Have you heard about the wonderful Ms Morby’s Summer of Self-Love she’s got going on on her blog? (No, not that kind of self-love, cheeky!) It’s a celebration of everything that makes us great and a big two fingers to those people and industries whose interests it is for us to feel a bit, well, crappy. It follows on from her earlier Self-Love Revolution and is encourages everyone and anyone to face the tyranny of the bikini season head-on and just love what your momma gave you.
Being in the good old UK where summer currently resembles a monsoon, the chances of me wearing a swimsuit are somewhere between slim and none. But that doesn’t mean I can’t feel good in a rain mac, non?
While I’m a firm believer that the mass media has a lot to do with body dissatisfaction (among both sexes), I don’t think there is anything more personal than how you feel about your own body. For a very very long time (i.e, ever), my own attitude towards my body was one of frustration and resentment. It just wouldn’t fit in, it didn’t feel right.
In such an image conscious world, where we’re constantly bombarded by images of super-skinny celebrities and size is intrisically linked to success, it is hard not to feel inadequate and judged. But I’ve found that my worst critic is actually myself.
After years of dissatisfaction, one day a few years ago I came to the realisation that only I had to live in my own body. And, unless you live in some kind of 80s body-swap romcom, you’re the only person that has to live in yours. So I figured that only I could make the choice to if not all-out-love it, then at least treat my body with the respect it deserves for, ya know, getting me through this thing called life.
I’m no expert, but here are a few things I’ve learnt about myself, which may or may not be true of others (it’s actually based on an article I wrote some five years ago, but it’s all still stands true today):
The first step to respect is acceptance and learning to appreciate what you’ve got. For example, I’m 5 foot 3 inches; I’m never going to be 6 foot tall (though I still haven’t entirely ruled out the possibility of a twenties growth spurt). I am always going to have the same size hips no matter what I weigh, I’m never going to be flat-chested and I don’t tan. But it took me a long time to learn how to rock the small-and-statuesque-pale-and-interesting look.
It was only once I learnt to stop fighting nature and work with it that I felt a great weight had been lifted. I don’t claim to be above social pressures or having the odd down day. But slowly I have learnt to like and respect my body and I believe that anybody can.
Many of us don’t know our bodies that well. Despite living in them 24/7, we are in complete body denial. They’re always just so very there that we take them for granted and believe the worst instead of facing the truth, which often isn’t so bad as we’ve imagined it to be.
Another benefit of knowing your body is that it makes it easier to choose clothes you’ll feel comfortable in. Fashion trends are by their very nature fleeting. Ignore them. Invest your hard-earned cash in clothes that fit, you’ll love for a long time and that you feel confident in. (Learning to make/modify clothes and about tailoring for body types was probably one of the best things I ever did – so long stupid high street sizes, hello threads made to fit me!)
And I’m not just talking the dancing kind. Every body has a different make up; we all need different kinds and amounts of food, we all have different metabolisms. There was a time I thought I’d suppressed this natural response out of myself but slowly I started listening to what my body needed and now it thanks me for it by being happy and healthy.
Have you ever noticed that the bits that we dislike about ourselves are often what make us different and set us apart? You may think you have imperfections, but by whose standards? Can you can change the way you perceive them?
Take me, for example, I always wanted less muscular legs but I now appreciate that they’re strong and very handy for pushing me up a climbing wall and running up hills. On the other hand my arms, which I liked more, are pretty weak and useless as arms go. I can’t do a press up or use monkey bars for the life of me. I’m no fun at a play park.
So, if we place all your happiness on looking a finite way, being a certain weight or never appearing older than 21 then we’re never going to achieve true contentment, are we? The only thing that won’t change is us. Which brings me on to my next point. You may not have heard, but…
When anyone used to tell me that it was what was on the inside that counts my stock response was “but that’s worse than what’s on the outside”. And therein lied the problem. I was redirecting all my frustration at myself onto the easiest thing to tackle, my body, so no wonder I never felt any better until I started dealing with the real problem.
Yet, our culture is so obsessed with ‘fixing’ what is on the outside. In the UK alone we spend an estimated £1 billion on cosmetics every year and a further £20 billion on clothes (that’s £1,800 each, ouch!) all in a vain attempt to make us feel better about ourselves. We buy into the myth of ‘buying this will make you feel thinner/prettier/happier’. Remember, it is in the fashion, cosmetic and diet industries’ interests for us to feel inadequate, so we keep buying their antidotes. I’m not saying don’t shop – but maybe question why you want to buy something. Is it a sticking plaster for something else?
My personal favourite! Simply put, you get back from your body what you put into it. So if you eat too much or too little, drink, smoke and do no activity then you can expect to feel tired, unhealthy and unhappy in your own skin.
These days I’m not so bothered about whether my food is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘skinny’ or ‘fat’, but whether it’s synthetic or made of – gosh – actual food! Fruit, veg, wholegrains (and the odd scoop of belgian chocolate ice cream) are good for mind, body and soul.
The same goes for what you put onto your body. Women put an estimated five pounds of chemicals on their bodies a year in cosmetics (ick!) Products made from natural ingredients, whether store bought or homemade, leave you feeling fresh and pampered. Your body gets put through a lot of stress on a day-to-day basis so it only makes sense to treat it to the nice things in return.
I love being active, especially walking and jogging, but rather than exercising with the sole purpose of ‘being thin’, it’s much more fun to be active with a worthwhile purpose. Now I walk to forage and learn about nature, I train to raise money for charity, I climb to challenge my body and my mind.
Relaxing exercise like yoga and pilates are also brilliant for focusing the mind, increasing awareness of your body and learning how it works.
Or alternatively, use your mind and body in another active way. Take a risk, volunteer, go to night classes, grow something, get involved in activism, be creative. Once you start looking at the bigger picture you start to see that the body for what it is. Practical, beautiful and unique.
Peace out. x