Disclaimer: I wrote these blogs a long time ago! I'm leaving them up as I don't want to delete my journey and I think showing growth is important. But it means that some of my views, and some language I use, is now different. Please be mindful of this, and that the content might be triggering, if you choose to read on.
I love seeing so many happy, smiling plus size Instagrammers. Really I do. I need my regular body positivity reminders, but sometimes “loving” my body just feels like too much of a big ask. I mean, LOVE. That’s a strong word. Lots of emotion. I LOVE pizza, I LOVE chocolate buttons, and I love RuPaul’s Drag Race (the real genuine kind of love) but loving my body? I find it hard enough to say “it’s okay” on most days, or even “it’ll do”.
I feel like a massive hypocrite because I make body image and self-esteem YouTube videos. I totally support loving your body. We should all love our bodies. But, and I barely want to admit this, every video I make, I cringe as I watch it back. I obsess over how funny my mouth looks when I talk, how my face looks too fat, how I gesticulate too much and how everything wobbles.
But I think… No. I must not spend even a moment lingering on those thoughts. Then starts the battle in my head…
“I’ve got to be body positive. If all those amazing girls on Instagram can do it then I can too.”
“But I’m not them. I don’t even own a bikini.”
“You don’t have to. You just have to love your body.”
“Yeah, I’ll just do that.” *eyeroll*
“You can do it!”
“No, you’re fat and stupid!”
And so on…
When I was a kid I used to wear a T-shirt over my swimsuit when I was on holiday. Even taking that shirt off took years to build up to. I’m so happy for people who can take the leap into being bikini body positive so quickly, but for many of us it may take years to get to that point. We may never even get there, and that’s okay. We need to be kind to ourselves because body positivity should not have a hierarchy. It doesn’t make someone better at body positivity just because they’re wearing a bikini.
Body positivity is about questioning and changing your thoughts, not necessarily changing your body. Changing the negative thoughts about your body can help you feel confident in other aspects of your life. Feeling bad about my appearance made me want to hide from people. I wanted to shrink away until I didn’t exist anymore. I was shy and timid, scared of everyone and the world. Body positivity is a journey. We can’t all love our bodies right now and we all have a different path to take. The important part is knowing that we’re on that path, or at least near the path. You might take a few steps forward and then a few steps back. You might be right at the very start just looking at the path. It’s all okay. Wherever you are, it’s okay.
Because everybody’s journey is different, I can’t tell you what will work for you but I’ll share with you the main ways that helped me on my body positive path:
In my mid 20s I went to Australia. You can’t wear a t-shirt over a swimsuit in Australia – you’d look like a right dingo (I never heard a single Australian person say that, I just really wanted to use it). I needed a proper tan to prove I’d actually been away and not just hiding in my room at my parents’ house. I bought a cool tankini – a top and shorts – which I still felt uncomfortable in but I just kept wearing it until I started to get used to it. It was a big deal for me. It’s important to stop and appreciate how far we’ve come. For some people it wouldn’t be much, but for me that was a giant hurdle.
When I was younger it literally never crossed my mind why every woman I knew was on a diet yet every man wasn’t. It was just normal for me. I never remembered a time when I liked my body, it simply wasn’t allowed. Women had to be in constant dissatisfaction, always striving to change themselves, usually for the attention of men. From a very young age I knew I would have to make myself thin and beautiful if I expected to get anywhere in life. I had to lose weight if I wanted to find a man. My worth was judged on a scale held up by men.
Men have a whole different set of body images expectations on them. They’re expected to be muscly and manly, whereas women are expected to be slender and petite. More recently, women are allowed to be ‘curvy’ as long as the curves are in the right places. Arse and boobs = fine. Arms, stomach, face = oh hell no. As long as it looks sexy, that’s what matters. As long as you’re still deemed attractive by men.
For people who don’t want to conform to a gender, it’s even harder: trying to navigate both of these sets of gender expectations. The difficulty people have with trans and non-binary people only proves to demonstrate that gender imbalances still exist in our society – when people demand to know if someone is male or female, what they’re actually doing is figuring out how to treat them. If we truly treated people equally, it wouldn’t matter.
Following positive people on social media can really help. I love Instagrammers such as Body Posi Panda and plus size yogi Jessamyn Stanley. When social media first became popular I didn’t really know what to do so I just followed everyone and everything. Once I realised that I could tailor it to what I liked, I got rid of anything negative and filled my feed full of inspiring, positive stuff.
Get rid of anything that doesn’t make you feel good. The unfollow and block buttons are your friends.
I was bullied a lot as a child. The things we learn as kids can take a long time to unpick. Those nasty voices from the past can stay with you all of your life. Seeing a counsellor/therapist can help you process your past and help you gain a new perspective on your life. It’s not a quick fix but it can help get to the root of problem. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can also be a good option in terms of building self-esteem as it involves challenging and changing your thoughts and behaviour. It can help you feel a lot more self-assured and confident.
However, therapy can be expensive. Mental health services are underfunded and often have long waiting lists. Having worked for a counselling service for a long time, my advice would be – don’t leave it until crisis point to make the call. If you’re in the UK, go to your doctor as there may be CBT courses and counselling services available on the NHS. For a private counsellor you could look at the BACP for counsellors in your area.
Yoga, Meditation and Holistic Therapies
Meditation is hard. I’ve never been good at just sitting and meditating silently, so yoga is more my thing. It helps me to focus, feel more balanced and it helps regulate my emotions. It helps quieten down the monkey mind (that battle in my head of what I should be thinking vs what I am thinking). I’ve tried all sorts of holistic therapies to help with stomach problems and anxiety issues. There are lots of different therapies out there, many of which can help with confidence and self-esteem. EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) was particularly helpful for me. It involves tapping on different meridian (energy) points in your body which can help clear emotional blockages.
A Creative Outlet
Writing is my outlet. It can be a great form of therapy as it’s a way to process emotions. It may involve writing in a journal or writing fiction. Writing fictional characters can sometimes be very helpful to process the way you’re feeling, even without knowing it. Creativity can be a wonderful channel, whether it’s writing, art or music. Find your creative outlet.
I want to thank all those beautiful people on social media for showing off their diverse bodies of all shapes and sizes, colours and abilities. You’re an inspiration. I hope to help bridge the gap so the jump is not so big for people who want to join you guys in bikinis. For everyone else, it doesn’t matter where you are on your path. Just keep reading, learning and questioning. Learning about yourself is the best way to start accepting yourself. Question everything you’ve ever learnt. Know that you don’t have to do it alone – when you’re having a bad day, reach out for help. Trust your path and know that there are always other people there with you. We’ll get there together.
If you're feeling down, reach out and speak to someone now:
Samaritans: 116 123
Mind info line: 0300 123 3393
NHS Moodzone - self-esteem info
For UK counsellor listings - BACP
My most favourite Ted Talk ever:
"To this day"...for the bullied and the beautiful (by Shane Koyczan)