As I'm talking a lot about body confidence at the moment and how we can learn to love ourselves, I thought I should confess that I'm no stranger to struggles with self-esteem.
It's only in my late 30s that I've begun to be able to stop caring so much about what other people think, and stop continually criticising myself. I finally understanding how to be confident and how to stay away from the guilt, shame and embarrassment that troubled me for so many years - and I want to share that knowledge with you.
So let's be honest - you'll probably never catch me streaking across the pitch at Wembley or strutting my stuff in a thong bikini (I still adhere to public standards of taste & decency after all, and I'm really just not that kinda gal) - but I can, at last, talk to other people without folding my arms across my body to hide my stomach. I've learned to accept who I am and how I look, and for me that's a massive, massive thing.
Body confidence means different things for everyone (and it's absolutely not just about weight) but for me, it means I can get ready without 3 outfit changes and checking all angles to make sure the fat bits are hidden.
It means I can walk past a mirror without having to check I don't look horrifying - because we all know that in that minute since you last checked, your face could entirely have fallen off. (There really is nothing logical about some of the things we find ourselves doing, is there?).
I can go out on a windy day and not really care if a hair has blown out of place. I can stand comfortably, without thinking exactly how I'll be viewed from different angles. I can relax my stomach muscles and actually sing properly, rather than 'sucking it all in' (I baffled so many singing teachers with my inability to 'bloody breathe properly!').
I can accept that my husband fancies me and all my imperfections, making our relationship better, and I can teach my little boy to be confident and happy in himself.
That matters so much.
Where did it all go wrong?
I had a very happy childhood but I was always a bit shy and an easy target for the bullies, with my slight double chin and skirt hitched high over my puppy fat. I was always one of the heaviest in my class (being tall and liking my food made sure of that), and little remarks here and there from friends and family helped cement my self-image quite nicely at that tender young age. I even remember quite clearly my family doctor telling my mum I'd got a 'bit of a tummy' when we went for something completely unrelated - funny how these things stick, years down the line.
(Photo - me and my 'puppy fat' - or a perfectly normal, healthy kid!)
Add in to the mix teen magazines, skinny girls with thigh gaps at school, and my own tendencies towards anxiety and OCD - and I developed my own coping strategies for being a 'bit big'. Namely obsessing about how I looked and a good dose of self-loathing, and secretly filling my face with sweets, biscuits and bad things because those things gave me comfort. Needless to say this only made the problem worse - and meant all my hard-earned paper round money disappeared down my throat!
Once you believe something of yourself it becomes very hard to change (though thankfully not impossible - more on that later).
I became much bigger in my early teens, thanks to all the sweets - then had a big drive to lose weight later on, but that still didn't mean I felt confident. I think I was a size 10 at one point and had worked really hard on obsessing over scales and calories to get there, but I still felt very self-conscious. I look back now at photos of myself from that time and think - OMG I looked amazing! Such a shame I couldn't accept it at the time. And more to the point, such a shame that I felt I HAD to be a certain size and shape to be any good.
There is something seriously wrong with a society that prizes impossible images of 'perfection' above all else. Looking a certain way doesn't make you happy - actually, obsessing about achieving that elusive perfection makes you bloody miserable - and plenty of people look 'perfect' to most of us but have rock bottom self-esteem. That's probably a subject for another post but let's just say learning to accept myself as I am has made me happier and healthier than all the dieting in the world!
Looking back now, my negative self-image held me back in so many ways. I didn't exercise much because I 'wasn't sporty' (I can now run 5 miles, climb mountains, do yoga, cycle and heave my way up a climbing wall - take that, inner demons!).
My lack of confidence made me terrible at job interviews and socially awkward - sometimes that body image stuff can really spill over into mucking up your overall feelings of self-worth. I probably pissed off a lot of friends and flatmates with my constant checking my face and clothes in the mirror! And as I said before it took a lot of singing lessons to realise sticking my stomach out was fine and in fact necessary to singing (opera just ain't the same without breathing).
I also spent a fortune on dyeing my hair from around the age of 20 because I think I once saw a grey hair or two sprouting. I drank too much, ate too much and generally didn't do myself any favours.
And then... ahhhh... I finally learned how to change that inner dialogue. What a relief.
Out of the woods
So now I barely weigh myself. I eat what I fancy, generally - I love my food but I know my limits (and know what is actually enjoyable eating as opposed to eating until I'm stuffed). I don't get uncontrollable cravings (though I might occasionally go mad at the buffet especially for awesome cheese). I'm a tall, curvy girl at a healthy weight - top end of normal, with a few lumps and bumps it wouldn't hurt to shift to help me stay healthy - but all in good time (and certainly not through dieting as it's probably the fastest route back to unhappiness).
I'm happy to be healthy and appreciate my body for what it can do, and I'm probably fitter than I've ever been because I'm happy to be seen pounding the pavements with my slightly wobbly legs out and I don't have to avoid running in places where I'll be seen.
I have stretch marks - I also have a wonderful little boy to show for those, so they may not be pretty but they're my badge of honour. I have grey hairs and laughter lines - and they're very much part of me and my journey.
Most importantly, I'm happy to be me and I don't feel I have to apologise to the world for it. And that feels AWESOME.
If you'd like to learn more about how I shifted my perspective, and how I can help you, please get in touch - I'd love to chat.
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