Friday , 3 February 2023

Strictly Come Dancing star Amy Dowden hurt by body shaming

Amy from Strictly has said “dance has definitely been my saviour” in her battle with Crohn’s

People see me on Strictly with the most beautiful and glamorous dresses, fake tan, the best hair and make up and think what’s she got to complain about?

But I deal with the impact of having Crohn’s disease and have days when I go into hospital when I’m the furthest from the Amy you see on the telly.

I have experienced body shaming. I take steroids and it makes me put on weight.

I’m taking eight steroids a day to keep me out of hospital. When people online say “she has thunder thighs”, it hurts.

I’ve been dancing since I was eight years old and dance is part of who I am – but so too is Crohn’s, which I’ve had since I was 11.

Although the condition isn’t visible from the outside, some of the symptoms and medication can have an effect on the way I look – it’s something I’ve been body shamed about and that hurts.

Crohn’s is a lifelong invisible condition where parts of your digestive system become inflamed and I’ll get really swollen eyes, terrible mouth ulcers, spots across my body and my skin.

My Crohn’s flare-ups are frustrating and annoying without everybody else bringing it to your attention – and it’s even worse when it’s comments from people you don’t know. It really sticks with me.

I can remember doing a dance competition when I was about 19 or 20, I’d been on a really high dose of steroids and it bloated me a lot – and my face changed, I called it the guinea pig face. My costume was really tight. It took me a lot to get on the dancefloor.

I remember walking onto the floor and this professional dancer shouted out “she’s got a fat bottom” and a “thick middle” – well, that’s the polite way of saying it. That comment has stayed with me for the rest of my life and when I go on steroids, it’s the first thing I hear.

She didn’t know what I’d been through and instead of dancing I just wanted to run off and cry. I got through the dance but that lady doesn’t realise that line she said, I’m still talking about it now more than 10 years later.

Sometimes they can be ignorant or sceptical but when you get someone criticising the way you look because of your illness, it’s even more hurtful.

One in five people in the UK have a disability – and the vast majority of those are said to be invisible.

Body shaming is awful whether your illness is visible or invisible. Anyone with an invisible illness will be used to getting comments.

Strictly Come Dancing star Amy Dowden hurt by body shaming
Amy Dowden finished second in the 2019 edition of Strictly with TV presenter and actor Karim Zeroual

When you have an invisible illness, we have to battle through so much on a day to day basis so we don’t need any extra on top.

Imagine you had a piece of wood and you’ve put nails in it. Even if you took the nails out, there’s still a dent left in that piece of wood. Every time you say a nasty comment to somebody, you’re leaving a dent inside of them.

For my new BBC Sounds podcast, I wanted to speak with others with invisible illnesses and who have been body shamed to ask what impact it has had on them – and what’s the best way to deal with it.

Strictly Come Dancing star Amy Dowden hurt by body shaming
Body positivity campaigner Harnaam Kaur told Amy “people are so fixated on walking towards what is fake, anything that’s real is seen as brave”

Someone that knows this too well is Harnaam Kaur, who has polycystic ovary syndrome – one of the symptoms can be high levels of male hormones which can lead to excess body or facial hair.

“I was ostracised, discriminated against and I was bullied even more horrendously,” Harnaam told me. “I do get a lot of death threats, I get a lot of people being very horrid.

“I grew out my facial hair at 16 and it wasn’t one of those things where I got up and I was like ‘right, I’m going to face the world now’. No, it took real strength, real courage.

“I call myself brave and I see that within me but sometimes that can be really patronising ‘Oh, you’re so brave, you have a beard, you look different’. Well why wouldn’t I just embrace my beard? Why is it brave?

“This world is hard and tough, people are horrible, people can be rude and cruel but when there is injustice, there will always be people like me to stand up and fight for what’s right.

“With children, there’s a lot of innocence. When it comes to adults, there’s no excuse – it’s more ignorance.

“It’s affected my career as people will judge you on face value. So where interviews would have lasted an hour. An hour and a half only lasted five minutes.

“This world will try and push you down and break you because they think that those that look different have low self esteem or no confidence. Well, you’ve messed with the wrong person if you’re going to step to me like that.”

But not all body shaming comes from online trolls and it can be far more subtle.

I spoke to Mared Parry, who had to deal with scoliosis while growing up and faced a lot of teasing.

Strictly Come Dancing star Amy Dowden hurt by body shaming
Mared Parry told Amy she gets body shaming comments “every time I meet someone new and every time I’m on a night out”

“I was relentlessly bullied, she told me. “Kids will hop onto anything to rip at you. I got called every name under the sun. But I’m grateful for all the bullies in a weird way as it made me want to push and work even harder.

“I always get shouted at in the street by men ‘someone has lost her balance in her heels tonight’ or if I’m on a night out a bouncer might say ‘you’re drunk and can’t walk properly in those heels’.

“I’m like ‘actually babe I’m disabled and they usually shut up pretty quickly. But that’s what I deal with all the time. People aren’t mean on purpose, because I have an invisible disability, people don’t know I have it.”

Mared makes an interesting point as sometimes people aren’t deliberately trying to offend or bully. People don’t think before they speak. They make throwaway remarks, but they can be far from throwaway for those on the receiving end.

They can chip away at your self worth. Especially when you can be really low when you’re in pain, that affects your emotions and how tired you are and the slightest comment then can tip you over the edge – and stress, for me, is the worst thing for my condition.

What I have found refreshing about everyone I’ve spoken to is how open they are about their conditions and how they are trying to turn negative experiences into positive ones.

They have accepted their conditions, they haven’t tried to change for the public and I think that’s so important to anybody with a disability who just wants to be themselves.

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