One of the biggest personal issues women face today is their body image. We are barraged with pictures of slim, perfectly formed women online, in magazines and on billboards. A huge number of women in the public eye seem to have unattainably fit bodies. Even though we know in our hearts that many of these women have staff to help them, and that photos can be digitally altered very easily, it does not make us feel any better. We measure ourselves against these women, and their images, and we come up short. We are too thin or too fat, too tall or too short, our breasts are too big or too small. Everything is ‘too’ something. Nothing seems to be ‘just right’.
These feelings of inadequacy can start young. Many of us have grown up with distorted images of our own bodies, and the digitally altered beauty we see all around us has grown up with us. It is estimated that one to two percent of women in the UK are anorexic and that eight million Americans suffer from an eating disorder. Reports show girls as young as five years of age have weight concerns and have considered going on a diet. And it’s nothing new.
Until the invention of corsets, being voluptuous was the image of beauty in both art and life. Then someone discovered that whalebone, a bit of bondage and pure brute strength could transform the female body into the perfect hourglass. An eighteen-inch waist became the ideal, and women began to mutilate their bodies, in some cases actually moving internal organs, wearing corsetry that became more and more advanced and restrictive. Then the 1920’s came along and while corsets were thankfully pushed aside, thin, flat-chested flappers became the fashion. By the time I was born Twiggy was an icon. While the television series Mad Men may have encouraged us to believe the 1950s and 60s were a time of voluptuous women, sizes were cut smaller then, and there was still incredible pressure on ordinary women to be slim. It used to be reported that Marilyn Monroe wore a size 16, but this has since been refuted, and the size 12 she is more likely to have worn would have been cut smaller than a size 12 today.
I do not remember even one moment of my childhood when I was not worried about my weight. Many of the women I speak to say exactly the same thing. To be fair, I was not a slim child. I developed quickly and by age ten was a child in a woman’s body. Every day was a battle with my weight, with the body that didn’t feel right, didn’t fit right, and frankly confused the life out of me. Ironically, photos reveal I was not nearly as big as I thought I was. One of the times I felt the biggest, I was actually quite slim. But the scales ruled in our house and numbers didn’t lie. (My mother suffered from anorexia and bulimia, but like so many who suffer from the disease, she kept it extremely well hidden.) At age 16, one day the scale hit 96 pounds and I was ecstatic. I’d trace the edges of my collarbone, ribs and hip bones, and rejoice. It was a long journey back from there to normality.
Even then, I battled with my weight for years, settling in around a size 14/16, feeling quite unfit most of the time. Towards the end of 2015, I started to notice that I’d feel achy and stiff walking down the stairs in the morning, even if I hadn’t done any exercise. It was time to do something.
Luckily I found an amazing personal trainer, who helped me learn to eat really well, and build up my strength and fitness to levels I never dreamed were possible. I also lost over 30 pounds. All the while we also worked on my self esteem, and some of the mistaken beliefs I had about my own image.
Today, after years of battling with my weight, I’m fitter and stronger than I have ever been. It’s taken 18 months of hard work but it’s been absolutely worth it. However, I still have to remind myself – often – that my self worth should not in any way be related to the number on the scale or the label of my dress.
Each of us has a different body shape, and even when we start a healthy eating and exercise plan, we can’t guarantee exactly where the weight will come off. I am thrilled with my loss of over 30 pounds, and of how my body looks and feels now that I am stronger. However, while I lost weight from my hips which I always wanted to do, and my stomach has the muscle definition I craved, I lost over three bra sizes. Let’s be honest, my chest isn’t where I wanted to lose weight from!
It is important to be healthy, strong and fit. I feel so much more energetic than I did before, and while I look better, I also feel better. However, whatever your size and shape right now, at this very moment, you are perfect just as you are. Trying to fit into an ideal size or shape, be it someone else’s perception of ideal or your own, is soul destroying and a complete waste of time.
There is no reason to judge yourself or allow yourself to be unhappy because of a number on the scale. Beauty truly is a whole lot more than skin deep, and I firmly believe that every woman is beautiful in some way. We all have our flaws, we all have our good points, and it is the sum of these things that make us, perfectly us.
From this moment forward, please join me in striving to focus on the good things about our bodies. Whether it’s slim ankles, great legs, shapely shoulders, great skin, sparkling eyes or a beautiful smile, celebrate the good things and look kindly on the less than perfect. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes when you look in the mirror.
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