Urgh, I’m pretty scared to publish this post in all honesty because I know most people assume I’m basically the most confident person in the room/ world-I’m absolutely not-and if you are in any doubt, I’m spelling it out here.
With a history of disordered eating as a late teen and in my early 20s followed by an adult life of yo-yoing weight mostly thanks to PCOS (which makes losing weight twice as hard than someone without the condition) when it comes to my body and weight: losing and maintaining it, I’ve struggled both mentally and physically over the years to the point I can’t tell you what my body looks like most days.
I feel drained just writing that.
It’s mild body dysmorphia, and chatting to close friends recently shocked me as so many of us feel this way about the way we look. We search our mirror image and walk away none the wiser, our perceptions blurred, our confidence cracked.
Undoubtedly, the confusion we face is borne from and exacerbated by societal and media pressures and the limiting beauty standards we’ve been drip-fed since childhood. This along with a public-facing job and cameras which distort (more of that below) and a lack of consistency in some high street stores when it comes to sizing, it’s not surprising many of us are baffled by our bodies. All that shizz messes with your head (I vary from a UK 6 to a 12 depending on style, shape and brand. Go figure (literally and metaphorically).
But back to the cameras for a minute: an iPhone lens will slim the body while a TV lens can add up to 10 lbs. It’s one of the reasons you might be surprised that celebs you meet IRL appear smaller than when you see you them on the big screen. And don’t get me started on wide screen, either.
Add those complexities to someone already lacking in body confidence and it’s not the easiest way to live most days. Not every day of course. I oscillate so there are times I feel happy in my skin and wild in my style choices but my default mode for the most part is a negative body image and I hate to admit that or the stifling pressure I put myself under.
I’m endlessly deleting images in my phone or Canon with many a sweet moment lost forever thanks to crippling self-doubt.
It wasn’t always this way…wait it was.
…Many of us lose confidence during and after pregnancy. I frankly couldn’t recognise myself after my first son Oliver post-emergency c-section but the wrestling of my body started way back in the ‘puppy fat’ days they were affectionately referred to by family and friends around the age of 10.
I went from a slim child to a chubby one overnight then lost weight around the age of 13 as I shot up in height, only to put it back on when I left for London and university, and eating whatever I liked (party rings on repeat). Adulthood has been a mixed bag as I’ve veered between sizes, not hugely, but enough to never quite trust my body, in part thanks to PCOS and finding myself at the receiving end of well-intention-ed comments of, ‘You’ve lost weight’ sometimes from week to week.
When it came to babies, it took around a year to lose my baby weight both times around, with it feeling easier with my second son, Alexander, and while I absolutely champion body neutrality and every body shape (read about my thoughts here) I also want to be completely honest with you about how I feel most days, in case anyone can relate.
I feel guilty for not loving my body completely and unconditionally but this is where I am right now and speaking up is important to me, and hopefully marks the start of healing a little more and being kinder to myself.
I’m a UK size 10 (US 6) so realise I’m not deemed big or overweight medically but again body image and size is both relative and personal. I have problem areas I hate like the tops of my arms (my arms are my biggest worry when it comes to body image and of course my tummy never recovered after two c-sections. I still look in the early stages of pregnancy and probably always will. I don’t mind my stretch marks but I’d ideally like to not have a pouch where my kids used to live, 6 years on. My calves and waist are slim and I’m a typical hourglass which I’m happy with but I zoom in (literally) to areas I dislike most days, despite others telling me they can’t see what I see.
Yo-yo-ing over the years has seen me go between a UK 8 to a 14 and after my thyroid operation several months ago and becoming vegan I naturally lost weight too. I’ve more or less plateaued over this last year but PMT means added bloat due to water retention and going up a dress size one week to the next which unsurprisingly messes with my head. It all adds an extra layer of stress to an already stressful life.
When I practise intermittent fasting with a wholesome vegan diet, I feel healthier and happier in every way but I tend to veer between being strict about the healthy food I consume to throwing it all out of the window and scoffing vegan pizza three nights in a row. I’m an all or nothing kind of girl.
I’m not suffering from an eating disorder, I just need greater balance and more self-love.
I’m more than my body, of course I am, and so are you, but what matters above and beyond numbers on scales and inches on a tape measure is body confidence, something I’ve realised lately eludes me whatever my size, so I’m taking a stand and I’m working on it.
I’m unlearning the negative voices that play on a loop in my head, and I’m focusing on the bits of me I like most, while accepting those I don’t and placing my attention on other, far more important things, taking the onus off my body. I’m swerving commentary and conversations around my figure and whether I’ve lost weight or put it on, both in real life and offline. I’m simply being proactive about changing the topic.
I’m my own personal brand so I’m endlessly documenting myself on my blog and my social channels so I must start accepting I won’t love all of the footage and photos of myself, and that’s OK.
While I enjoy photo shoots, I often dread seeing the images of myself at the end.
Equally, while I find being on TV incredibly fun, and ditto to digital campaigns, enjoying the buzz they provide, I don’t love watching myself back, ever, and rarely do I unless I have to (i.e choosing clips for my show-reel, reviewing if a client wants an edit).
Many actors, presenters and even models I know, tell me that they feel the same.
They relish the activity and pushing themselves out their comfort zone in their creative endeavours but they dislike the reflection/watching themselves back bit afterwards.
I’ve realised I’m reluctantly getting used to the process as I reach 9 years since I started Honestmum.com and I’ve come to learn that while my first reaction on seeing myself might well be negative, when I return after a lapse in time, I’m usually far kinder and happier about what I see.
When I asked Dr Chloe Paidoussis Mitchell, a chartered psychologist for advice, this is what she said,
‘Psychological research has shown that the ‘dictatorship of bodily perfection’ – the unrealistically thin and perfect body and face images repeatedly being projected to us on all media platforms– has triggered thousands of women and men to develop body image issues and in some very distressing cases causing them to reject their own appearance as revolting, disgusting and un-likeable. To overcome body image issues we need to stop looking for external validation of ourselves through our physical appearance and acknowledge that our looks may give us the, ‘illusion of social currency’ but they do not give us personal inner fulfilment, growth or happiness.
Contentment, fulfilment and self acceptance come from accepting who we are, how we are and what we are. We can’t feel happy if on one level we reject our own bodies. If you are coping with a body image issue notice what of yourself you reject and reflect on how much you are turning parts of your body into an object. Are you rejecting your legs, your breasts, your face? You are not an object. You are a human being; like everyone else. Nobody is perfect and physical appearance is only one aspect of your multi-dimensional existence.
To overcome Body Image issues, you need to start to recognise that you are valid for who you are not for what your body looks like. Love and care come from self acceptance of ourselves and from trusting that others accept all of us (including our imperfect bodies) unconditionally. Ultimately, you have a choice. You can choose to understand why you have become so hard with your body and start to be content with how you look.
With such an attitude, you will bolster your Mental Health and send your subconscious that vital message – that you matter. Not because you are an ideal, perfect object with external validation but because you accept your inner world and your own self worth non-judgmentally and lovingly’….
It’s a funny thing putting yourself and your art out into the world. It’s vulnerable, revealing and pressurised too but it’s the world I’m in and the fulfilment of actually DOING the work, for the love of it, and with the intention of helping others, overrides that fear, self-doubt and negative body image, so I plough on, even when times are hard.
I’m resolute that I won’t let worry win. I won’t let fear stop me from going on TV or appearing in magazines or publishing fashion shoots.
I won’t hide, even if it hurts not to. My only hope is that damning voice in my head soon becomes a whisper, so quiet, that one day I’ll wake up and find that it’s gone.