"Expanding your comfort zone?"

For a long time, I've had a lot of discomfort surrounding body image. Mostly my tummy and thighs. As such, I don't generally show an awful lot of skin. Recently, however, things have been changing.

For Pride last year (yes, I'm talking about Pride again, but the message is not about sexuality on this occasion), I wore a tutu that can hardly be described as modest, fishnet tights, knee-high boots, and a rather low-cut vest top that I'd spent a week decorating with rainbow sequins. The night before, anxiety started to set in. As far as I was concerned, my outfit would be better suited to someone with a more slender figure than mine.

Yet the following day, I pulled on my fishnets, tied my tutu around my waist, and hit the streets of Belfast looking like...a woman who was very confident in all her curviness! They say fake it 'til you make it. Well, within an hour I was strutting through the streets and smiling at everyone I passed. Protesters looked on disgusted, probably both with the incredible amount of flesh I had on display and what they assumed was my sexuality (keep in mind I still didn't entirely identify with any sexuality at that stage). I smiled at them too.

This year was slightly different. There wasn't as much flesh on show, but I still wore my tutu with a pair of tights, probably putting on quite a show for anyone attracted to women. This year I dressed as the Mad Hatter. Again, the night before the parade I was beginning to get anxious. I watched a video someone had shared in a local LGBT group on Facebook. The Orlando shooting was mentioned. I was suddenly scared that people might think I was being disrespectful.

Once again, I got up in the morning and pulled on my chosen outfit. I spent an hour perfecting my makeup. I woke mum up for a lift into Belfast, and I posed for the obligatory photos on the driveway. As we got closer, I got more anxious. When I got out of the car and said goodbye to mum, I wandered up to Custom House Square, the pre-parade meeting point for most of the groups who were participating.

Whilst looking around for friendly faces, I got talking to a lovely woman from the Samaritans. She smiled and said, "you must be very confident dressing up!" I was already in the zone of faking it until I made it, so I grinned and said, "oh, absolutely!"

During this conversation, someone walked up to me wide-eyed and asking if they could get a photo with me. I obliged, and my anxiety started to ease. Then I spotted a photographer hovering. We made eye contact and words weren't necessary. I nodded and posed for a few shots. I'd made it - faking it was no longer necessary!

Earlier this year someone pointed out to me that there were three levels of comfort / discomfort when doing things: Comfortable, Stretch, Panic. Attending Pride as Hatter was a stretch for me. By the end of the day, I was comfortable. I had expanded my comfort zone. Get out there and stretch until you're comfortable and your cheeks hurt from smiling!