After my last post Is there such a thing as a “Summer body?” and the corresponding photo I used to promote it on Instagram (as above), which incidentally was the first time I felt truly body confident, it lead me to thinking I should share a little of my own journey to body confidence. And what better time, given that it’s just been Easter and many of you will probably be feeling the pressure or guilty for daring to not know when to stop when it comes to the mini eggs and how it won’t help your “Summer body.”
Before I begin, one thing I want to say is that body confidence isn’t a static place that you reach, it evolves, it ebbs and flows depending on so many other factors, age, mental health, who we’re with, if we’ve just had children, illness, injury, disability. These are all things that can affect our relationship with our bodies and some of these factors have certainly played their part in affecting my own body-confidence. For many body-confidence is also linked with finding their self-worth and this was certainly true for me.
I had always been a sporty child, I played netball for my school and town, went horse riding every week and then in my early teens I also started athletics and regularly competed. Then all of a sudden I had to stop due to ovarian and stomach problems. Stopping being so active and being in so much pain soon took its toll on my body and the weight piled on. The six pack was long gone. As is only to be expected really when you’re not actively working those muscles. I also turned to food as a source of comfort. Whether it was the pain or trying to comprehend what was happening to my body at the time I didn’t particularly realise just how much weight I was putting on. It was only really when I looked at photos that I didn’t recognise myself. Seems a bit unbelievable, like some reverse form of body dysmorphia, however in some ways I see it as a good thing. At least I wasn’t beating myself up and consumed by self-hatred. Especially at such a tender age, when hormones and peer pressure can really get to your head.
But in truth, I hated my body not necessarily for my size but for having let me down, for being the cause of all my social anxiety. That in so many ways I couldn’t trust it. I couldn’t leave the house without thinking it would end in disaster or embarrassment. It stopped me from doing so much and changed the direction I thought my life was headed. My concerns were what my body was doing and not so much what it looked it.
Then I discovered theatre and I fell in love with it, my confidence soared and I began to feel like I was good at something again but mostly only in that safe space. As my confidence grew and my mental health improved little did I realise at the time that my body was changing aesthetically too.
It took me a long while, and I’m talking years, to realise that I wasn’t as big as I thought in my head anymore. And to start thinking of my body as something other than something that caused me pain and anxiety.
The way I dressed had always been about practicality and comfort, without much thought for the figure beneath. Clothes were functional not really aesthetic. There were so many different clothes and styles that I thought I couldn’t wear because my boobs were too big, my belly was too big and my thighs were too big. Then one day, a friend at the time made a passing comment, not in a judgemental way, about how I should be more daring with the way I dressed. That I should show off my figure more and not to always be so practical. And something in me clicked. I wish I knew what it was. Perhaps it was all in the timing. By that time my confidence was coming from within, I realised that I didn’t want to pretend to be other people to be confident, that I was okay just being me but that didn’t mean that I had to give up a career in theatre. I began to experiment more with clothes and accessories. To bear my pale legs and what I thought were jiggly thunder thighs. To wear clothes that showed off my waist. Clothes became a joy and not just a cover up and boy did I learn to love to shop.
However of course at that point, I’d not faced one of the biggest demons for many people with body-confidence issues. The bikini. Or any kind of swimwear for that matter. I’d not been on a beach holiday in years so it was not an issue. However, when I became unwell my parents took me away on holiday so that I wasn’t left alone and in the hope of giving my body the relaxation and time out it needed and one of my first thoughts was “but I don’t have any swimwear.”
That was soon rectified. I decided to apply the same principal to bikini shopping as I did to clothes shopping. To buy ones that I liked the look of and would be a joy to wear. If I was going to bare my belly it might as well be in a nice print. And most importantly that it fit me well. When it came to thinking about having to bear my belly I told myself “to just go for it and besides no one would be looking and if they took issue that was more their problem than mine.” Besides, I had far bigger concerns to worry about.
But let me tell you it was such a liberating feeling and it was refreshing to look at photos of myself with so much flesh on display and to not absolutely hate them.
On that holiday the realisation really set in that my illness was about to take a lot from me and I had no idea what my future would look like. It was like something within me clicked. Like I knew that no matter what I had my own back. That my body could throw whatever my way but I’d be okay and would look after my mental health as best I could.
No amount of hating, or loving for that matter, my body is going to make it ‘perform’ better as a body. I cannot rely on what my body can do in order to feel good about it because that way I’m on the losing side.
So I choose to give myself a break, stop hating my body for reasons beyond my control. It’s not my fault, it’s not my body’s fault, it just is. You only get one body and one mind and no matter what life throws at you and alters them, you can either be with them or against them. You have to nurture them and to create some semblance of peace for your own good.
Of course, this is just my story and it will continue to evolve over time. And what worked for me might not work for you. But just remember you deserve to feel self-worth and you’ll look fab in that bikini.
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