A WOMAN who was bullied for her “cottage cheese legs” and rejected by men due to a health condition has revealed how posting bikini snaps has helped her regain body confidence.
Savannah Sullivan said she’d always felt there was “something wrong” with her and says her limbs grew “bigger and bigger” from the age of 12, becoming increasingly painful.
The 22-year-old make-up artist was told she had “cottage cheese legs” and “bingo wings” by school bullies, but it was cutting comments from boys which “really hit home”.
The sports management student, who’s now a size 16-18 on her lower half and 12-14 on top, was eventually diagnosed with stage two lipoedema this March and said living with the condition is an “emotional rollercoaster”.
It’s the same condition Love Island’s Shaughna Phillips suffers from. The 26-year-old had surgery on her “abnormally large” legs earlier this year.
Savannah, from Bristol, says: “It comes with it’s ups and downs. Some days I look in the mirror and love the way I look.
“I love my size, calves, bum and little belly or whatever, and other days it’s like I want to turn the mirror around and never see my body again. It’s definitely an emotional rollercoaster.
“I’m quite truthful with my posts. Sometimes it is really sh*t and that’s ok, and that comes with taking ownership of it.
“You can’t have a flower without a little rain, it’s learning to love my body as the flower that it’s becoming while also appreciating the good days and the bad days.”
The former competitive athlete said she “tried every diet out there” and despite the amount of exercise she was doing, couldn’t lose weight from her legs.
Savannah said: “It was never nice because during childhood my legs and arms were always bigger than other girls.
“I didn’t want to wear the skirts that I had to wear for sports practices just because I could look around the room and everybody’s legs looked completely different to mine and I was like ‘well, what is wrong with me?’
“I know I don’t eat excessively, I’ve always kept a healthy balanced diet. It was rough, kids don’t know [about the condition], you do get bullied, they always pick on the fat kid to put it quite bluntly.
“It [being bullied] was more at a younger age, rather than high school. I guess in high school you just used to get called ‘fat’ and that was the worst thing ever.
“When you’re younger they’d say ‘eww, why are your legs so big?’, ‘why do your legs look like that?’ or saying that you’ve got ‘cottage cheese legs’.
“Being told that you’ve got ‘bingo wings’ when you’re 13 isn’t very fun.”
Savannah, who’s originally from Antigua in the Caribbean, said she’s experienced rejection from boys due to her body and has endured a “constant commentary” from ex-partners about her size.
Savannah said: “It was like ‘you’re too big for me’, ‘your legs are way too big’, ‘I could never date a girl whose legs are bigger than mine’.
“I think those were what really hit home. Boys would say that as an excuse for not going out with me.
“It’s also the subtle things like, ‘why don’t we go to the gym together some time? I think that would help you’ and it’s like ‘ahh, shut up’.
“It was always ‘well if you do this you can lose some weight’, ‘do you really need to eat this? Why don’t you eat that instead?’ Always these backhanded comments about my size.
“It made me feel awful. It absolutely destroyed my confidence and that’s definitely stuff I still dealt with up until I got with my recent partner who is very accepting, understands and has taken the time to learn with me about this condition.”
They’d say ‘eww, why are your legs so big?’, ‘why do your legs look like that?’ or saying that you’ve got ‘cottage cheese legs’. Being told that you’ve got ‘bingo wings’ when you’re 13 isn’t very fun
But Savannah says she’s been empowered by posting photos and videos of her body and has amassed more than 73,472 followers by doing so.
She explains: “Posting full-length pictures is kind of reclaiming my body – ‘this is who I am, this is what I look like’ and ‘it’s ok to look like this, everybody is different’.
“I’ve found posting on social media videos of my body and about my condition empowering and liberating.”
Savannah was diagnosed with lipoedema earlier this year and said it brought up a “bunch of mixed emotions”.
She claims to have constant pain in her knees, which she eases with lymphatic drainage massages, and has also been put on a schedule for compression garments to help with her pain and swelling.
Savannah said: “There was a day recently where I had a complete meltdown because I saw myself in the mirror and put on a new pair of jeans and I was in so much pain and hated the way they looked and they wouldn’t fit me properly.
“It’s very very tiring. I work long hours and am on my feet all day using my legs which have this extra bulk to carry around, so by the end of the day I’m knackered.
“It’s like walking around with bags of sand attached to your limbs, that’s basically what I would describe it as.
“If I try to braid my hair it takes me three hours because I can’t have my arms above my head for too long, because it hurts. Simple things like brushing and blow-drying my hair, it just doesn’t happen.
“It’s very overwhelming and quite frustrating because of the lack of awareness as well. I’m still told ‘oh, if you just eat a salad or go for a run, you’ll lose some weight’. And it’s like, no that’s not really the point, this is actually a condition’. A lot of people don’t want to hear it, they don’t want to believe it.”
Savannah said she’s hoping to have medical liposuction next Easter which will involve a minimum of four surgeries to remove around six litres of diseased fat per procedure, and she’ll lose an upwards of 40 pounds as a result.
She said doing so will mean she’ll be able to have “some quality of life” and she’s already gathering a bucket list of what clothes she’ll be donning post-surgery – including knee-high boots and sleeveless tops.
Savannah said: “The biggest reason I started posting about it was because I went the best part of 21 years not knowing what was wrong with me, feeling like a complete outsider and constant shame. ‘Why do I look like this?’ And the self-doubt – ‘am I really doing as much as I say I am?’
“If anyone else is going through that and if I can post a video and lead them to look up lipoedema like I did, then that might change their life. I’m not saying I’m a life-changer or mystical guru, but if I can help just one person, then that would be nice.
“I’ve had lots of positive comments and private messages like ‘your TikTok’s really inspired me’, ‘I didn’t know what lipoedema was until I saw your post’ and ‘I’ve discovered I’ve had it and been diagnosed’.
“It’s like a smile to myself moment, ‘oh my God, someone else is going through this’ or ‘someone else understands’.
“I’d say to other women, find your community and talk about it. The more we talk about it amongst ourselves and other people, the more it’s raising awareness.”