Do you love your body? I wonder how many people would answer yes to that question. Most of us have bits we like, bits we don’t like, bits we hate. Body image is such a multi-layered issue and we have so many elements tied into it – confidence, insecurities, stuff that goes right back to our teenage years and childhood, conversations over coffee with friends, images we see in the media, awful moments in shop changing rooms when that zip just won’t do up.
For me, I knew from a young age that slim was the ideal. I can’t quite remember how I knew that, but it was probably a combination of seeing beautifully proportioned women and girls in adverts and on my favourite TV shows (Dynasty and Saved By The Bell, obvs) and seeing my mum, and all my friends’ mums, on various diets for the entirety of the 80s.
I remember comparing thighs with my friends, when I was around eight years old. “Mine are so fat,” I wailed. I don’t even think I meant it, I just said it because my friends were saying the same. But somehow I went from being an eight-year-old who was fine with her body, even if she did pretend otherwise, to being a teenager who felt chubby in her size 14 clothes and covered up in loose fitting t-shirts and baggy jeans.
Fast-forward to my 20s and I spent the best part of ten years on a diet and forcing myself to go to exercise classes. I genuinely thought that happiness could be found on a size 12 hanger in Topshop. For a while, I managed it, but not without months of depriving myself from eating the things I loved, going to bed feeling hungry, drinking pints of water to fill myself up, going to endless Weight Watchers weigh-ins (is there anything more depressing in life than paying to queue up and stand on some scales with some strangers?) only to feel gutted that I’d put on half a pound, despite only having salad for lunch ALL WEEK.
It’s only in my 30s that I’ve had a bit of a “Stuff it!” attitude towards my body. But between you and me, I still don’t love my body. It’s so easy to scream “LOVE YOUR BODY!” and talk about accepting your lumps and bumps, but how easy is it to actually do it?
It’s so ingrained in most of us to look in the mirror and be critical about what we see. We’ve all heard that little voice in our heads, haven’t we? The one that points out your flaws, gently criticising your belly or mocking your boobs. It’s not surprising, given the fact we grew up in the 80s and 90s, when fast food and extreme diets were all the rage. But I think another major factor behind the way we view our bodies is how we’re represented, as women, in the media and on social media.
As a size 16 woman, I don’t see people who look like me in magazines or in adverts. I see gorgeously slim models wearing outfits that look amazing, and I’m left wondering whether it would look as good on someone with a flabby belly that’s never quite recovered from pregnancy. But it’s not just my body shape that’s under represented by the media – there are loads of us who feel we don’t measure up because we’re bombarded by images of ‘perfection’ by fashion editors and retailers.
But that’s where bloggers come in, right? The whole beauty of blogging is that we get to see ‘real’ people doing stuff – whether that’s cooking food or talking about beauty routines or showing off outfits – and we’re not restricted to what the mainstream media want to show us.
Except lots of people in the blogging world – myself included – have fallen into this trap of taking photos from a flattering angle, whacking on a few filters to make ourselves look better and presenting a fairly unrealistic version of ourselves to the world. So last week, spurred on by some Instagram posts from Clemmie Hooper and Natalie Lee, I decided to take some photos of myself in a swimming costume – no flattering angle, no slimming filter, just me in my swimming costume (and the six-year-old in her matching Next cozzie too).
Because if I’m frustrated by the lack of people who look like me showing what their bodies actually look like, then why don’t I do something about it?
The response to the Instagram post was huge with hundreds of comments from women who worry about how their body looks – in summer outfits or swimwear – and felt encouraged by my photos.
“I’m struggling a lot with the thought of swimwear on my holiday and this has inspired me to think sod it, my mum tum is what it is!”
“The anxiety I have getting into my swimmers this Friday when I go away on a girls weekend is too much. GO YOU.”
“Thank you for posting this. You look fab and so great to know I’m not alone.”
“Body positive!! I talk about this so much and love how you do too! Lets hope that the next generation are more self compassionate and that we can teach them to love themselves for who they are and not whether they are a size 10! You are an inspiration!!”
“You look great, and also so happy. I am definitely guilty of only posting pictures from flattering angles and disregarding the many photos that don’t fit that bill.”
“I’m same size as you and although I’ve vowed every single January to not have a wobbly tummy/thighs/arse by holiday season it hasn’t happened yet. The pressure to not ‘wobble’ is on us constantly. This is such a great picture and I have to say you have great legs! Wobbly or not! Here’s to the wobblers.”
“You look flipping amazing! I am absolutely LOVING all these posts about body image post baby. After my first I felt so much pressure to slim down despite my body just not being able too (I’m naturally curvy) I even tried to starve myself whilst looking after a newborn baby… now I’m pregnant second time round I want to cut myself some slack and embrace…. thank you for this xxx”
“We need to inspire our daughters to look and love themselves for what they are and not for what they haven’t got ! Beauty must be about what’s inside us as well as what we see on the outside! Like you I am a curvy size 14/16 and have 2 young daughters. They see all of me!”
“As someone who was anorexic in my teens and is now a size 16 with endless dreams/pressure to be a size 10 I’m honestly delighted by your posts – thanks so much for being honest and making me feel ‘normal’ and more than that.”
I also had loads of private messages and was tagged in lots of photos and posts from women who had seen my post and decided “Sod it”, putting on a dress/skirt/pair of shorts/bikini that they’d previously felt too uncomfortable to wear. Brilliantly, more women shared photos of their bods (big up to Giovanna Fletcher, Clemmie Telford, Laura Rutherford, Katrina West, Amber Allen, Sammi-Jo, and also to Sarah Turner who posted this photo of her cellulite!)
It’s clear that many of us – probably 99% of us – suffer from body confidence issues. And it’s not just a fat/thin thing – I know women who are a size 8 but still have real problems with their appearance. It’s something I’m determined not to pass down to my daughter and her generation – I want her to be proud of her body and happy to wear the clothes she wants to wear, not the clothes that cover up her lumps and bumps.
But as someone who looks in the mirror and doesn’t love what she sees, how do I ensure that I don’t pass on my insecurities to my six-year-old? I think it’s all about faking it. Pretending I love my body – both in conversations with my daughter and to myself when I look in the mirror. “You’ve got a big tummy!” she said to me a few weeks ago. “YEP!” I replied with a smile, wobbling my stomach with my hand. “It’s great, isn’t it? People have different shapes and sizes of bodies!” I also never talk about diets or losing weight in front of her (not that I have tried to do either of those things in a long time) but instead talk about health and balance.
If we all fake some body confidence, look in the mirror and tell ourselves that we like what we see, that it’s OK to have wobbly bits, knobbly bits, big bits, small bits, that we don’t have to look like those ‘perfect’ images we see all over the media and social media, and tell our kids this too, then maybe we’ll actually start to believe it ourselves.