Written by Andrea McLean



Andrea McLean was enjoying a romantic moment on the beach with her boyfriend when a photograph was secretly taken. Its publication knocked her for six.

large SLR camera lensLife is meant to be full of firsts: some good, some bad, some unexpected. My latest was definitely unexpected – and it was pretty horrible.

I got papped, in the equivalent of my bra and pants, walking in a public place. To put this into context, I was on a beach, in a bikini, on holiday, and it hadn’t occurred to me that I should have worn a full face of makeup, fake-tanned and at the very least, held my tummy in. Oh, and gone to the gym for six months beforehand. I did none of those things. I just went away with my boyfriend for a quiet break.

It’s a strange experience when it actually happens to you. As you’re flicking through the magazines or looking at the websites filled with celebs frolicking in the surf and tanning perfect bums in the sunshine, you think, “They MUST have seen them.” Well, I can assure you, in cases like mine where they’ve most definitely not been set up, you don’t. I was far too busy doing normal ‘on holiday’ stuff. Like lying down, eating too much and putting on suntan lotion.

And as I stood, smiling, while my lovely man rubbed lotion into my back and made me feel like the most beautiful woman in the world, I forgot to hold my tummy in. I laughed as he pulled my bikini bottoms up into a huge wedgie and called me Simon Cowell. At that very moment, unknown to us, snap snap snap went the pap. A moment in time that was funny and stupid and lovely and made us laugh would soon be spread all over the press.

“There I was, in all my bloated, pale, dimpled glory. And that’s when I made the biggest mistake thus far. Never mind not holding my tummy in: I read the comments under one of the online articles.”

My bloated post-lunch tummy was there for all to see. Right along with my cellulitey bottom. I was standing like I normally do when I am relaxed, which is slightly duck-like. Legs locked, shoulders rounded. Standing up straight and holding my tummy in were not at the forefront of my mind.

When I got home from my holiday, tanned, refreshed and happy, my wedgie on the beach had long been forgotten. Then came the phone call telling me my picture was about to appear in the papers. I don’t know how the paparazzi found out where I was, or even why they cared, but they did. My holiday, one of the nicest trips I have ever been on, suddenly turned into the stuff of nightmares.

As I went to bed that night, the pics appeared online, and there I was, in all my bloated, pale, dimpled glory. And that’s when I made the biggest mistake thus far. Never mind not holding my tummy in: I read the comments under one of the online articles.

There were more than 100 of them, all talking my about my figure. My lumpen, disgusting, sick-making figure. My annoying face. My stomach scars (I’ve had two emergency caesareans and hernia repair surgery).

I gulped, slightly clammy, but carried on scrolling down. It was like listening to a wall with a glass, knowing that people were talking about me in the next room. When you do stuff like this, you have to be braced to hear things you might not want to, so I was ready. But… wow. The vitriol. The vile, spiteful and downright nastiness of it hit me in the face. My ugly, hateful face.

camera on a tripod next to a lakeThere were nice ones too, telling people to stop being mean, that I looked healthy and happy (thank you, whoever you are), and surely that’s what matters? But it was the horrible ones I remembered, that stuck in my mind.

There were quite a few saying that it was disappointing to see what I really looked like; that they’d always thought I’d look better without my clothes on. Now, some people work very, very hard at keeping themselves in tip-top shape and don’t let age or kids stop them having awesome bodies. I think they look fantastic, and I wish I looked like that, but right now I don’t.

I’ve had moments in my life when I looked pretty fit, and through work I’ve had pictures taken with fabulous lighting and a crack team of makeup artists and stylists who arranged me so I looked my absolute best in a photo studio. Of course I looked better then – who wouldn’t? Everyone looks better when they are photo ready, and I take fully on the chin the argument that I can’t have it both ways, and only be happy for people to see me when I’m ‘done’. I get that, and I agree with you. People in the public eye are fair game.

After the fuss died down, it left the question: what should I do now? Panic and exercise and then hope everyone likes how I look? Hide myself away and eat more cake and cry?

My first feeling was: no! A great big, possibly dimpled, no. To both of those ideas. I’m me, I reasoned to myself. I am just a woman who went on holiday and I’m entitled to look exactly how I want.

I hoped that feeling would stay, but two months on, I am horrified by how much this episode affected me. I have veered from “I’ll show them! I’ll get so fit and buffed that they can never call me names again!” which has lasted roughly a nanosecond, to “What’s the point?” and eating more cake.

“Did I have body dysmorphia the wrong way round, and think I looked good, when the evidence, and subsequent commentary, is out there to prove the contrary?”

I wish I could say that the fitness side has won over, and that I am eight weeks further towards gaining a six-pack. But no, it’s been the opposite. I have been furtively, quietly, with the stealth and self-loathing of any kind of ‘oholic’, consuming the very thing that made me squidgy. Then dying of shame on the inside. I hate myself for hating myself, because I am a sensible person who knows how stupid this all is… but I do.

You see, the thing is, the thing that has sent me spiralling towards the biscuit tin, is that on the day the pictures were taken, I had felt good about myself. I was happy, in love and comfortable walking bare-faced in a bikini down what I thought was a deserted beach, without knowing that the nation would soon be casting their judging eyes upon me. And if that’s how I really look when I feel good about myself, then who am I kidding? Did I have body dysmorphia the wrong way round, and think I looked good, when the evidence, and subsequent commentary, is out there to prove the contrary?

I know I need to pull myself together, so don’t tweet me telling me how ridiculous I am being. I KNOW.

All this happened at the same time as the furore over a poster of a beautiful girl in a bikini asking if we were all beach body ready. Women reacted with understandable fury at the inference that hers was the only acceptable type of ‘bikini body’. Things escalated when the company involved with the product she was promoting behaved like dorks who couldn’t believe women were getting their bikini bottoms in such a twist. Cue fat- (and fit-) shaming. It was a mess, and in the end the poster at the centre of it all got taken down, with some people saying the girl in it made them feel bad about themselves.

SLR camera lensFrom my point of view, the fit girl didn’t make me feel bad about myself; she has nothing to do with me, or how I look. She looks amazing; I don’t look like that – two completely separate things.

What has made me feel bad about myself are the comments made about ME, probably by some of the people who got so angry about the fit girl. These types of critic don’t like how anyone looks, whether they are doing everything ‘right’ so they are fit or getting it ‘wrong’ and looking squishy. And they are happy to hide behind their screens and say so.

Their thought process doesn’t add up, which is why I wanted to write this; if we are supposed to be happy with the skin we are in, then that means the fit girl in the poster should be allowed to be fit; I should be allowed to be squidgy; voluptuous girls should embrace their curves – and no one should tell us we are wrong for being any of those things.

This fat shaming, and fit shaming, has got so out of hand that now we aren’t allowed to be anything, and it has left us all feeling pretty horrible about ourselves. What are we supposed to look like? If you can’t win by being too fit, and you’re a loser if you’re not fit enough, should we all just give up? Strong is the new skinny, apparently, but not so much that it makes weaklings feel rubbish about themselves.

It’s a minefield out there, and no amount of weight-lifting will make us strong enough to deal with this. Eleanor Roosevelt once claimed: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Somewhere along the way we have allowed strangers to take control of our emotions, by discussing our looks and actions.

Shame on me for letting them. Shame on us.


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Written by Andrea McLean

I am a 45 year-old mum of a newly teenaged boy and a fearless eight year-old daughter. I am happiest in my pyjamas watching telly and eating biscuits. My alter ego is a TV presenter who dresses well and looks like she knows what she’s doing.