I’d like to introduce to you a post that’s quite dear to my heart. Not only because it took so much longer than anything else I’ve ever posted but because I had the enthusiasm and involvement of people quite close to me.
Body image is something that plays on my mind a lot. As someone who loves to work in the beauty and fashion industry, appearance is central to my passion. Over the years my opinion on my own body has fluctuated dramatically and it’s only recently, in the mast four months or so, that I’ve come to like what I see looking back at me in the mirror. To take photos like the ones you see in this post requires a shit-tonne of confidence. It helps that these photos were taken on a beach, my happy place, and with one of my best friends behind the camera. But for years I’ve looked back at photos taken of me by my friends and family and shuddered with the image I look at. Sadly, it seems like we all know that feeling too well.
This year one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to get fitter. Not only to boost my confidence but for health reasons. I started working out three, sometimes four times per week. I took up a new sport in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu thanks to my boyfriend paying for me to come on a BJJ camp in Croatia. I haven’t lost weight, but I’ve toned up and it’s made a world of difference. I share these photos of me because I love how I look, but more importantly I love how I feel. When I look at my holiday snaps I feel proud for changing my outlook on my body. I feel so much better. I still have low points where I criticise myself, as everyone does, but body confidence is a journey and I have come so far since crying about how I look due to ridicule in my teenage years.
I share the stories of my friends and fellow bloggers in the hope that they can connect with readers on their journey to body confidence. Or maybe they will resonate with those of you who already achieved complete confidence and self love. Please feel free to share your story below in the comment section, I would love to hear from you and I hope you like the post.
Body image is a weird concept, it was never something that bothered me when I was young, but by the time it became something I cared about it was a bit late. I’ve always had a sweet tooth so putting on weight wasn’t a surprise and I was bullied at school for being chubby. I’d eat sweet things that made me feel better but that didn’t help the weight. I wasn’t happy being overweight but playing sports like rugby meant I gave myself an excuse to get bigger. I started powerlifting so I got stronger but that just meant bigger as well. I thought that if I lifted weights I’d look like the guys we see on tv with the incredible physiques. But I didn’t understand what I was doing. By the time I reached 18 I was 5ft 11 and weighed 95kg.
I went off to university and maintained that kind of physique for first year. I then injured myself playing rugby and barely went to the gym for all of second year. My weight stayed around the same but I lost muscle mass. This made it really hard for me to give myself any excuse for being overweight but I still couldn’t find motivation to do anything about it. I tried every diet I could find but never saw the results fast enough and lost a lot of confidence.
When my injury healed I started gyming again but my diet was all wrong. I got stronger again but never achieved the physique I saw in fitness magazines. I tried a wide range of supplements, appetite suppressants and shakes. But I didn’t know which ones were doing what, I just took whatever I could find that seemed like the top choice at the time. I then injured my leg badly and spent 9 weeks in a boot doing no exercise.
I ended up weighing 106kg by graduation. I hated myself at that stage. Completely hated myself, I’d refuse to look in mirrors and I’d never want to have photos taken. There’s a picture of me with a good friend of mine at our graduation ceremony and it’s a photo that I would be so proud to have if I looked different. That’s when I had to change. I found the motivation to do what I’d always wanted to do, I got advice and a plan and I worked hard. I lost 25kg and have maintained a weight of 81kg for the last few months. I’ve never felt happier or more confident.
There’s a lot of pressure on men to be muscular and athletic and it’s dangerous. Guys trying to get the physique of grown men from such a young age when they don’t know what they’re doing is just asking for trouble, but a positive body image is so important for your mental health. It’s so hard not to value yourself on how you look and how other people see you, but as soon as you’re happy with what you see you start to realise that you are your worst critic, the majority of people don’t care what you look like and the ones who do care aren’t worth your time.
“I don’t want to be a cookie cut from our societal “norms”. It’s funner being different.” – Gwen
I think body image is talked about so much and yet not enough. As a 21 year old woman, I can say I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my own skin, but it’s taken me a while to get to this point. When I was younger I used to compare myself to other, older girls, wishing I could look like them; but now that I’ve matured and have gained some experience in the Fashion industry, that thought is almost laughable. I’ve realised that having your own unique voice is so important.
I don’t want to be a cookie cut from our societal “norms”. It’s funner being different. And as soon as you focus on being your own authentic self, you realise your body is exactly how it’s supposed to be, and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about it, because why would they care? I’d much rather be judged on the work I produce and how I can contribute to a situation rather than my dress size. Of course there are still times that I feel insecure about my appearance; but I just remind myself that the kind of people who would judge me purely for how I look are the people I don’t want to be spending time with anyway!
