Jo Cotterill: I’m going to ask you a really personal question.

Published on: 25 August 2019 Author: Jo Cotterill

It’s OK, you don’t have to answer out loud. Are you happy with your body?

Human bodies are EVERYWHERE. All over the planet, down your street, in your house, staring out at you from TV, magazines, posters, government (shudder). We see more human bodies than any other kind of animal. And one thing we should know, from seeing all those bodies, is that humans come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. That’s just how it is.

And yet lots of us are really unhappy with our own bodies.

Our society has a deeply ingrained idea of beauty. Women must be slim (but somehow also curvy) and wear makeup with long eyelashes and lipstick. Oh, and tanned is good because pale skin is bad(?!). Men must have stomach muscles of steel and arm muscles like Chris Hemsworth. Everyone should have clear skin and a flat stomach.

Recently, eyebrows have become a thing. EYEBROWS.


Seriously, world!!

The trouble is, you know, while we’re obsessing over ours and other people’s appearance, we don’t value the other things about ourselves properly. Have you helped a friend through a difficult time recently? Have you passed an exam or learned how to do something you couldn’t before? These are all WAY MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE WAY YOU LOOK.

Sorry about the shouting. It’s very important though! It’s also REALLY important to remember when you’re judging other people.

I’m going to tell you a secret I’m ashamed of. At my school there was a girl – we’ll call her Molly – and she was fat, and lumpy, and she had wonky teeth, and she talked in a kind of mumbling way.

Molly was actually very intelligent and had a good sense of humour. But I didn’t want to hang out with her because of the way she looked.

There. I am a bad person.

I look back now and feel ashamed of the person I was.

Still, the same thing is happening every day in your schools – you and your friends are making judgements about others based on the way they look. And I’m sure you’re aware of people judging you in return.

In my story Jelly, my main character (Angelica, called Jelly for short) is overweight. Because she knows everyone will judge her for it, she deliberately makes jokes about herself. She develops a funny, bubbly persona to cover the fact she knows she doesn’t “look right”. At night, she writes sad poetry in a book she doesn’t dare to show anyone. If people make hurtful comments to her, she pretends she doesn’t mind. She worries that if people knew she wasn’t happy all the time, they wouldn’t like her.

Walrus poem from Jelly

And then, into her life, comes Lennon – her mum’s new boyfriend. Lennon is very different from anyone Jelly has met before. He’s travelled the world, he writes songs, and he’s interested in who people are on the inside, not the outside.
When Jelly finally plucks up the courage to show him her poems, Lennon is amazed. ‘These are so good!’ he exclaims. ‘You’re so talented!’

Has anyone ever told you you’re really good at something? How did it make you feel in that moment? Did it change the way you felt about yourself?

Lennon’s belief in Jelly gives her a courage she hasn’t had before, and that’s a wondrous thing we can all do for our fellow humans. When we support and encourage each other, we can achieve AMAZING things.

Do you have a teacher who really believes in you? What about a friend who’s stuck by you through good and bad times? And can YOU be a person like that too?

Jelly is about standing up for who you are; being less afraid of being judged; doing something that scares you because it feels like the right thing to do. And it’s about finding those people who will help you be the best version of yourself you can be. It’s not about being overweight.

A little while back, a great friend of mine sent me a lovely present – a bag of tiny paper quotes about friendship. I’m going to leave you with my favourite of them all because it’s absolutely true:

friendship note