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Liz Jones's Diary: In which I realise: I am good enough

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“I have never allowed a man to see me naked.  I feel too hideous'

“I have never allowed a man to see me naked. I feel too hideous’

It’s Friday morning, and I’m in Studio 12 at Pineapple Dance Studios, Covent Garden. I’m here for a shoot for work, but since I’m early (I once read this legendary Daily mail columnist Lynda Lee-Potter always arrived an hour before an interview), I have time to reminisce. There’s plinky-plonky music from the class next door. Girls running in tights. That strange, evocative smell of old sweat. Mirrors everywhere. When I came here, three, four times a week for most of the 80’s (pilates on the top floor, fitness on the floor, leggings on the legs and arms) I made it a rule never to look up at my own reflection.

It worked. It gave me the illusion that I was better than I am.

I hated myself so deeply that I even told my teacher a different name: Libby. I didn’t want to be Liz; I still do not know. Unfortunately, my rule of never looking in the mirror was broken one day when I saw it by accident. A guy in pink tights, pink ballet slippers, black leotard. I was so shocked that I looked so thin that I booked to see my GP. I was prescribed steroids, which deformed my body. So I continued to punish him when I should have enjoyed being young. No one told me I was beautiful or talented or even a good person. So I thought I was hideous.

The makeup artist arrives for the shoot. “You have a good neck,” she said, and in the next breath, “Is that an eyebrow tattoo?”

‘No it is not! It’s a £6,000 transplant. Frankly. She brought hairpieces because I imagine she found out I had lost so much hair.

When you’re young, with zero self-esteem, a single sentence can derail you. At 11, it was a sister who said, “Do you know how many calories are in toast and marmalade?

When I was 19, when I moved to London, Pamela Dillman, a beautiful American student at Rada, looked me up and down and said, “You should do Pilates. I go to The Place on Euston Road.

You see? Just one sentence. I duly started going there every week, despite the locker rooms being infested with cockroaches. I got so addicted to exercise that it became the only thing people remembered me for. At my sister-in-law’s funeral in Edinburgh, her friends said, “You used to run around Leith Links every time you came to stay. My mother was always disappointed that, at home for the holidays, I missed meetings because I had to walk up and down hills instead.

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Aged 25, I moved from London to a cottage in Saffron Walden, Essex, with my sister. Classes after work — I was a knitting pattern editor — meant I never got home until 11 p.m. Even today, the closing theme of EastEnders reminds me of running up the studio stairs, in front of the TV in the reception, afraid of missing my train. My sister hated that I exercised in the living room on my Michael Jackson tape – she was a night shift nurse – so I rented a studio on the high street. The owners found this strange.

‘Are you a dancer?’ they asked.

No. It wasn’t a question of dancing, or even of pleasure. It was about trying to flatten my stomach. Erase the pad of fat on my knees which makes them knotty and means I never wear a bikini. I have never allowed a man to see me naked. I feel too hideous with my crumpled old lady butt and my bingo wings that no amount of exercise will change.

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The photographer tells me he’s ready for my close-up. I smile, if only to lift the hammocks next to my mouth. A friend knows I’m on a set, so I broke the lifelong habit and moved over to watch the footage on the laptop. I take a photo, press send. “You look like a Miss World contestant!”

If only I had known her when I was 11. If only I could have stumbled upon myself at 25, rushing home from Covent Garden, and told her she was good enough.

Contact Liz at lizjonesgoddess.com and hunt her down @lizjonesgoddess

★ Everyone is talking about Liz Jones Diary: The Podcast! ★

Join Liz and her faithful Nicola (long-suffering) as they dissect her weekly YOU magazine diary and delve into the archives to relive the meltdowns, betrayals, bullets… and more in this brilliant podcast. They’re candid, outrageous, and downright hilarious. Listen now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and mailplus.co.uk


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