An overweight 13-year-old girl hit back at bullies and faced her “biggest fear” by stripping down to her swimsuit on the beach – and posting the photos online.
Paris Harvey suffers from a metabolic condition which means she gains weight quickly and struggles to lose it.
She was also born with hip dysplasia so her left leg is 1.5cm shorter than her right and she has pins in the joint which causes her to walk with a limp.
Paris says that since starting secondary school she has been taunted by classmates who called her fat and mocked her for “walking like a penguin”.
The jibes drove down her self esteem and left her body conscious to the extent that she felt like she wanted to “hide”.
But over the last sunny Bank Holiday weekend, year nine pupil Paris went to the beach for the first time in three years and stripped down to her pink patterned one-piece.
“I got bullied in the past and after a while you start to believe what people say. I became really insecure about how I looked,” said Paris, of Gillingham, Kent.
“I can be eating the same food as the next person but I gain weight. It’s not like I’m sitting at home all day eating crisps.
“It’s also hard for me to get around because of my hips and it is harder for me to make changes than it is for other people.
“But I felt like I shouldn’t have to explain myself.”
Over the weekend, Paris, who chose not to disclose her weight or dress size, went to the beach in Margate, Kent, with a friend, who is also self conscious of his looks.
Paris said: “He was saying he felt fat and I just told him, ‘If you take your top off, I will take off my shorts,’ so we did.
“I was worried someone would come up to me and stop me or stare at me but there was no response, people were just acting as they did before.
“I stayed like it for a few hours and I started to feel comfortable in my own skin.
“I was proud afterwards. It was quite an achievement.”
Paris later posted the photos online and has since been inundated with comments, with some applauding her bravery and others criticising her for “promoting obesity”.
One Twitter user posted a photo of a whale, @HerreraEdition wrote: “God this is disgusting,” and @xhakass_ added: “She is the opposite of beautiful.”
But supporter, Sophie Dean retorted: “The beach is for everyone regardless of size! I hope you had a lovely day.
“Such a shame for the negative comments of others, which is what made you insecure in the first place.
“They’re quick to judge and don’t know the person you are.
“So hold your head high because there will always be people that judge but they’re not important and it says more about them than it does you.”
Paris said: “There were some bad comments and I read them at first, but then I thought, ‘Why am I wasting my time on those?’
“I chose to focus on the support because hate is nothing compared to love.
“I feel like we should embrace who we are. You shouldn’t have to change yourself to make others feel comfortable around you. Focus on yourself.
“I’m not making myself a model but I wanted to show people that it doesn’t matter what size you are – you are born into that body.”
Her dad, carer Bill Harvey, 38, added: “I am very proud of my daughter. Paris has been through a lot but she is just a normal girl and she carries on with it.
“I’m self conscious about things but I look at what she has done and it shows me that I shouldn’t be. She is an inspiration.”