I have come to a realisation recently. I have bullied someone since I was 7. I say vile things to her, put her down all the time, (and I mean all the time), I criticise the clothes she wears, never put her needs first, rarely help her to achieve what she needs to be happy and make her feel guilty. All. The. Frigging. Time. I tell her she looks fat so often that she doesn’t look in the mirror anymore. And when she does, I go to town on her; telling her that her stomach is too wobbly, her thighs are like tree trunks, her arms should definitely not behave in that unsightly way. To me, she is disgusting and has been since I can remember. When I look in the mirror and see her staring back at me, pleading with me to be nice, I can’t. I have bullied her forever and the worst thing is she can’t get away, because she is me.

At age 7 I looked at my best friend and decided I wanted to be as tall and thin as she was. Even at that young age I had decided that somehow my life would be better if only I was thinner. At age 13 I put my still growing body on a low fat diet, trying desperately to shrink it to the size I thought I should be. I looked at others and compared myself relentlessly. I wasn’t good enough, it was that simple. If only I could be thinner, I would be more popular, have more friends. At age 14 I hated that I had no boobs. I was completely flat chested and tormented myself by stuffing my crop top with tissue. Age 15 and my breasts came in overnight. They are big, and naturally I hated it. I hated that people commented on them, that I couldn’t wear what my friends wore because I needed an unsightly granny bra at all times (It was the 90’s – wonderful plus sized lingerie didn’t exist then!)

When I was 17 I met my first love. I hated myself for the way he treated me. If only I was better looking, maybe he wouldn’t cheat on me any more. I agreed when he said that wearing skirts or vest tops made me look like a slag. He had every right to stop me seeing my friends because, as he pointed out, I was often unreasonable. At age 22, when we broke up, I blamed myself for not being better for him. I lost weight to a point where my hip bones stuck out and I could see down my pants. I still wanted to be thinner. Just another stone and then I would be worth loving.

At 28 someone I didn’t know shouted at me from across the street that I had fat legs, while I was on a date. I cried and believed it wholeheartedly, mortified that my date would now notice how gross I was. When I was 30 I got engaged. I cried because I couldn’t stand to have my picture taken. I knew how much I hated pictures of myself and that it would ruin my day. On my wedding day the photographer took beautiful pictures and I berated myself for ruining every single one of them. When I was 31 I got pregnant with my son. I was ashamed of how much weight I put on, spent hours massaging my belly to stop even more stretch marks. When I got stretch marks anyway I was horrified. I punished myself for not having a cute baby bump, and for ruining my body.

I’m now 35 and don’t look in the mirror any more than is strictly necessary. I do my make up because I cant imagine being seen without it, and that’s it. On rare nights out and for events I try on clothes in the mirror because I have to. I spend hours trying on every item of clothing in my wardrobe, crying internally about how awful I look. My internal dialogue is nothing but put-downs and regrets. I spend evenings where I am not in my normal ‘mum-drobe’ feeling self-conscious.

If I catch someone looking in my direction, I feel paranoid, not flattered and immediately go to the bathroom to check if my make up is halfway down my face. And woe-betide anyone who dares to give me a compliment. I am an expert at batting away anything positive: ‘Your hair looks nice today’ becomes, ‘Your hair normally looks like crap’. ‘Have you lost weight?’ effortlessly becomes, ‘This dress must be flattering – I will NEVER take it off’. Boom! I’m a pro. I’m my biggest critic and I treat myself like crap on a daily basis. And I am far from alone.

I hear the way women talk about themselves. The way they undervalue themselves. Women accepting less money that their male counterparts for doing the same job. Accepting criticism for the clothes they wear, accepting crude comments about their appearance and vile abuse if they dare to say no or stand up for themselves. I see amazing, beautiful women self conscious about what they are wearing, bullying themselves for what someone else has put on them. It’s time we all reevaluated.

We need to stop the bullying and constant criticism and instead focus on how amazing we are. That jelly belly with the stretch marks that look like a London tube map? Evidence that you grew a human. An actual human being. Think for a second how incredible that is and how crazy it is that we criticise the way we look for doing something so miraculous. The person slut shaming, fat shaming or any bloody other shaming you deserves none of your time and certainly none of your tears. Instead of starving ourselves on crazy diets to look better, let’s focus on health, energy and giving our bodies what they actually need. The person telling you that you can’t do it? Show them that you damn well can. Especially when that person lives in your own head, like a vicious parasite. And by your head, I mean mine.

I’m not for a second saying this will be easy. A lifetime of hating on myself will be hard to undo. I will find myself feeling like crap and telling myself I am ugly. But maybe, if I try to counter it just a little bit, taking tiny steps to readdress a lifetime of internal and external criticism, I will eventually start to believe I have always been the person I always wanted to be, always.