Edinburgh Fringe: Stand-up comedy has completely changed the way I view my body

I don’t know when it started, but I feel like I’ve always been aware of my weight. From pounding the step machine for hours a day in the run-up to my school prom, through my “difficult” spell in uni (subsisting on vodka and tins of sweetcorn); a mercifully brief dabbling with prescription slimming pills lifted from my mother’s cupboard (with ingredients from the amphetamine family – be still, my racing heart); to doing everything from dieting clubs and militant gym twice or three times a day; to purging when I feel I’ve overeaten.

The mood in my brain over the last two decades has swung wildly between Beyoncé affirmations of, “Girl, you own this!” to the dark cocktail hour of the soul that is the cabbage soup diet. All with an underlying pathological fear of bread that I have never quite shifted since Dr Atkins ruined food for everyone back in the early noughties.

You wouldn’t guess this about me as I am not thin, and I never really have been – apart from when I was very ill in university. Disordered eating isn’t just the domain of visual extremes, it’s a rich vein that runs through a lot of women (and men) like me who grew up in the 90s in an era where thin was always seen as better.

We had to contend with mantras like Kate Moss’s infamous “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”, the bizarrely restrictive Special K diets, Slimfast and the so-called “circle of shame” in certain women’s magazines. We have had it hammered into us for years that our whole worth is tied up in our size; have had bizarre deprivation efforts like “the grapefruit diet” pushed onto us; weight loss lauded and recommended.

While we’re getting a lot better at understanding that you are worth more than your weight, we’re still not there yet. I went to the doctors just before lockdown to check for a thyroid problem that is hereditary in my family, yet before a single test was done I was asked if I had considered WeightWatchers. Most women over a size 14 will have a story like this. It reduces your whole view of yourself to your weight.

Which is why it’s extraordinary I have ended up in stand-up comedy – doing something that requires people to make quick judgments on you while you stand before them on stage.

Im inviting people’s judgment and somehow having to trust that what I have to say – that my personality – will come across stronger than anyone’s view on my size.

I’m having to accept that people will take photos of me, and put them up – and know that is a good thing, as it means someone has enjoyed my performance. I have had to watch videos of myself, even the ones at terrible angles that are cruelest to my body. But a surprising thing has happened over this process.

I’ve started noticing things about myself: how much fun I have doing stand-up; how many ridiculous expressions I can call out to articulate a point. I have also fallen in love with how I can influence people’s moods, and I’m galvanized by how many women will come up to me at the end, delighted to see someone like them on the line-up and entertaining the idea that they could do it too.

I wonder how many women (and not just women – this is just a female perspective) are held back by the notion that doing something like comedy means being looked at and judged and compared?

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I’m now at the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time and have performed my first shows. It’s a massive deal for me – not only because I’m doing shows I’ve been working on for two years, but for possibly the first time in my life I’ve not responded to a big life event by putting myself on a restrictive diet.

It has crossed my mind more times than I like to admit – but I’ve batted it away, as it is just not as important as making sure I’m funny and entertaining and have the time and head-space to support my friends.

Edinburgh is a really unique stressor – it’s one of the scariest, high-pressure situations you can voluntarily put yourself through. It’s a huge privilege to take a few weeks off my normal life to do it, but the stakes are high – you’re competing against thousands of talented peers to win over an audience.

But one thing is for sure: whatever happens, I now know that my value has nothing to do with my size. I’m happy to take up the space I take up now – and not put the life I want to live out of reach on the mistaken belief that I need to be thin enough to deserve it.

Vix Leyton will be performing her solo show ,’pedestrian’and ‘Comedy Arcade’ at Edinburgh Fringe from 4-28 August

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