Opinion: Stand-up comedy has completely changed the way I look at my body

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I don’t know when it started, but I feel like I’ve always been aware of my weight. From stomping on the step machine for hours a day leading up to my prom, through my “difficult” spell on uni (living on vodka and canned sweetcorn), to a gracious brief dabbling on prescription slimming pills I got from my mom’s closet (with ingredients from the amphetamine family – be still, my pounding heart), doing everything from diet clubs and militant gym two or three times a day, and purging when I feel I’ve eaten too much.

The mood in my head over the past two decades has fluctuated wildly between Beyoncé-esque affirmations of “girl, you own this!” to the dark cocktail hour of the soul that is the cabbage soup diet. All with an underlying pathological fear of bread that I’ve never completely changed since Dr. Atkins ruined food for everyone in the early 1990s.

You wouldn’t guess this from me, because I’m not skinny, and I never was – except when I was very sick in college. Disordered eating isn’t just the domain of visual extremes; it’s a rich vein that runs through many women (and men) like me, growing up in the 1990s, an era where thin was always seen as better.

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We were confronted with mantras like Kate Moss’ infamous “nothing tastes as good as it feels skinny”, the bizarrely restrictive Special K diet, Slimfast and the so-called “circle of shame” in certain women’s magazines. We’ve spent years hammering in that our entire worth is tied up in our size, having bizarre hardship attempts like “the grapefruit diet” pushed on us, and praising and recommending weight loss.

While we understand that you are worth more than your weight, we are not there yet. I went to the doctor just before the lockdown to check for a thyroid problem that runs in my family, but before even one test was done I was asked if I had considered WeightWatchers. Most women from size 14 have such a story. It reduces your entire image of yourself to your weight.

That’s why it’s extraordinary that I ended up in stand-up comedy, doing something where people have to quickly judge you while you’re on stage in front of them.

I’m inviting people’s judgment and somehow have to trust that what I have to say—that my personality—will come across as stronger than anyone’s view of my height.

I have to accept that people take pictures of me and post them on social media – and I know that’s a good thing because it means someone enjoyed my performance. I’ve had to watch videos of myself, even videos from horrible angles that are the most cruel to my body. But something surprising has happened in this process.

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I started noticing things about myself: how much fun I have in stand-up; how many ridiculous expressions can I exclaim to articulate a point. I’ve also fallen in love with the way I can influence people’s moods, and I’m energized by the number of women who will come to me at the end, happy to see someone like her in the lineup and the idea to cherish that they do it too.

I wonder how many women (and not just women – this is just a female perspective) are held back by the idea that doing something like comedy means being watched, judged and compared?

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I am now in Edinburgh Fringe for the first time and have put on my first shows. It’s a huge deal for me, not only because I’m doing shows that I’ve been working on for two years, but also because for maybe the first time in my life I didn’t react to a major life event by putting myself on a restrictive diet.

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It’s crossed my mind more times than I’d like to admit, but I brushed it off because it’s just not as important as making sure I’m funny and entertaining and have the time and space to support my friends.

Edinburgh really is a unique stressor – it’s one of the scariest, most high-pressure situations you can get voluntarily persevere yourself. It’s a huge privilege to take a few weeks off from my normal life to do it, but the stakes are high: you compete against thousands of talented colleagues to win over an audience.

But one thing is certain: whatever happens, I now know that my worth has nothing to do with my size. I’m glad I take the space I now occupy and not put the life I want to live out of reach in the mistaken belief that I have to be thin enough to deserve it.

Vix Leyton will give her solo show Pedestrianand hosting”Comedy Arcade” at the Edinburgh Fringe from 6 to 28 August

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