From summer camp to bikini competitions, this U.K. influencer shares the major moments in the last 10 years that helped her finally make peace with her body.

By By Chessie King as told to Lauren Mazzo
October 04, 2017

You can preach about body positivity all day, but getting to the point where you truly accept your body is definitely not an overnight process. U.K. body-pos Instagrammer Chessie King (one of Powwownow's I-Conquered influencers) tells the story of how she got there-10 years (and many lessons) later.

At about 14 years old, I started to realize I was taller than everyone, a bit bigger than everyone, and I wasn't overweight but I definitely had a larger build than all of my friends. My classmates would literally point me out and say, "You look like my mum!" It made me self-conscious, so I would round my shoulders and felt quite uncomfortable with myself.

So I went on this mission to prove to everyone that I was "healthy." I went through loads of fad diets and weight-loss myths. I stopped eating after 6 p.m., I stopped eating carbs-so many unhealthy things. Basically, I wouldn't touch anything that wasn't a green vegetable. I was really restricting myself and got to a really unhealthy weight. I was tired all the time and actually thought I had chronic fatigue. But it wasn't that-I was just not eating enough and was overexercising. It got to a point where people would say, "You look disgusting, your ribs are sticking out," but all I cared about was being smaller.

When I was 18 or 19, I was a camp counselor in Maine. The whole first week, I was so scared of the unhealthy buffet food that it made me sick just to look at it. Needless to say, I wasn't eating anything. Then, one of the 8- or 9-year-old girls in the bunk I was supervising (they called me "Biscuit" because they always joked that I had biscuits and tea with the Queen) asked me, "Biscuit, why don't you eat? All you do is drink water." They started picking up on it, and I thought, "Oh no-if I'm setting a bad example for these young girls, then I need to change." Then my mom called, when she saw a photo of me on Facebook, and said, "If you don't start eating, I'm bringing you home. You look so unhealthy."

That night, as part of a competition between the camp counselors, I ate 40 Oreos. I hadn't eaten chocolate in about a year, and I was so happy. Suddenly, it was like I "found" food again.

Fast forward to a few years ago, and I was being interviewed for a podcast. At this point, lots of people were telling me I should do a bikini competition. I wasn't really interested. But during this interview, the guy basically got me to agree (on-air) that I would try one. Since I love challenges and pushing myself both mentally and physically, I went through with it and decided to give it my all. So he was my coach, and I trained and dieted for 18 weeks to prepare for it.

In a weird way, it was like a science experiment; I really did learn a lot about my body. I was testing what my body could do, how much it could change and still keep healthy. Now, I look back and realize it was obsessive and wasn't attainable. But at the time I really felt like I was doing it healthfully: It gave me a training structure, a goal, and an understanding of why I was doing these exercises and what muscles I was working. There were times when I was exhausted and couldn't stand going to two gym sessions a day, let alone one. But when I stepped on stage, it was amazing. I absolutely loved being up there and I felt really proud of how hard I had worked.

But it turns out, the most difficult part was yet to come. You think all the hard work is done when you step on stage, but the hardest bit is actually psychologically and physically coming back to reality and going back to normal habits without being so obsessive about everything. My coach had asked for feedback from the judges, and they said that I was too tall to be a bikini competitor, that I was too big, and was carrying too much weight for my age group. That was really horrible to hear after I'd worked so, so hard. If I wasn't good enough when I trained the hardest I'd ever trained and eaten the best I ever had, then what's the point? It felt like it negated everything I did for those 18 long, hard weeks.

It took me at least a year and a half or even two years to truly "recover" from the competition and find a healthy balance. I didn't think it would take me even a few weeks, let alone a couple of years! I went through a stage of completely rebelling against training and eating healthy. I'd lost that love for working out, and I went mad with food. I ate anything because I knew I had the freedom to, and didn't really have any control.

Finally, I started to find a middle ground. The biggest turning point, actually, came from posting a photo on Instagram. I had just eaten the biggest Sunday roast ever, and was sending my friends funny photos of me with my trousers open, stomach hanging out, like, "look at how sexy I look."

Then, it clicked: I should be showing this to everyone! I'd be lying to everyone, hiding something, if I didn't post it. That was the first "real" photo I posted. Sharing those kinds of photos finally helped me accept my body and all of the things I'd said I'd hated about it. The more I talked openly about it, the more I realized that I'm not the only one with legs that touch when I sit down, that "second bum" between my butt and my thighs, and bumps on my legs. This is all normal. We're all women and we're all made to be completely different shapes and sizes, but we all worry about the same things.

It also opened up this really supportive community; people don't just comment on the photo to write to me, but they comment to support each other. It's almost become like a forum. I feel like I'm finally using Instagram correctly and with a purpose, versus just posting a photo to put it out there.

It's been a long, long journey, and I've been all over the place-but now, I feel like I've found a happy balance. I just had a bad kidney infection and couldn't work out for about three weeks; previously, I would've ignored doctor's orders and snuck out to the gym anyway and felt guilty, and like I needed to do a really high-intensity workout. Instead, I just did yoga and some light stretches, and did what felt good.

Now, I work out for me. I listen to my body. I love food. I train for a healthy mind, because I love it, and to come out of the gym feeling really good. I'd choose happiness over 11 percent body fat any day.