For Alice Pignon, loving her body, whatever the size, has never been a problem. Here, she shares her journey to a healthier lifestyle and how she learnt to appreciate the skin she's in...
As I entered the classroom, I could feel the gaze of 25 sets of eyes dart in my direction. I took a deep breath, pulled on the belt of my robe and watched as it fell to the floor.
It was summer 2012 and I was about to sit as the model for a life-drawing class for the very first time. For most people, the thought of being completely naked while a room full of strangers gawp at you is terrifying – but, truth be told, I wasn’t all that scared. At 5ft tall and a size 16, I instead saw this as an opportunity to increase the visibility of plus-size women in the arts.
Of course, it was nerve-racking pulling off my gown for the first time, but I soon realised my size didn’t matter to the painters. They didn’t see me as a naked, overweight woman, but instead as a series of shadows and lines to interpret in their own way.
I’d struggled with my size since I was a teenager, and by the time I hit my 20s, I was a size 14. I’d eat out frequently, gorging on burgers, pizzas and milkshakes, but sugary snacks were my weakness – I was addicted to chocolate, sweets and biscuits, buying huge multipacks on a daily basis.
Though I was aware I should have been eating healthier, I wasn’t too concerned that I was gaining weight. Throughout my mid-20s, I discovered a huge amount of self love, body positivity and an appreciation for the inclusion and representation of plus-sized people. When I looked in the mirror, I absolutely adored every jiggly, voluptuous and rounded inch of myself. So why would I change?
It gave me the confidence to push myself out of my comfort zone with things like life modelling, and when a friend suggested we do burlesque dance classes in 2013, I thought why not? After finishing the course, I did my first show three months later, continuing then on an ad-hoc basis. I loved shimmying on stage and donning my PVC corset.
But in the next few years, despite the sporadic burlesque dancing, my weight slowly crept up. I was eating more and more, with no willpower when it came to anything sugary, eating a ‘sharing’ chocolate bar on a daily basis, and soon I’d gone up to a size 20.
I still loved my figure, but by summer 2018, the burlesque work had dried up. I weighed 14st 10lb and I was starting to outgrow even the biggest sizes at my favourite shops. The physical toll on my health was obvious, and soon, just running for a bus or climbing the stairs became a mammoth challenge, never mind getting up on stage and dancing in front of strangers.
My mum, Julia, then 64, already aware of my sugar addiction, began to notice how much I was struggling and suggested we sign up to WW (formerly Weight Watchers) together. Though I’d always loved my curves, I knew that my excess weight was starting to affect my health, and I had to do something.
In August 2018, Mum and I went to our first meeting. We set out our goal weights and immediately started on a new health plan. And our WW coach, Karen, was so encouraging. Portion control and measuring became central to our diets. And sugary snacks like chocolate and biscuits, as well as junk food, were replaced by foods high in protein and low in fat and sugar, such as eggs, chicken and seafood.
I began exercising more, too, even downloading a pedometer app on my phone so that I could monitor my progress. My body found it difficult, at first, to engage in even the gentlest of exercise because of my size. But as I pushed myself, a walk to the end of the road turned to a walk around the park, and after a month, I found myself walking on a daily basis.
Embarking on my weight-loss journey with Mum was invaluable. We would go for walks together, keep each other on track, and were each other’s biggest supporter. Just having someone to talk to who was going through the same journey as me was so helpful.
And when I stepped on the scales at a meeting last November, I couldn’t believe how far I’d come. I’d achieved my goal weight of 7st 7lb and was now a size 8.
Now, I feel much healthier and I’m the fittest I’ve been in years. No longer am I out of breath when climbing the stairs or struggling to breathe when shaving my legs!
I’ve learnt how to change my eating and activity habits long term, no longer even thinking about slipping back into my old lifestyle. The WW community has shown me that I can fuel this journey with all the self-love and positivity I always had, it just has a different focus now.
I still love every inch of my body! I continue to sit as a life model and I enjoy it just as much now as ever. I’m not a different person, I’m not a better person, I’m no more worthy of love now that my jeans have a smaller number in them – I’ve always been the same woman. But now I’ve improved my long‑term health I can hopefully be this person for quite a lot longer.
Alice’s diet before:
Lunch Sandwich and a bag of crisps
Dinner Frozen pizza or ready meal followed by chocolate snacks
Alice’s diet after:
Breakfast Yogurt and fruit
Lunch Chicken wrap with salad, fruit
Dinner Meals high in protein. Eg, home-made pasta bolognese with vegetables
For more information, check out WW.com.