Self-image and body confidence is ever-changing for me. Honestly, I still have bad days where all I can focus on are what I consider “flaws” such as stretch marks and lumps and bumps. For me overcoming self doubt has meant accepting my body for what it is, and that it is great as it is. I will never have a big chest but that is OK. I have cellulite but so do most people. I don’t think anyone is entirely happy with the body they have been given, however by accepting it and owning it will make you feel so much more confident.
“Another important lesson I have learnt in learning to love my body is to open up and talk about it – but to the right people.” – Yasmin
Body image, as with many other young women and men in our Western society had a pivotal role in shaping how I see and value myself in comparison to others around me. I distinctly remember being aware of the differences between myself and my peers- not only in the most visually obvious ways (being one of a few people of colour in a majority Caucasian school and surrounding area)- but also in the way that my body looked around the age of 10.
It was not until I started at sixth form at a new school that I really became aware of the difference in body shape in comparison to the seemingly hoards of very slim long-legged girls in my friendship group and the supermodels that I idolised. It was also at this time that my dissatisfaction with my body image began to affect my physical and psychological health. I began to exercise in order to lose weight, lusting after an 18.5 BMI, a thigh gap wide enough to drive a HVU through, and a protruding rib cage.
I would regularly restrict my calorie intake to figures far below what my body required for healthy functioning, feeling incredibly guilty if I ever went over, becoming a slave to numbers and obsessing over food. The hatred for how I looked and what I thought I wanted to look like ruled my life and made me very miserable. Having suffered with disordered eating since age 11, between the ages of 16 and 18 I would religiously purge my food. My unhealthy habits lead to horrid menstrual changes and hair loss. This is not to say that exercising for weight loss is unhealthy, but with age I have learnt to change the goal of my exercise habits; I still workout a lot, but with the intention of being physically and mentally strong and healthy.
Another important lesson I have learnt in learning to love my body is to open up and talk about it – but to the right people. I have had experiences of speaking to some friends in the past about how I felt which only served to fuel the negativity and encourage my unhealthy habits. Finding someone who is sympathetic, understanding and can provide a balanced and supportive viewpoint is so precious and helpful. However I would also stress that the process of learning to like, if not love yourself must be guided by you – you can’t rely on someone else to make you happy.
Coming to university I continued to exercise but have developed an appreciation for some aspects of my body, making less comparisons between myself and the skinny (predominantly Caucasian) women the media love to shove down our throats. I look different yes, but that’s not bad. I’ve learnt to appreciate my features- an ode to my heritage, delivering a sense of pride. Something which has really helped me feel this way has been following blogs and social media dedicated to applauding the diversity of beauty in women, especially those focusing on women of colour.
Improving my body image has involved me working to change the things that I can change like my health and well-being, and learning to appreciate myself whilst still being able to admire the beauty in others. Learning to loosen up a bit, not being so hard on myself, and working on other aspects of my character, appreciating what you cannot change have been stepping stones to the stage I’m now at.
I still have down days, I’m quite sure we all do. But I just remember “you’re a bad bitch”, I recall all the things that make me myself, an individual, unique and feel grateful for this. I do something that makes me feel good, like uplifting others, showing acts of kindness, which help me remember that there’s so much more to life than obsessing about how you look. If all else fails, fake it till you make it, it will truly make a difference!
“I think boys are allowed by society to be fat/skinny as long as they’re smart and/or funny but I noticed that young girls are at more pressure to have the full package.” – Pierre
In High School, beauty standards for respective genders are at an all time high and I was certainly comparing myself to popular boys whose skin were clear (I didn’t actually compare my body type, which I assume is more of a problem for girls). I think boys are allowed by society to be fat/skinny as long as they’re smart and/or funny but I noticed that young girls are at more pressure to have the full package. In my experience I’ve struggled with accepting my skin problems. My insecurities peak just after a shower (when my skin is all red) whilst I’m preparing for a social event I always try to make up for it by wearing something #HighFashion to distract but I’ve found that clothes help. Also, guys shouldn’t be afraid of concealer ?
From Michelle, a newlywed!
