I was recently lucky enough to feature on my pal Katherine Ormerod’s new, amazing site Work Work Work last week, talking about life beyond the instagram feed, losing yourself and friends to work, and body image politics online. I’m so happy so many of you read it and liked it already – thanks so much for all the amazing comments and feedback I’ve had. While I often share deeper stuff on here, sharing more personal stuff and opinions on someone else’s platform felt really nerve-wracking so thank you for all the positivity after it published…
Following on from my piece on here about ‘perfection’ – or lack thereof- I wanted to touch on a few more musings about body image in this online age. It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, especially with summer holidays in sight. As with so many things today, transparency is something to strive for so in the spirit of doing just that, I wanted to share a little about my own body confidence journey. We are all so much more than our bodies, faces and hair, but it would be idealistic and kinda fake to pretend that this stuff isn’t still a thing we all think about or feel some angst about at some point in our lives. I think more than anything, the online space can sometimes project a fake confidence. Yes it also projects perfect abs, relationships and wardrobes but to me, it’s the seemingly perfect confidence that can at times feel the most alienating. While I’m sure there are so many women out there who are 100% confident all the time, I’m sure there are even more women who aren’t. It’s empowering to read an interview with a non sample-sized celebrity describing loving their body and shape sure. But what about when you don’t love what you’ve got?
Happiness in my own skin hasn’t always come easy and nor does it correlate with weight or size. I was probably at one of the happiest, most confident points in my life aged 19 while travelling and was a good few jean sizes larger and probably a stone and a half heavier than I am now (quite a bit when you’re petite in frame and height) thanks to copious amounts of pies (new Zealand), Pad Thai (Thailand) and wine out of a box (Australia). Don’t get me wrong, I still had days of wanting to be that waif on the beach (thank god instagram and facebook weren’t a part of my world back then), but overall I remember my physical appearance not being something I worried about and I simultaneously had one of the best times of my life. Equally, I look back on some pictures of when I was 21, when I’d lost a fair amount of weight thanks to a break-up and a rough time with friends, and remember feeling more self-conscious and aware of my body than ever before despite being the tiniest I’d ever been. I remember that even now when I’m doubting myself or I’ve been sucked down an instagram hole of honed and toned ‘perfection’ to remind myself of reality, priorities and where happiness really comes from.
Now, nine years on, I’ve found my happy size and have done for some years. Stress and/or too many takeaways will have an affect from time to time sure, but on the whole, I’ve found my equilibrium. I can eat a bit more or a bit less and I pretty much stay the same dress size. I know now, thanks to the period of time I mentioned before in my early twenties when I was very restrictive and anxious about food, that I will never deny myself anything now because I know that for me at least, that is the path to obsessiveness and unhappiness. Granted I don’t eat pancakes drenched in syrup every morning, but I if I want chocolate, cheese, pizza whatever, I have it, just to a certain degree of moderatio .. But when I say moderation, I’m not one of those ‘two squares of dark chocolate only’ people, I’m a whole bag of Dairy Milk Caramel Nibbles person. I eat carbs pretty much every meal without exception (I grew up on a potato and cereals farm), don’t eat a huge amount of meat and always eat when I’m hungry. I really, firmly believe that finding your happy size comes down to eating sensibly but equally not denying yourself anything. I’m terrible at gruelling exercise or routines or gym memberships these days. Instead, I do random things that feel right on the day. I love long walks or hikes ( like trying to get my 10K steps in a day), some yoga from time to time, squats and crunches in front of the TV or going horseriding and paddle boarding when I’m travelling. I really want to try climbing and bouldering too and have been known to dance like I’m on MTV circa 1998 around my living room (if it’s good enough for Tracy Anderson) from time to time… I’m sure I would really benefit physically from a PT or something, but right now due to time and let’s be honest, inclination, it’s just not something I’m going to do. In today’s culture of being super saintly, you have to kind of let yourself off the hook sometimes and just acknowledge you are never going to get up for the gym at 6 A.M and that’s FINE.
