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Ask Billie: “I’m struggling to let my new boyfriend in because of my body hang-ups. Any advice?”

Stylist’s columnist Billie Bhatia answers your questions.

Q: “I’m struggling to let my new boyfriend in because of my body hang-ups. Any advice?”

From Loulou Bates 

A: When I first read this question, my brain screamed: ‘Skip!’ It’s not that I can’t relate to what you’re saying – quite the opposite. I can hard relate. In fact, I relate so much my toes curled at the question because I have been in your shoes – I’m currently still standing in them, immobilised by the fear of my own body hang-ups. So yeah, I’m with you.

It’s a rude awakening when you realise your body is up for judgment, isn’t it? And not just from ourselves, notably our harshest critics, but potentially by everyone you encounter. The surface area of our nipples or the size (and perkiness) of our butts are amazingly subjects for discussion. Naturally, knowing this makes you feel insecure. It’s no longer just you scrutinising yourself, but the world holding you up to an unrealistic beauty standard. And even though we know that standard is unrealistic, the rising sense of “not good enough” is magnified when we are getting up close and personal with someone we like.

I started my complicated (we’re talking infinite onion layers) relationship with my body when I was about 10 years old, when I began to develop body hair. I didn’t think much of it at first. I was aware of the black hair popping up on my shins and creeping up my thighs, but my mum hadn’t made a fuss about it, so neither did I. Until one day at break time, when I was in my school kilt sat on a bench, a boy in my class came running up to me pointing and giggling. He shouted to a group of friends: “Look at her legs! They’re so hairy, I told you she was gross!” Growing red and uncomfortable, I pulled my kilt down as much I could. I already had to contend with being the chubbiest girl in my year, now I was the hairiest too. Sadly, it’s these sorts of interactions that stay with you, that plague you well into adulthood.

The thing with body hang-ups is they are so universal and yet so personal. Mine are as extensive as my Net-a-Porter wishlist: my size, body hair, stretch marks, scars and some things that are way too intimate to even type, let alone say out loud. In a similar way to when we were younger, for the most part I go about my day not thinking about these issues – they hover somewhere in the back of my mind until something brings them back into sharp focus.

These circumstances can range from having to get into a swimsuit in front of a group of friends (like last weekend) to being intimate with a partner. Disclaimer: I have ruined countless potential relationships (and even sometimes just potential hook-ups) because of my own body hang-ups, so please don’t follow in my footsteps.

My mind races: will they judge me? Will they think I’m weird? Will they put a hand directly on my stomach and make me shudder? (Not in the good way.) Will they notice the pigmented skin from scarring on my chest? Will they care that it’s impossible to get a neat shave on the backs of my thighs? Will they see me naked and want to run a mile? Will they tell all their friends about me? Will I be the butt of the joke if they do? As soon as I’m in a situation where I have to expose my body, these questions live on loop, rent-free in my head, until I’ve raised my own walls around me and refused everyone entry. It’s not just partners, my bestest friends of 10-plus years can count on one hand the times they have seen me in my underwear.

It can be a lonely place, analysing every part of your physical self, scrutinising the details that make up you. And every time I go there, shutting someone out, I regret it. After walking away and letting the dust settle on my behaviour, I’m always furious – kicking myself that I’ve done it again. I envy you – you’ve allowed yourself to be in a real relationship. I have never even made it to fully fledged titles before running away for the sake of self-preservation.

Ask Billie anything on Instagram, @stylistmagazine 

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There are few things I have learned about men over the years, but these two always ring true: they care infinitely less about your body than you do. It’s hard to remind yourself of this fact when you are pranging out about the body hair that has grown back mid-laser session, but it’s true. And the second is this: “If he wanted to, he would.”

If a man wants to be your boyfriend, he would move hell and high water to make that happen. If he wanted to date you, he would ask. If he wanted to cook you a Michelin-star meal, he would learn how to do it. You’ve told me you’re in a relationship, so he wants to be there with you. He already likes you enough to have made that happen (that’s another lesson, men only do things they want to do). So, he is either completely aware of your body hang-ups and doesn’t care, or hasn’t noticed them at all and doesn’t care – either way (and I say this with years of retrospective self-sabotage experience): he does not care.

I’m not going to say that this means you shouldn’t care either, because I know it’s not that easy, but living with the regret that you didn’t try and bring those walls down is harder. Trust me.

Follow Billie @billie_bhatia

Photography: Sarah Brick

Hair and make-up: Patrizia Lio at S management using Kevin Murphy and Nars

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