I’m 37 years old, 5’3″ tall, and have been a size 12 for as long as I can remember. Being slightly shorter means my size looks more wide than others, and I spent my teens, twenties and thirties wishing I was slimmer and more toned but not really doing much about it. I go to cheerleading practice once a week, run two or three times a week, and try to eat well, but the fact is I love food.
When I got engaged two years ago, I suddenly spotted lots of flaws I hadn’t really noticed before and I also wanted to be a slimmer bride, but for some reason my heart wasn’t really in it. I then made the momentous decision NOT to try and diet and lose any weight. I realised that if I did, I’d forever be looking at photos of myself looking different to how I’ve always been, and most likely never will look again, and that just felt silly!
I got married on Saturday in an awesome figure hugging dress, and my arms were soft and squishy, I looked pleasingly plump, but in the words of my new husband in front of the registrar, I looked “mega”. It took the biggest, most high pressure day of my life but I’m finally happy with the way I look. I just wish I could go back and tell my younger self how mega she is.
I’m a girl who has been brought up around people – women most importantly, as most of my family are women – who are very unhappy with their bodies but also aren’t affected by the media/what they do and don’t eat etc. In my younger years, in high school, this led me to hate my body, even though I have never been overweight, I was always just surrounded by skinnier girls than me and at 15/16 who doesn’t want to be the skinny friend? This was made even worse by going to a girls school and having no male friends until I was 17.
Going to university changed this a lot. I made friends for life who did not care one bit about what we all looked like, and this made a massive difference to me – not once did I feel like the “fat friend” even though I probably was the most curvy.
Since school, I have matured massively and at the moment I am the happiest I have ever been in my body! I have just got a tattoo on my ribs which I never would have DREAMED of doing this time last year – I would’ve been too embarrassed to show anyone! Things people say can have a huge effect on anyone I think – I’ve just been lucky enough not to have anything too bad said about my body (to my face anyway!?). I do see how the media affects people and it honestly breaks my heart. I love my body and everybody should learn to love theirs (as long as this might take) – it’s the only one you’ve got!
“The biggest positive change I made to help my body image was to change my relationship with food. This happened by accident, when I went vegan.” – Lydia
From Lydia @lydiaie & @lydiapaynter
I guess, when I look back, I’ve had body image issues for years. When I was younger I hated being short. Then, when I was 12 and became seriously ill, my (already fairly low) weight dropped dramatically. I used to cry looking at myself in the mirror, because I could see every single rib, without needing to breathe in.
After that came a few good years, when I finally started to get better, to develop properly, and I felt pretty good.
Then when I was 16, I stumbled across a weight loss site. At first it seemed pretty harmless. I exercised a bit more, and didn’t no longer ate a whole bar of chocolate it one sitting.. What had started to make me think about my weight was less how I looked, and more that, aged 16, I weighed twice what my poorly, feeble, 12-year-old self weighed. Retrospectively, I didn’t need to lose weight, I looked fine.
Fast forward to aged 18, and I was anorexic. My BMI classified my underweight, my periods had stopped, I was constantly cold and tired. I finally had the body I had craved for two years, but still I wanted to weigh less, I still thought my thighs could be skinnier, I still found something not to like.
My first year of university saw me gain back the weight at a rather rapid pace, and with it, my body image plummeted. Everyone back home was telling me how healthy and well I looked, but I felt fat, greedy and out of control.
Now? Nearly four years on, a degree, and a trip around the world. I think I’m finally getting back to having the body image I had when I was younger. I still have bad days; days when I hate my thighs or my stomach, but a lot of the time, I have learnt not to think about it at all. I have learnt to be grateful for my health, grateful for food, and grateful that my body image issues don’t seem to have caused any long term damage to my physical health.
The biggest positive change I made to help my body image was to change my relationship with food. This happened by accident, when I went vegan, and stopped looking at food in terms of the number of calories it contained (there was a point when I knew the calorific value of almost any food put in front of me) and more as a source of fuel to enable me to live my best life.
As my relationship with food improved, so did my body image. I learnt that to be beautiful doesn’t mean you have to be skinny. My thicker, stronger thighs aren’t something to be ashamed of, but instead are a sign of recovery and happiness, and are perfectly ready for the beach, or for a night out, or for whatever I choose to do or wear, and always will be, no matter what size they are.
P.S. I also learnt to accept and absorb compliments – especially from unknown girls in club toilets <3
Thanks so much for reading this post guys! I know it was long, but there is so much to talk about with regards to body image. Feel free to leave a comment or your story on body image. I hope to see you again soon!
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