I don’t want to shy away from topics that are hard to talk about on here. In my experience it is the things that are most important that are the hardest to talk about. I want to be as honest as possible here because I think it is important for other people who might be feeling the same as I do or who have been through similar things that I have, to know that you are not alone. God knows, I definitely need to hear that some days.
So, straight into it…
I have a body image/self care problem.
It started when I was about thirteen which is pretty normal I suppose. I fell in with a bad crowd who looked down on me and used to find ways to belittle me. I remember two of them confessing to writing nasty things on the bathroom walls about me, one of the things was that the skin of my eyelids was relatively translucent. I had “veiny eyelids” apparently and I “walked like a duck”. If you had access to the grand tapestry of bathroom graffiti, you’d see that I got off pretty lightly but it’s funny how those comments stay with you. Even now, when applying make up I notice those barely there veins and wonder what it was that made them a point of ridicule all those years ago. I remember dying my hair blonde that year and putting jeans in my school bag to change into when I got to school. I experimented with make-up and an attitude which can only be described as hostile to all of those in authority. In truth, I was completely and utterly immature and I cringe now at my attempts to fit in with these horrible girls but looking back, I think it was the first time in my life that I had been weighed and measured by others and found wanting. For the first time in my life I looked in the mirror and saw something that needed to be fixed.
The following year I moved schools – a wise decision on the part of my mother. Finally I was amongst friends. My body image issues didn’t go away. They stayed with me through my high school years and I wasn’t alone in them. Most of the girls I went to school with were petrified of weight gain and prayed regularly to the gods of clear skin to ward off blemishes. It was during these years that I began to feel big and awkward next to my more petite friends. I was tall and while I was in a healthy weight range, I lacked their delicate frames and tiny wrists and ankles, the very definition of feminine beauty. It’s still hard for me to admit that I am just not made that way, that there is nothing that I could feasibly do to achieve their natural figure. I think that is a revelation that most people come to, the hard part after that is learning to love the body we’ve got.
Fast forward to the end of High School, I went through a time of upheaval and turmoil in my life and ended up at 18, unemployed and severely depressed which led to weight gain and a whole host of negativity. For the next few years, even though other areas of my life improved with employment, travel and study, the weight never seemed to shift. My three younger sisters grew up beside me and positively blossomed. When I looked at them, my perception was so skewed that I thought they had everything together because they were pretty and popular and thin. While at only 21, I believed that I was all washed up and that there was no hope for me.
At 22 I went to Uni to study History, for the first time in my life I felt like I belonged. I went to weight watchers with my Mum, we changed our diet and exercise habits and the weight dropped off both of us. I was active, walking most days and going for runs. It was like I was a different person. I felt free. I had so much more energy. I had the confidence to wear short dresses and shorts. I could move quickly and more freely. I found myself able to communicate better with people because I didn’t feel like I had to apologise for my mere presence anymore.
Then I got injured. I was in agonising pain with my left knee. I couldn’t walk without limping, I could barely bend it. I was put on a waiting list for an operation and in November last year finally got booked in with an amazing surgeon and while the process has been long and slow, I am recovering. The only thing is, a lot of my weight has crept back on due to inactivity and poor eating habits. Not all of it, but a lot. And guess what, I’m feeling crap about myself again.
I believe that so much of body image is tied in with the way we take care of ourselves. It’s so easy to feel awful, wallow and to get stuck in bad habits and it’s the easiest thing in the world to slide back into that headspace of excuses and self-hate. What it comes down to is fighting to feel worthy of more than that, of treating yourself with the kind of care that you would treat a small child. Treating yourself well by taking the time to be kind to ourselves. Self care seems to be kind of a buzz word at the moment but it is the only thing that seems to combat the problem that so many people have with body image, on a personal level. We should look after ourselves! Go to the doctor, take that walk, if you’ve got a problem – don’t ignore it, make conscious decisions about your actions, plan your days, plan your meals, communicate with the people around you, do things that make you feel good, create, be brave… I could go on.
I’m still working on the happy ending to this story. I’m not there yet. I’ve had a lot of false starts and the thought of the journey towards good health and fitness seems long and arduous. Then I think of the person I was, the person I could be and I know that however long it takes it will be worth it.
PS: See this awesome post on self care.