***Trigger warning*** – this post discusses body confidence, body image, eating disorders and general discussion about my lack of confidence. If you need help with these issues then rather than read the whole post, please visit the bottom of the page, where you’ll find information and useful links where you can engage with excellent help and support.
I don’t talk much about body confidence. It’s a popular subject in the media and I probably SHOULD be talking about it too but I don’t feel…confident…revealing the lack of confidence in myself.
I need to change that.
Why? Mentally this is one of the most taxing subjects I deal with. On a day when grief, social anxiety and family stress isn’t bothering me, my reflection is always waiting. And it batters and bruises me every time. Again, why?
Well, in the interest of honesty, it’s never good enough, or even just satisfactory. I’ve never been body-satisfied, let alone confident, and it seems most of the world is with me (yes, men too), so what can we do?
My experiences in every size
It’s wrong and an unhealthy way to live, but my beliefs FOR MYSELF have always been in the ‘size matters’ category. When it comes to how I feel about other people I love seeing health and confidence in any shape – I just can’t find that sweet spot personally. Actually, in total contradiction to my personalised size beliefs, I’ve never been satisfied at any size. In the last 12 years I’ve been every size from a U.K. 6 to a U.K. 30, my weight has been up and down with a gap of 15 stone, and I was never happy. Only 8 or 9 years ago I could look in the mirror and see bones sticking out, ribs as clear as the keys of a piano and knees that would make an audible ‘knock’ when I was cold. A few years later I couldn’t fit in the bath, my only real friend turned out to be food and my blubber didn’t suit anything – baggy loungewear and tracksuits weren’t my ‘safe zone’, they were my ‘only zone’.
Both of these examples are clearly unhealthy, but I didn’t understand that at the time.
My body has taken the brunt force of my depression and personal anxiety, leaving me choosing to excessively eat or barely eat for over a decade, and believing I would find happiness in one of them. I haven’t.
Even now, sat firmly in the middle size wise (U.K. 16-18 if it’s important) I can barely look at myself. When I do venture to the mirror, I hate what’s facing me. Photos only include my face because I loathe what’s left out. I haven’t seen myself naked for 12, maybe 13 years. I’m too afraid of what awaits me, after the huge weight changes, then bearing the force of multiple pregnancies and eventually having our daughter, my body is even more broken, patchwork-esque and unfashionable than ever.
Part of my social anxiety comes from shame that I use walking and mobility aids. Although I don’t really have a social group or friendships now, I dread the idea of being confronted by someone who knew the ‘old Steph’. Part of my social anxiety comes from fear of people seeing me shake, stutter, twitching and walking slowly now. Another block of the shame is for my partner and daughter, who I don’t want to feel embarrassed to be seen with me (he tells me I shouldn’t think that way, but I do).
The final cake slice of shame is my weight and the clothes I wear to cover it. Can they see I’m fat? That I’m ugly? That my clothes are loose to cover it? That my face doesn’t fit my body? That I’m a patchwork quilt of arms and legs sewn together with threads created by a horrible relationship with food and my own reflection?
Is it obvious?
My relationship with my figure has never been good. In fact, even as a picture of health 12 years ago, running daily to keep fit, winning races, being part of a ‘healthy social circle’, privately I was actually unhealthy and living in a way that couldn’t be sustained. Being a size 6 (or size zero in the USA) was hard to maintain. I’d count calories with such scrutiny that it took over every waking thought. When I met my partner he helped me out of it, but when we started losing babies shortly after, I quickly went the other way. Within 5 years I was a size 30 and hated myself for every reason you can imagine.
I understand well how hard it is to just ‘love yourself’, but I adore the idea.
I’m sure many of you feel the same.
In the past, when my size, health and weight felt like public property, I had open conversations with women and men about their own battles with the same.
I knew men who worked hard every day both at a desk and the gym, but still found themselves a slave to the scales. Even those who rarely enjoyed a stereo-typical night out, sacrificing a social life to chase the ‘ripped’ dream, were never happy. They were calorie counting with scrutiny too, and we had a natural affinity in the difficulty it caused. They took hours choosing outfits for work, finding problems in the t-shirt that may have seemed tight around arms, or a fitted shirt that might gape a little when sitting down.
We all knew these were neurosis we invented ourselves, and the people we were afraid of judging us never even noticed these self-made issues. We were thin if anything, but for me personally, I couldn’t see it. It’s the same even today. When that gremlin is in your head it can be hard to silence. Really hard.
Females in my social circles were living the same life. Worrying about the working lunch they had at the pub and whether the chicken Caesar Salad was the healthiest choice. Then they’d throw away clothes that their bestie said were fitting perfectly because they saw a smidge of a belly in it, and couldn’t bear feeling fat.
