-boyfriend. And it wasn’t because I hadn’t made the effort – I’d spent hours that morning preening, straightening my hair, painting my nails, carefully selecting appropriate jewellery, and so forth, so I felt good. The only thing left to do was get dressed.
I’d had the smart black skirt and white shirt picked out for a couple of months. They’d been hanging in my wardrobe, ready for the occasion – but when I put them on, I didn’t look as smart and sophisticated as I’d imagined. I looked like I was about to pop a seam. But it was too late for a last-second change of clothing (I was a poor student – I didn’t have a backup smart outfit), so my Mum bravely stepped in with a barrel of safety-pins and kindly clawed my outfit together.
Problem solved. Almost.
Now, if you’ve ever worn graduation robes, you’ll know that they’re surprisingly heavy. You don’t just skip around in a gown. You’re aware of them on your shoulders – and that should be a nice metaphor for the knowledge you’ve gained over the course of your time at university, or something like that. But on a hot day, in an already uncomfortable outfit, with your bra digging into your back and your tights seemingly wanting to suck the life out of you through your thighs – and with the addition of a very glamorous walking stick, in my case – the whole gown thing is a nightmare.
And the people who supply the gowns and photos, naturally, are very efficient at what they do. They’re like ninjas with mortar boards. So you stroll in, find yourself swiftly bundled into a cap and gown and rolled out the other side, straight into the batch of professional photographers wielding fake degree scrolls.
I hate professional photographers.
No amount of professional photography was going to disguise the fact that, on this particular day, I felt like a hippo in robes. I’d even paid the extra £15 in advance for them to do a ‘touch up.’ A triumph of hope over experience, if ever there was one. I don’t need to tell you that I looked ridiculous in the result. And dear photographer, if by some miracle you’re reading this – I would like my £15 back.
For all this, I can’t tell you that my graduation day was the day that I resolved to change my life and escape all of this discomfort. Instead, I went home (via the pub, for an extra large cheese and bacon and onion ring burger with chips, and a slab of double chocolate fudge cake with cream) and over the next 12 months, I gained another 25lbs. Here’s how that looked:
All that discomfort and misery and I still didn’t wake up to the reality of the situation. There were a lot of reasons I was miserable, and I was comfort eating to counteract it – but deep down, the real reason was that I was unhappy with everything around me was because I was unhappy with myself. And that’s despite the fact that my internal monologue voice really is quite the bitch – so I can’t claim that I wasn’t aware of how big I’d become.
I’m always fascinated by the way people think, and how they reason things out to themselves – hence the PhD, I guess. Pop psychology really does float my boat. But it’s quite difficult to turn that in on yourself. It took a really long time, and a bit of an emotional ass-kicking, to get to the point where I was even ready to consider changing my life around, because I didn’t know then how miserable I was. Hindsight is a beautiful thing. Back then, I’d block out the internal monologue, my reflection, and unflattering photos because I’m “blessed” with confidence – but I wasn’t happy.
Now please, please don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that you have to be miserable if you’re overweight. That’s not true at all, and I’d hate anyone to read this and think that’s what I’m getting at. If you’re happy in your own skin – regardless of shape, size, or weight – then you’re doing good. I wasn’t happy, but it wasn’t necessarily even a weight issue – I didn’t like myself. And I put that down not only to my weight, but also what I was putting in to my body – endless processed crap, ridiculous amounts of sugar, booze, cigarettes and god knows what else – so if I’m trying to sell the virtues of anything here, it’s living well, not losing weight.
And part of that wellness is listening to yourself, recognising what’s not right, and making the decision to change. It took me a long time to learn that, and even now I have days where I can talk myself out of making the right decision – meaning I have to work extra hard to remind myself that what I’m doing is a long-term thing. But on the whole, I’m happy, because me and Miss Evil-Bitch-Internal-Monologue have reconciled our differences.
Now I just need to get to the end of this PhD so that I can have another go at the whole graduation thing.