I could hear the sales assistant hovering outside the changing room. ‘How are we getting on it there?’ she asked, her manicured nails peeping through the gap in the curtain. I had visions of her throwing it open, my blubbery back exposed for the whole of the shop to see. ‘Just give me another minute,’ I replied, my voice falsely bright. But it was no good, there was no way on earth the wedding dress was going to do up. I’d already tried on the size 20…and the 22. There was no way I was going to put myself through the humiliation of having her root around for a size 24. So wriggling out of what could have passed for a tulle marquee, I fumbled into my leggings and left the shop while she was busy with another customer, my face burning with shame. ‘It was awful,’ I moaned to my fiancé Ashley that evening as I dished up tea for the kids. ‘There’s nothing wrong with a big girl,’ he smiled, playfully grabbing my bum. I’d always been on the chunky side – the fat girl hiding at the back of the class photo. I was bullied by classmates for being big –  but that just made me eat more. But it was after having my son, Dylan now four, that I really piled on the pounds. Weighing in at 19 stone 5lb and a size 24 there was no denying I could do with losing some weight. But back then what with being a busy single mum, there was no time for looking after myself. Juggling nappy changes and lack of sleep, I survived on microwave ready meals, comforting bars of chocolate and doorstop-sized slabs of buttery toast. And then, when Dylan was ten months old, I met Ashley. He certainly didn’t mind my ample curves… in fact, he couldn’t seem to get enough of them. Which was a good job; because when I fell pregnant with my daughter Kimberley just over a year later, dieting was the last thing on my mind. Then Ashley’s daughter Olivia from his previous relationship moved in with us and with three small children to care for I became even more reliant on junk food – chicken nuggets, potato waffles, chips and beans – and I scraped their leftovers into my mouth rather than the bin. It was only now shopping for a dress for our upcoming wedding in May that I realised how big I had got. ‘Honestly,’ I said now, munching on a chicken nugget I’d swiped from Dylan’s plate. ‘I looked huge.’ ‘Rubbish! I think you look great,’ Ashley told me. But despite his protestations, I knew I needed to do this for me. So that December, after months of halfheartedly cutting down, I started dieting in earnest and joined Slimming World. With my Big Day as motivation, the weight was easy to shift. After losing an impressive two stone in the first month, my GP prescribed medication to help absorb the fat out of my diet and with the wedding just weeks away, the pounds on kept falling off. I returned my original size 24 dress, exchanging it for a 20…then again for an 18. But two weeks before the ceremony even that was too big. ‘Now don’t lose any more weight!’ the dressmaker scolded as she nipped it in to a curvy size 16. ‘Wow! You look amazing!’ Ashley said as I walked down the aisle a fortnight later. And for the first time in my life, I believed him. I felt great in my dress and appreciated all the lovely compliments from our guests – but underneath it was a different story. Because the stunning silk was hiding the body of a granny. The pretty design hid my saggy arms and the giant apron of skin that had collected like a deflated balloon on my tummy. Losing weight so rapidly meant I’d been left with sagging pockets of skin. As we posed for pictures I prayed there wasn’t a gust of wind that would reveal what I really looked like under the dress. That night as I stripped down the new lacy new underwear I’d bought, I knew I didn’t look quite as lovely as I had all day in my dress. ‘You look pretty good to me!’ Ashley said. ‘Come here!’ Maybe it didn’t bother him but to be honest, I hated it. Instead of feeling like a blushing bride I felt like an old pensioner. I just hoped it would get better when I lost a bit more weight so I kept dieting. Trouble was, the situation only got worse. By the time I reached my goal of a size 10 – having lost a whopping nine-and-a-half-stone – a few months later, I looked horrific naked. I honestly thought I looked sexier and felt happier and more confident when I was 19 stone. ‘I really can’t see what you’re so upset about,’ Ashley said, genuinely confused. ‘You’re an inspiration.’ But I felt like a freak. The droopy folds of skin which hung from my stomach looked like a giant bum which I had to tuck into my trousers and lift up to go the toilet. It was supposed to be our honeymoon period, but I was so self-conscious about my body I hated Ashley touching me. I wouldn’t make love with the light on and insisted on wearing a baggy top to cover my belly. ‘Really?’ Ashley said, his voice tense. ‘You’re wearing a T-shirt in bed?’ ‘Yes.’ I said. And if I could feel my empty belly skin slapping against him or he tried to touch my stomach it was game over. It wasn’t so much the sight of it, but the awful sound it made too. He tried to be gentle, understanding, but naturally, it caused no end of arguments. ‘It really doesn’t bother me Kristina,’ he swore time and again. ‘I just want to be with you.’ But it bothered me. Four months after our dream day and our love life had ground to a halt all because of my diet. It was ironic. When I was big I didn’t mind Ashley seeing me naked and loved having sex, but not now. By desperately trying to turn myself into a thin and beautiful bride, I’d actually made myself more ugly and unattractive than I’d been before…or at least that was the way I saw it We’d had barely been married four months and our sex life had gone to pot. The confidence that had grown before my Big Day had shriveled up like my stomach; no new bride should have the body of a pensioner.
I never thought I’d say it but I actually missed my old curves. Suffering from anxiety and depression I went to see my doctor. ‘You’ve got to help me,’ I begged. There must be something you can do?’ I was already taking antidepressants but still felt terribly down. She suggested an apronectomy – a modified tummy tuck where the excess skin is removed – but warned that as it’s classed as a cosmetic procedure it wasn’t routinely funded by the NHS. ‘I’ll try anything,’ I said. Every day I waited nervously for the post to arrive. Six weeks later, the official-looking  brown envelope fell through the letterbox. Anxiously, I tore it open… My eyes flitted to the last line and filled with tears – ‘In this case there are no exceptional circumstance for funding to be granted’. I’d been turned down. ‘I can’t believe it!’ I wept in Ashley’s arms. What was I going to do now? Private surgery was out of the question. There was no way we could afford it. So I rang the newspapers and stripped off for a photographer – I hoped that showing people how awful I looked might help my case. People wondered how I could show my body to strangers when I can’t even show my husband, but that shows just how desperate I am for help. I’m still pleading with my health care trust to reconsider their decision. After all I saved the NHS a fortune by slimming naturally. My GP’s told me I can reapply in three months’ time. If I’m not granted it again I don’t know what I’ll do… at my lowest points I even think of slashing off my stomach myself. Now summer is coming and I’m dreading how to hide these rolls, not to mention the sweating which causes painful rashes and skin irritation. I thought I was lacking confidence when I was fat but it’s nothing compared to how I feel now. I constantly feel sick with shame and anxiety. The first year of married life is supposed to be the best but ours has been horrendous. It’s not fair on Ashley – or the kids – but I just can’t move on from this. It’s there taunting me with every wobbling, sagging step I take. Sometimes I think my only option is to eat myself fat again. After all the hard work I put in to lose the weight in the first place it would be devastating but I’d rather be huge than live trapped in this prison of empty skin forever. To me, the phrase ‘fat and happy’ has never rung so true. ENDS