How do I change it?
This is even tougher to write than the first section, because in the 29ish years I’ve been worried about my appearance, I haven’t found a lasting answer. Yes, I can diet again, I can start over on Monday, drink water and eat clean. Even though I can’t workout, I know I can make changes to be healthier. But why am I doing that? I’ve used the word ‘healthier’, but in my troubled mind that’s not what I really care about. It’s about being smaller, thinner, slight. I want to get to the next size down, then another, telling myself at every milestone that the next one will be satisfactory and I can stop there. But I won’t. My obsession with ‘looking better’ will grow until I look and feel like an even bigger shit.
A huge shit.
So, one of the first initiatives I took following my fucking-41st-birthday was to read some body positive blogs and books, including inspiring plus-sizers who are flying the flag for living beautifully and unapologetically. Stephanie Yeboah is a great example, but there are many others out there. I’ve been reading ‘Happy Fat’ by Sofie Hagen and ‘Body Positive Power’ by Megan Jayne Crabbe. All have been really helpful and forced me to consider my body and the incredible, positive things it’s achieved.
My second task is to post more pictures of my face sans-make-up. This might sound like a small thing to do, but my public face is always fully covered with an inch of foundation, powder and concealer, and that’s something I do to reduce my anxiety. Again, I have to ask myself why? I’ve never had bad feedback on my freckles, rosacea or small nose, and since my weight has yoyo-ed it’s probably taken the least hits. Why not bare all from time to time?
My third task is to be mindfully healthier. I can’t cut out all the bad stuff, and if I set myself that challenge I will, without question, fail miserabely. But I can cut out the fizzy drinks and cut DOWN the naughty treats. This is a difficult decision for me – i no longer drink alcohol, I gave up cigarettes 9 years ago and I don’t have an active social life filling my existence with friendly fun. Eating is my only vice, and frankly I FUCKING LOVE IT.
So, I’ll be cutting down, cleaning up and feeling better.
The final task will be completed privately, but I’m happy to share it with you. I need to see myself naked. This is a HUGE objective to set myself, and just writing these words now is making me fearful of what will be revealed, but I SHOULD know myself. I SHOULD see the curves and the flaps and the stretches and the scars, because they gave me a kid, and they’ve sustained me for 41 years. I should be able to celebrate that it’s put up with so much, so I will look at it…
I’m doing all of these things purely for life-longevity. I read recently that those diagnosed with some of my mental and physical conditions can have years taken off of their life expectancy. All added up, my life should have been cut short a while ago. I’m lucky to have this chance to improve, and no matter how hard it is or how long it takes, I would very much like to try.
Imagine dedicating your time to writing about the grief you felt when your mother died, only to die yourself and leave your own child in the same position but younger. The hypocracy is insane.
This post centers around weight loss and body image, and everything I’ve mentioned about my personal journey is both physically and mentally unhealthy.
If you are experiencing similar problems, finding yourself struggling with your weight, need help with eating healthily or want advice about eating disorders, then there are lots of confidential expert places to go.
As always, my first suggestion is your GP, who should be able to engage you with services specific to your needs.
I’m addition there are many charities and organisations that offer superb help, including…
BEAT – Beat was founded in 1989 and is the UK’s leading eating disorder charity. Their website offers webchat, email, peer support groups and a telephone helpline where you can speak to an expert about your struggles. They also have a dedicated section for concerned people looking to support a friend or family member.
Be Real Campaign – This campaign was setup by YMCA and Dove to help anyone develop better body confidence and put health above appearance. They have a wide range of advice and support on their website with a page dedicated to common questions and advice regarding body confidence.
Talk ED – Talk ED is the new name for the U.K. charity dedicated to Anorexia and Bulemia care. They are a national charity aimed at supporting anyone with an eating disorder or eating distress.
Childline – Supporting a child or young adult with their body confidence and eating healthily can be challenging. The charity Childline is available for children and their carers and has advice and information on every stumbling block our kids come across, including body image and healthy diet. They have a dedicated page called ‘My Body‘ that covers every aspect of their changing figures and how to manage their weight, activity and diet healthily.
I really hope someone finds this painfully honest post helpful. It’s been cathartic to write all this down, so maybe you’d find it helpful to start by doing the same and using some of the links above to find support that will help you.
Dedicating so much of my time to entering #dtiys challenges on Instagram has been a joy, and it’s given me lots of illustrations to use for posts like this one.
Today I’ve chosen a happy bee 🐝 living his best life on holiday with his shades on and a cocktail ready.
One day, I hope I’ll be able to enjoy a day like this one without the constant internal scrutiny about my appearance and fear of outside opinions.
I really believe if we support each other and engage with the right help, we can find the same happiness and freedom as this bee!
Thank you for reading 💜