I have some days I feel great, others where I’m so bloated I look 12 weeks pregnant (seriously, those ‘we’re expecting’ instagrams could be me after an extra large bowl of linguine) and feel like crap. I’ve been on trips featured on this blog before where we’ve taken some bikini shots during the first few days, when I’ve been pale, puffy and generally post-Christmas, and it’s put me in such a bad mood it’s ruined the whole day and I’ve taken it out on Jamie time and time again. Awful to admit, but it’s true. I’m as guilty as anyone as scrolling through instagram and feeling like I’m lacking on a bad day. Let’s be real here, this stuff can turn a good day into a bad one sometimes…
But equally I know myself now, and I know my limits. When I feel glum about cellulite or stretch marks (yes I have them – you can them on one of the pics below), I try and swallow those negative feelings, because ultimately I know that I am not going to punish myself in the gym five days a week, at least not at this point in my life. Also, the more and more amazing women I spend time with on the beach, the more I realise every one has these ‘flaws’ to some degree, so much so I now wonder how they were ever labelled as flaws in the first place? I also know on a rational level that those things are normal, natural and not deserving of self-hate. That knowledge isn’t innate but the more I push out the negative inner critic and welcome in that inner positive cheerleader, the easier it gets to call upon when you need it. Plenty of water and bio-oil are the only things I really try and lean on for those two now; I come at it from a positive place of improvement rather than a negative place of change if that’s makes sense. Plus, I actually think stretch marks can look kind of cool to be honest. In the same way scars, birth marks and freckles can be attractive, I think silvery stretch marks can look really feminine. That might sound weird but I really think we have to try and re-brand these things we’ve come to see as shameful things we need to hide.
In the past I’ve posted pictures in the same week, where one would get a comment about my squishy stomach or call me-out for sucking in, and another would simply say ‘too skinny’, normally because of my collarbones or spine – they have always protruded no matter what probably thanks to bad posture growing up. I know mum, you told me so… I’ve posted pictures of my own cellulite after initially wanting to delete it, or better yet incinerate it immediately, in a bid to face my own demons while always reassuring others (it went down so positively), but on the flip-side I’m human and feel the pressure online as much as the next person so I’m obviously inclined, along with every other person, blogger or not, to choose the good pictures over the bad most of the time. Another more recent instagram, which featured me in a bikini and body positive message about being ‘beach ready’ without the need for months of prep as we’re often seemingly encouraged to do, had a few comments basically saying I wasn’t allowed to say that given my size 8 body which really got to me. I felt really, really guilty in case I should have posted a pictures of my belly rolls or thigh dimples, but equally indignant that you apparently can’t feel media pressure or have bad days unless you’re above a certain dress size. That you have to be deemed ‘curvy’ (hate that word) by others to have ever had a day feeling shit about yourself or wishing you had what she had. The point was about the weeks/months worth of prep we’re often encouraged to undertake just to step foot on the sand; from body brushing like crazy, to cutting out sugar, to planking every moment of the day. Not about my size. I talk more about this in my Work Work Work article amongst other stuff so do check that out.
We’re in some kind of cycle on social media right now. We all know that instagram is just showcasing the best bits and yet the pressure to have a ‘perfect body’ (whatever that even means FFS) remains and instagram has been related to depression and self-esteem issues in just about every age group. As someone who makes a living in part through instagram, I feel every bit of that from comparing myself to others to feeling responsible for contributing to the cycle by posting my share of curated photos and receiving a lot of lovely ‘perfect’ comments than make me great and fraudulent simultaneously. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do and I love following inspirational accounts by my peers in the industry; I just feel like it’s important to sometimes say, ‘you know what I’m not 100% sure of myself 24/7’ and own those doubts and insecurities as much as we’re encouraged to own our confidence. And if you don’t have doubts or anxieties about anything? Great! I commend you not condemn you… I think that’s amazing. I’m just going from my own experience which certainly hasn’t been a confidence train from zero to thirty.
Ultimately this stuff is universal and confidence is not necessarily about losing those last few pounds or cutting out ‘bad’ foods for a month before a trip…There’s no finite end or conclusion to this post, apart from to highlight that finding confidence can take time, years in fact and it isn’t a finite destination. I can feel like I’ve found it once and for all and then just like that, I lose it entirely for a moment and have to work at getting it back. It can come from taking up boxing and drinking your greens, it can come from eating whatever you want in the cinema without worrying what option is the ‘best’ for you, or it can come from focusing on the inner you and what that part of you has to offer those around you rather than just how long your legs are. Me? A little bit of all of that does the trick for me… Remember to be kind to yourself and not feel bad if you haven’t got there yet. Confidence can of course come from gaining or losing weight, it’s stupid to pretend our bodies and minds aren’t connected, but ultimately it’s in your head not your thighs that the problem lies. Trust me.