Over the past few months, I've done a lot of soul-searching, dealing with the elephants in my head and slowly but surely starting to feel like the me I want to be - the 26 year old, happy, confident, comfortable-in-her-own-skin version of me; not the 16 year old, insecure, miserable version of me I've been clinging on to since I was, well, 16.
One of my biggest, most stubbornest elephants is my issue with the way I look. I genuinely dislike the way I look - from the super-frizzy mat of hair that spends most of the time looking like it's been knitted into an elaborate headpiece (rather than just not brushed for a week), to the flabby arms (which the USA was subjected to a few months ago... *cringe*), squidgy middle and disproportionately large hips (good for birthing, supposedly... uhmm... yeah).
For as long as I can remember, I've been painfully aware of how I look, and despite (or, probably more likely, because of) the numerous diets, exercise regimes and magic pants (NB - they're not magic. They're just so uncomfortable you couldn't actually eat if you wanted to, which you don't because your insides are so squished you couldn't fit anything in there anyway), I still can't come to terms with the body that stares back at me whenever I look in the mirror.
Anyway, over the last few weeks, I've realised that I don't want to change my body - I've tried that and I ended up weighing half of my current weight and being miserable, even though I could fit into a pair of size 6 jeans.
Nope, not doing that again. What I really want to do is change the way I think about the way I look. I don't want to feel like I have to hide behind jeans, hoodies and baggy tops any more.
So yesterday, I did something that terrifies me. I put away my dissertation notes (due in 5 weeks - eek!) and went out to do something just for me.
I went shopping.
Yes, I am very aware of the following facts:
a) I just bought a new car, and as a result owe my parents a LOT of money
b) I haven't had a salaried job since April, and I won't get paid again until the end of July
c) I haven't paid my credit card bill yet this month.
However, I justified my decision by explaining to myself that:
a) I haven't done something just for me since I can't remember when
b) I will be paid at the end of July - the credit card can wait
c) I'm 26. I shouldn't be freaking out about saving every single penny for the future, about paying my bills on time and about being a grown up. It's ok to be a little bit reckless occasionally (and the fact I see shopping as reckless probably tells you everything you need to know about where my head's been for ... a while...!)
So, the sun was shining, I was in town meeting a friend for coffee, I had no other plans for the day... There was just no excuse. Do it.
Filled with excitement, I headed to:
Shop 1 - Pepperberry/ Bravissimo
"I have a voucher, so I don't even need to worry about my credit history", I justified to myself. Also, the great thing about Pepperberry is that the clothes are designed for women with boobs and hips, and all those other body parts that, apparently, people who shop on the high street don't have. Excitedly, I rushed around, gathering dresses like a child in a sweet shop. In the changing room, I whipped off my sack-come-summer-dress and prepared myself to be amazed by how incredible I looked as I wriggled into dress number 1...
... hmmm... so maybe frills aren't my thing... Maybe the next one?
... ok... I don't like spots anyway... The next one?
... love the style... really hate the pattern... Right. Dress number 4 has to be the one, surely?
Turning round, I looked in the mirror...
OH GOD!! When did I turn into my mother?!
Ok. Maybe starting at the expensive end of town was a mistake. Pepperberry - thank you, but I think I'll wait a few years before I come back.
Now, on to:
Shop 2 - Topshop
I can't remember the last time I went into Topshop, but I can guarantee it hasn't been in the last five years. However, with my new found perspective on life, my determination to look like someone my own age, and the sun in my eyes, I cautiously walked in, waiting for someone to realise I didn't belong there. After a few minutes, I started to look at the clothes and stopped freaking out about being escorted off the premises by the burly security man I'd snuck past on my way in. Well, this was definitely more down the route I was looking for (disregarding the shocking pink crotch-length denim shorts) - there were definitely a few potential dresses!
I found myself starting to almost enjoy this shopping malarkey!
Wandering round, I picked up a few items and stood in the queue to try them on. Looking at the people queueing around me, my heart started to race, as I realised they were all tall, blonde, can't have been bigger than a size ten, clinging on to beautiful, colourful, summery tops, dresses and skirts, while I, I realised, was clutching three grey dresses. Grey. Even as I tried them on I could feel my heart sink. I knew this was a mistake.
Oh well, I never liked Topshop anyway.
Needless to say, I ran out of the doors, head down, past the security man I'd so sneakily avoided on my way in. On to:
Shop 3 - H&M
I've had mixed experiences with H&M in the past, but it's a shop I know people my own age shop in, so I decided to give it a go.
