Saturday, 20 August 2016

On Body Positivity

TW: This post talks about body image, eating disorders and food

Whilst writing this post I've almost felt as if I've been intruding in a place that isn't meant for me. Body image is a ubiquitous and controversial topic, one that can often be subject to extremes and seeks to exclude rather than include (such as the narratives of 'real women' or damaging phrases like 'real women have curves'). I've been fortunate in my lifetime to not have significant body issues, but I have had my fair share of insecurities and self hatred, some of which have been tied up with the way I look. I don't want to be perceived as brave, rather I would just like to talk about my own body, because it's mine and I can do that, and because it helps me to make sense of it when I feel it is revolting against me, on those days when I don't feel so pretty or so healthy.

I originally wrote this post as a sort of body confidence journey, from the negative to the positive, but recently, after a swimming trip with friends, I was struck by how I wasn't quite as confident about my body as I had thought. I looked at the pictures taken on the day and felt anxiety about how my stomach and my thighs looked, that I was somehow misshapen. This signified to me that our relationship with our bodies can change over time, and I wanted to talk in some part about how my perception of my body has changed since I was a teenager.
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I have always been tall, and for that I'm really lucky, but I'm not wiry. I've referred to myself as 'big boned' so many times that I've lost count. As I grew older I felt that I was different from the other girls in my class. I was taller than most of the boys back then, and I felt out of place, both lanky and dumpy, not as small, graceful, feminine and elegant as my friends.

During my teenage years I would pour over women's magazines, following diet tips, convincing myself that I needed to lose weight to become someone better, believing them when they said that a celebrity had 'ballooned' from a size 8 to a 12. But I was a size 12-14, and this celebrity was the same height as me. Was I fat? I would quickly do the maths in my head, calculating BMIs and learning weight conversions. I became obsessed with the Jacqueline Wilson book Girls Under Pressure where the lead character Ellie suffered from disordered eating. I read the book Skinny Bitch whilst on holiday, a really foul publication that sought to make you feel as bad as possible about your eating habits. I would curiously visit pro-anorexia sites, where they would list reasons to starve yourself until your collarbones became more prominent, so that you would be light enough for boys to pick you up, so you could disappear almost completely.
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I was a follower of the thigh gap craze. I would stare at my legs obsessively, trying to stand in a certain way so as to form the non-existent gap. For some reason, a thigh gap meant a better life. I was limiting myself, a very young person who didn't understand how to eat healthily and who was led astray by fad diets, a young woman who couldn't truly believe that her worth may come from things other than conforming to societal standards of beauty. It took me many years to learn that, and because it is so deeply ingrained I still slip up.

Now I look back at photos of me at the ages of 13-16, and I feel sad. I was much thinner than I am now yet I remembered how much I would torture myself about how fat my legs were. Now I love the fact that I am tall, but not skinny, not straight up and down, but curvy, with bits of fat I can squeeze when I'm feeling anxious (anybody else do that?) Truthfully I sometimes look at my stomach and wish that it had more definition, but the scar on my stomach from an operation I had as a child means I will always have an extra roll when I sit down. I have spots on my back and prominent veins on my legs. I have chicken pox scars on my forehead and acne scarred cheeks. I have always loved the details of people's faces and bodies because they tell a story, and what I love in other people I am trying to learn to love in myself, or at the very least accept.
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I'm truly no longer interested in being the ideal body type, because I understand the lies fed to me by women's media, that my body isn't meant to be like that. Right now I am making changes with my diet and exercise to make me feel better about what I'm eating and generally feel more energetic and healthy in myself. The whole experience has taught me to look at my body differently, to not torture myself but to ensure my body is getting everything it needs and that I'm doing things that will make me feel happier in the long run. I've learnt to embrace the little things, like the way my muffin top looks in a pencil skirt, and the way my butt sticks out in joggers. Of course I do have those days, like when I'm wearing a bikini, where I get pangs of anxiety about looking a certain way.

I often think about this moomin quote when I refer to body positivity (I mean, what could be better than getting self confidence tips from moomins?) Accepting your body for what it is and how it makes you feel is a form of protest. As women we grow up being told that our bodies are not ours, that they must fit into labels and sizes, that they must be sexually attractive from the top of our heads to our toes. I love my body not because it is absolutely perfect, but because it makes me feel both strong and soft, it means I can walk up hills until my legs feel like jelly, and I can nourish it with food that makes me feel great (and I'm not just talking about broccoli kids). When you look at what your body does for you you realise there are so many more things to love than a flat stomach or a thigh gap, that so called 'imperfections', such as scars or spots or fat and bones, make you unique. I don't think body image is a linear narrative with a set conclusion, but with more compassion and understanding it is one you can have a great relationship with.

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9 comments :

  1. Absolutely loved this post. So important that we're starting to think about what our bodies need, instead of what it looks like.

    Hannah x
    herguidetolife.blogspot.co.uk

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm more and more looking for bloggers who look "real". When I mean real, I don't mean "not skinny" bc skinny shaming is as bad as fat shaming. I mean people whose supposedly flaws are exposed (scars, acne, rolls and bumps...) and when i watch make up tutorial i first focus on how the person looks like without make up. I myself are petite, but sometimes have a bloated tummy, i got three huge scars from surgery (right elbow and right thigh), a girlstache and lots of hairs, and i'm happy with that. Glad you made the journey to self-love. You go girl!

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  4. Great post! I love the positive message in this! And with all the body positivity talks lately I am surprised to still see so many articles about how people got fat or how to loose weight. It is sad and unnecessary! There should be more posts like these, especially for the teenage readers but for all the women equally :)

    Lii
    https://byliil.wordpress.com/

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Thank you so so much for your comment! It makes me smile everytime I see a new one pop up. If you leave me a link to your blog I will aim to get back to you within 2 days because I love looking at all your blogs too!
If you want to continue the conversation, tweet me @thebelphoebejar

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