You’d think by now I’d be happy, or at least content, with my body. Christ it was only a few years back and I was singing from the roof tops about how body confident I was and how I loved every bit of me and celebrating the things my body is capable of rather than focusing on what it looks like. But I’m not sure the body image battle ever stops for us women.
For the most part I would say I’m fine with how I look. I tend to not give it too much thought and I definitely care way less than I did when I was younger. However, those deep-rooted insecurities remain. They lie dormant in me, ever threatening to poke their spiteful little heads up to taunt me when I’m feeling particularly vulnerable. And I’m wondering whether this is the same for all women? Despite what any of these body confident influencers say on their social media accounts, are we ever truly 100% happy with our bodies all of the time?
The Changing Relationship With My Body
The way I view my body has definitely changed. When I was younger, we’re talking late teens/early 20s sort of time, so before social media was much of a thing, I would compare myself to the people I was surrounded by; friends, people I worked with, random strangers. I worked hard (ish), partied harder, ate crap, and drank a lot. But back in those days I could get away with doing all of that, my body could handle it, youth was on my side.
Then, ahead of my wedding, like most brides to be, I decided I needed to get in shape. I signed up to WeightWatchers, joined a gym, got some fitness kit to use at home and project wedding body took a hold of me. Of course I lost weight, I was exercising hard and eating lots of zero-point foods so that I could save my points for wine and WeightWatchers puddings – hey this girl’s got a sweet tooth! And I looked great on my wedding day; my wedding dress fitted like a glove, and I felt absolutely beautiful.
Fast forward a couple of years and I had my kids. I put on about 3 stone with each of my pregnancies. Let’s just say I enjoyed the excuse to eat what I want. But after having both kids the weight seemed to come off almost as quickly as it had gone on. I had learned a lot of ‘tricks’ whilst on WeightWatchers and with there only being 20 months between them, meaning at one point I had two under 2’s, both in nappies, it’s no wonder the weight fell off.
The me post child number 2, was walking for miles every day, pushing a pram with a baby and a toddler on a buggy board. I was breastfeeding, not eating enough, and exercising excessively to get rid of any remaining pregnancy weight. Which when I look back now, I realise there was zero weight to lose. I was literally the smallest I have ever been in my adult life. I thought I looked incredible. I got down to a size 8, had the whole lollipop head thing going on, a washboard stomach, and legs that fitted into skinny jeans without looking like strangled sausages. But I felt terrible. It was hard work sticking to my diet. It was exhausting keeping that level of exercise up. And my god, committing to straightening my hair every morning when I also had to deal with a toddler and a baby was quite frankly nuts. I had become obsessed with how I looked, wanting to fit the mould of what a perfect yummy mummy should look like. To create this impression to the world that if I looked good then everything in my life was good too. Don’t get me wrong, there was nothing wrong with my life, I was happy, but interestingly I still wasn’t happy with my body.
And that’s the thing isn’t it. No matter what size we are, does the body image battle ever stop? Do we ever find peace with our body? Or are we conditioned to constantly be on the look out for flaws?
I have fluctuated between a size 16 and a size 8, and I can honestly hand on heart say that I don’t think I was 100% happy being any of those sizes. There was always something that bothered me. And there still is. It just bothers me less now. Partly because I have far less fucks to give these days, and partly because I have some degree of acceptance that this is who I am and there’s not much I can do to change it. Other than going on a diet (after years of dieting when I was younger I have sworn never ever to do dieting again), exercising relentlessly (these days I exercise for my mental health and because I enjoy it, and have vowed to myself that I will never use exercise for weight loss – there’s a joy stealer right there!), or surgery (I would much rather spend my money on holidays and house renovations). So basically, this is the body I have, I just need to accept it, but also accept that some days I may feel more self-conscious about it than others. And that’s OK.
Bodies Change And That’s OK
So, how do I feel about myself today? Well, I no longer compare my body to others. And I’m not someone who scrolls through Instagram wishing I ‘had a body like hers’. But what I have noticed is that I now compare myself to myself. I know. I’ve completely ramped my comparison complex up a notch!
I’ve not long been back from a family holiday in Spain, and as we all do when we get back from holiday, I sat down to look through the photos on my phone. What I found myself doing is zooming in to scrutinise what I look like in agonisingly close up detail. This critical inspection is something I’ve realised I do quite a lot these days, especially on those vulnerable days I was talking about earlier. On the ‘off’ days, I can stand in front of the mirror and mentally Photoshop myself. Wondering what I would look like if I could just rub away some of the fat from my thighs, or just grab a handful of belly and chuck it off somewhere. And I was doing the same with this photo, but also looking at it and comparing it to how I used to look… about 13 years ago! I mean of course I look different. There’s no way I can compete. I’m older, perimenopause has thrown me right under the bus, I’ve got way more frown and laughter lines (hey, these teenagers are a proper rollercoaster). Life is different these days. The reality is I don’t actually want to be that person anymore. And yet still I compare. Still, I mourn the washboard stomach, the nipped in waist, the slimmer legs, the more toned upper body, the perkier tits.
This horrible self-loathing criticism continues until I call myself out and have a very stern word with myself.
Because the fact of the matter is that when I was on holiday having that photo taken, sitting on the edge of the pool, chatting and having fun with my kids and husband, I wasn’t thinking of my body in the slightest. I certainly wasn’t thinking about what I looked like. I wasn’t hiding, or breathing in, or self-consciously trying to hide bits of me. I was chilled out, enjoying the time with them, basking in the sunshine, I was in the moment, I was happy.
I think it’s important that when looking back at our holiday photos we remember it for what it was. A captured moment of joy, an image to remind us how we felt at that moment. Not all this body checking shiz, all the zooming in, the scanning for stomach rolls and wrinkles.
One thing I make sure to never do is vocalise this self-criticism. I would never for instance say any of this to my daughter. My insecurities are most definitely not her insecurities. Plus, I think also that it’s important not to give these insecurities a voice. To not give them any more power over me than they already have. Acceptance comes from acknowledging the bad habits – the self-critiquing and body scanning – and then calling them out. Stopping yourself from doing it and reminding yourself that none of this matters. How I look in a bikini or swimsuit, doesn’t matter. What matters is me enjoying my holiday, getting in the pool, sunbathing, running around playing games with the kids, having a laugh.
And so, we come back round to the question – does the body image battle ever stop? Honestly? No, I don’t think it does. I think we all have our niggles. The things that bother us. The insecurities. But I also think that gradually we learn to overlook them. Not all of the time, but most of the time. I’d love to be able to say that my thighs don’t bother me, but they do. And what I’d give for a less wobbly tummy and slightly bigger, perkier boobs. But at the same time, I’m kind of OK with them. This is me, this is who I am, this is what I look like, and there is some degree of self-acceptance there. It’s just every now and again I let it get to me. And actually, that’s OK.
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