AND the sales are on! Within five minutes, I'd grabbed three lovely dresses (ok, they were black, but ideal for work and not made of material that made my skin itch). After wandering round, looking at all the beautiful summery clothes and collecting things to try on, I headed to the changing rooms.
Slipping into a blue skirt, I really thought my luck was about to change... IT FIT! I spun around a couple of times, before stepping out into the corridor to take another look in the full length mirror with better lighting.
Ok, maybe it doesn't look quite so amazing... And, wait, what's that pattern??
Oh GOD! It's completely see through! I really wish I hadn't worn cartoon-character pants today...
The next two dresses I tried on were just depressing. The first was a size 12 on the wrong hanger. By the time I reached the second, I swear I'd added a couple of inches to my thighs in the last hour. PAH!
Right. Do I give up now? I could hear my dissertation calling... There's still time to get to the library...
NO! I have to persevere. And look:
Shop 4 - BHS
Ok, I know this is where parents shop. But, in my defense, they do have a Dorothy Perkins sale. Surely I could find something here?
DP had lots of lovely things. Nothing in my size, but still lovely. Wallis had a lot of animal print stuff (why?!). Evans - doesn't do anything in my size.
Right, maybe I will have to look in actual BHS. They have a petite section - maybe I'll find something there...
DO NOT GET ME STARTED ON MAXI-DRESSES!
If I wanted to make myself look any shorter than I already am, I'd dig myself a hole. Actually, maybe that's what I should've done about now...
No. BHS, you may have failed me. But you do have a cafe. And cake. I like cake. Cake will make it better. Yep, cake. That will totally help.
So I ate cake, and sat staring out of the window, trying to regroup and convince myself that the best was yet to come. I can NOT let a BHS scone (a dry, burnt one at that) be the highlight of my day.
Buoyed by the cake, I left BHS feeling a lot more confident, and walked straight into my nightmare...
Shop 5 - Primark
Again, I should have known better than to expect much from Primark. But, you know, the clothes are cheap, so at least I couldn't feel guilty for spending money I don't have.
On the cake and caffeine high, I buzzed my way around both floors of women's clothes, collecting armfuls of dresses, artfully dodging the rampaging children, stick-thin teenagers and aisles of maxi dresses, before queuing for the changing rooms (avoiding eye contact with anyone and staring at the floor until it was my turn to be directed to a cubicle).
I knew the chance of actually finding something I liked was slim to none, but I persevered. After countless "wrong" attempts, I surprised myself by finding something that, actually, I thought looked ok... but I still wasn't convinced.
I'd realised by now that changing room mirrors are deceptive and generally evil, so should not be trusted.
My only hope of making this decision was to get a second opinion. That meant asking for help. We don't do that. We especially don't ask the opinion of a girl wearing leggings without an ounce of visible cellulite and a t-shirt that was cut somewhere further north of her tummy button than I would ever dare wear, even in the dark.
Oh god, I'm old.
Of course, I didn't ask for a second opinion. Instead, I put my own clothes back on and fled the cubicle faster than Usain Bolt on a caffeine kick.
Having a meltdown in Primark was not how I envisaged this day.
By now, you'd think I'd have realised that the day was pretty much a disaster. But no, I was determined that I was going to do something for myself. It didn't matter that I was miserable, that I'd burst into tears in the middle of Edinburgh's biggest flagship clothes store, or that I was actually melting in the summer heat. Nope. I kept going.
I'm not going to tell you about the next five shops I went to, but they were pretty similar to one or more of the above scenarios.
Five hours after arriving in town, I was kicked out of Debenhams (because they were closing, not because I was getting tears all over the beautiful ball gowns), and I stood on the pavement feeling lost and dejected.
What a failure.
Ok, my first attempt to do something for myself could be considered a bit of a disaster. But, a few hours later after a couple of glasses of wine and the chance to reflect on the day with an understanding friend, I did start to see the funny side.
I realised that I was trying to lump the whole day into one emotion. Life doesn't work like that.
The reason the day failed wasn't because I'm rubbish at doing something for myself, it was because of the way I was letting myself look at myself.
In retrospect, I'm proud of myself for trying. Maybe next time I'll take someone with me, to tell me I look amazing, or to laugh at the ridiculous things I try to squeeze myself into.
Or I'll do something for myself that involves sitting in the dark for a few hours. Cinema, anyone?