It is time we sorted our body image issues out – not just for us, but for those young girls (and boys) who are watching our every move and hanging on our every word. They deserve to grow up knowing it is okay to like themselves and accept themselves for who they are, but they can’t do that if we are setting all the wrong examples.

Summer is here, my holiday is booked and I should feel excited by the prospect of getting away, soaking up some rays and spending quality time with my family, but instead I feel anxious. I have to wear a bikini and I’m not ready yet. Once again, I’ve left it too late to get that perfect, lean beach body; my summer clothes don’t suit me anymore; my bikinis are all old and worn. Oh, and I ate loads of cake last week, which has left me feeling angry and upset.

I take myself off to the shops in the desperate hope of finding clothes that will make me feel good about my body. But the lights in the changing rooms are too bright and the sizings in the shop are all wrong, and as I stand there in the spot lights wearing an ill-fitting bikini, and just centimetres from my own reflection, I want to SCREAM!

Does any of this sound familiar to you? That feeling when you hate what you see in the mirror so much that all you want to do is throw yourself on the floor and have a toddler tantrum, and then curl up in a ball and cry? Even as I write this, it sounds like a pretty extreme reaction, and yet if you are anything like me, you’ve experienced this feeling countless times.

There was a time when I would have given into this inner turmoil: I would have cursed my reflection, told myself how revolting I was, and then I probably would have run off to the nearest café to punish myself with cake. But I have come a long way over the past few years, so instead I look down at my five-year-old daughter, who is beaming up at me from the corner of the dressing room, and I take a deep breath and smile back.

‘I don’t really like the fabric,’ I tell her in an upbeat voice. ‘I’ll find something another time.’

I hope I managed to hide the desperation in my eyes that day, and I hope she believed me when I told her the clothes were the problem and not me; because I don’t want my funny, intelligent, dynamic, beautiful daughter to think it is normal to look at her reflection and hate what she sees. I hope that she and her sister can grow up feeling comfortable and happy in their bodies, and enjoy discovering what their bodies can do for them.

I have spent a lifetime ‘fighting’ my body. It started early for me: I was still in primary school when I began to feel self-conscious about my tummy. I didn’t even know why I felt that way, but I remember going out one day in a tight top and a baggy cardigan, and I was so hot, but I wouldn’t take the cardigan off because I didn’t want anyone to see my tummy. My tummy! I was a tiny, skinny little dancer with no boobs and no tummy and not an ounce of fat on me, but I was embarrassed by my body all the same. I can’t pinpoint where this body shame came from, but I know I am not alone. From a young age, we hear women complain about their bodies, talking about diets, worrying about whether their bum looks big or their tummy looks fat or whether their arms jiggle when they move, and then we grow up and we begin to complain too.

How often do you stand back from the mirror, observe yourself as a whole and think, ‘Yes, I am gorgeous’? I hope you do this often, but I am guessing that like so many of us, you are more likely to stare at the part of your body you hate the most and tell yourself it needs to change.

But it is time we sorted our body image issues out – not just for us, but for those young girls (and boys) who are watching our every move and hanging on our every word. They deserve to grow up knowing it is okay to like themselves and accept themselves for who they are, but they can’t do that if we are setting all the wrong examples.

It was my husband who first pulled me up on this when our first daughter was little. Every time I said I was fat or complained about my body in front of her, he just gave me a look: ‘You can’t talk like that in front of her,’ he told me.

Until then, I hadn’t realised just how often I called myself fat or complained about my body or asked someone else for validation – it was constant. But being aware of it was the first step towards positive change and I am proud to say how far I have come. I still have my bad moments (like the dressing room incident) and I still want to look and feel good in my bikini, but what I have come to realise is that if I only ever focus on my flaws, I will never be happy, no matter what size or shape I am. My self-worth should not be inextricably linked to what size clothes I wear. I no longer workout and diet to ‘get thin’, but I exercise regularly and eat a healthy, balanced diet because those things make me feel happy and confident. I like feeling comfortable in my skin and in my clothes. There are still days when I want to be slimmer, and I don’t think these feelings will ever go away completely, but I can change the way I react to them both internally and externally. When I begin to beat myself up about my appearance, I pause, breathe and then rationalise: what does it matter if my shorts are a bit tighter this week? That doesn’t change who I am or what I have achieved; it doesn’t change how much my family love me or how much I love them. I can eat a healthier diet for a week and feel comfortable in my shorts in no time (and I usually do) but I know that will only help me feel better if I do it from a place of self-love rather than self-loathing.

Changing life-long thought patterns is not always easy. Sometimes it is so very tempting to just give in and settle back into the familiar, self-sabotaging habits, but I owe it to my daughters to be present and happy, and to have the head-space to be able to play with them and enjoy them. I hope my efforts will pay off and that they will grow up feeling proud and confident in their own bodies.

It won’t be easy bringing my girls up on this body-shaming culture, so I’m going to ask you for your help. Whether you are male or female, and whether you have your own children or not, I urge you to be aware of the messages you are putting out there. Stop hating yourself and telling yourself you are not good enough. Realise that you are not defined by the shape of your body, and for the sake of the younger generations (as well as for yourself), let’s make body-confidence the norm.

This is still a work in progress for me and I certainly don’t have all the answers, but here are some of the things that work for me:

  1. Whether it is out loud or in your own head, be aware of your negative self-talk and begin to turn it around.
  2. Write a list of things you like about yourself that are not related to your appearance.
  3. Re-write and re-read this list as often as you need to.
  4. Take note of the things you do each day that you are be proud of: this could be something big like getting a new job or passing an exam, or it could be a small achievement like choosing a healthy salad over a chocolate bar for lunch.
  5. Try to look at yourself the way others would look at you – as a whole package rather than as a series of ‘close-up’ flaws.
  6. Think about the things that make you feel happy and good about yourself and work them into your daily routine: singing, dancing, drawing, sewing, reading, running, cooking, eating healthy foods, spending time with your family …
  7. Slow down, look up from your phone or your computer and breathe. Go outside, look at the sky and remember there is more to life than how good or bad you think you look in your bikini.
  8. Meditate. Just taking five minutes a day to sit and tune into yourself really can help you gain some perspective. I am new to this and still learning, but there are apps out there to help, or if you need a little more input, look for a good life-coach or therapist.

Do this for yourself, but do it for our children too. Good luck.

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