My Self-Love Journey

Saturday, 1 April 2017



Had you asked me ten years ago if I would ever be able to love myself and my body, I would have probably said: ‘that’s impossible’. And yet, here I am; a twenty five year old human adult who not only actually likes but loves herself and the way she looks. Although I didn’t include it in my hopes and goals for the year that I posted last month, I resolved this year to try to be more body positive and to foster more self-love within myself and the little blogging community that I’ve surrounded myself with. I figure if I can use the platform, voice and audience that I’ve somehow ended up with to help even one person’s life seem that little bit brighter, then that’s a pretty damn good use of them.

I can vaguely remember the first time I was ever self-conscious about my body back when I must have been no older than five or six – I thought my stomach was too big to wear a swimsuit I was in at the time. The sad reality is that little girls having that kind of anxiety about how they look is becoming more and more common, and sadder still is how hard you have to work to unlearn the bullshit that makes us think this way from such a young age.

When I was a teenager, like many other girls, I preeetty much hated myself. I very quickly went from an active kid, to a post-growth spurt skinny preteen, to a chubby teenager. I was never actually fat – at my largest, I was only ever a UK 12-14 – but I longed to lose weight and not feel like I had to hide myself in baggy hoodies and (during my brief foray into dresses in Sixth Form) loose-fitting summer dresses. I luckily never teetered any further into disordered eating than a couple of restrictive days and silly diets here and there, but my self-worth was still extremely low, and certain activities and articles of clothing and even confidence in general were very much, in my mind, reserved only for those with skinny bodies.

Back in the day, I also used to fat-shame and slut-shame the hell out of other women. The link between how little I valued my own body and my hatred of other women’s was by no means a coincidence – I didn’t realise it then, but I resented them. I resented slim women with the courage to wear tight-fitting clothes because I thought I couldn’t, I resented fat women for daring to take up space because I thought I couldn’t, I resented anyone who wore anything that I didn’t like the look of, just because I didn’t have the guts to do the same without worrying about what others would be thinking. It was internalised misogyny intertwined with pure and simple jealousy.

When I went to university, I suddenly dropped a couple of dress sizes thanks to the abysmal food served in our halls and a more active lifestyle (and by ‘active’ I mean ‘danced quite a bit in clubs’), but my relationship with my body didn’t suddenly mend itself just because I weighed less. Don’t be fooled by the advertisements, the testimonies, the media; loving yourself does not automatically accompany weight loss. Losing that weight was a completely unintentional fluke, but actually taking steps to learn to love my body and to not constantly compare myself to those around me took many more years of work.



Much of my body positivity came after discovering feminism, and was the natural result of unpacking my internalised misogyny and learning to dissect society’s expectations of women. During my four years of university, I educated myself, learned to stop judging other women for their appearances, to recognise that value does not lie in a woman’s size, and to find the beauty and the strength in those around me instead of always nitpicking at the bad. When I used to mentally attack other women for how they looked, I naturally assumed that everyone else was doing the same to me and that it was just normal, but once I pulled myself out of that habit I started to realise that: 1. I have no reason to be so scared because I’m most likely the only person giving a second thought to how I look and 2. If other people do give a shit, I’m not obligated to care what they think.

Of course, at that point I was only dipping my toes into self love. I started to get a little bit more confident, to wear more of what I wanted, to be less afraid of showing my body, but in some ways I was (and still am) suffocated by the same fears I had when I was younger. Showing my belly rolls or pooch would frighten me, and I loathed the fact that my thunder thighs touched. I always imagined a smaller version of myself that fitted the mould of ‘perfect body’ that I was well aware was a load of bullshit, but I wanted it anyway. I saw perfection in other bodies – it was no effort at all to see lovely tiger stripes in other women’s stretch marks, the beauty and power in fat women’s thighs, the softness and strength of exposed belly chub – but like many, I held myself to other standards. Other women are already perfect, but I’m not.

Since then it’s taken years of self-discipline, silencing the voices in my head and faking it until I make it to get to the point I’m at now. Throughout the past couple of years, my once turbulent relationship with health and fitness also finally blossomed and (although I won’t go into too much detail as I’m saving my fitness journey for another time) I was able to fully re-evaluate my goals when working out and do it purely for my mental and physical health and desire to be strong, not to be smaller. I no longer worry and monitor my weight (though I do check up on my muscle mass these days) and while I do still have plenty of insecurities, I’m not afraid to let my body simply exist and take up space in the state that it’s in anymore.

In a video I watched recently, one of my new favourite body positive influencers Kelly U of @_kellyu said something along the lines of: we don’t assign enough value to our own bodies to feel like they deserve to take up space. This really resonated with me and was so, so applicable to how I used to think about my own body. We don’t think we deserve nice things, whether it’s as big as love or happiness or as small as to simply be in a gym or wear a cute pair of shorts, until we take up less space and weigh less than we already do. We don’t value ourselves enough as we are to feel like we can simply enjoy existing and reach our full potential in our current state – there’s always some kind of desire to shrink and change ourselves so that then we can, at last, be who we want to be then and only then.

But we can be who we want to be now, and we deserve to take up space now. Happiness doesn’t come with a smaller dress size and I know now that I’m entitled to exist and to be happy without having to change my appearance. Loving my body is a constant struggle and an ongoing journey though; I still have regular off days. I’ll be feeling myself and think I’m sexy as hell one day, and then for no reason be back to square one and all I’ll be feeling is like I want to wrap myself in a blanket and never be seen in public again. The main difference when I feel like that now versus when I was younger though, is that I can recognise that those thoughts are problematic now and actively challenge my inner demons and self-perception, instead of simply absorbing them as I did before.

We don’t flick the self-love switch and become body confident badasses overnight; it’s a war we constantly wage within ourselves and against the messages society hammers us with on a day-to-day basis. My body confidence may be a work-in-progress, but the fact that I know that my body isn’t one is half the battle.


5 comments

  1. I love this post so much, Steph. You've talked everything through so well - it's the kind of piece everyone needs to read and I think it would resonate with so many. I wish there was something like this available in schools for pupils to read and discuss, it breaks my heart that such young children are so critical about the way they look xx

    Toasty

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    1. Thank you, Beth! Ditto, it was terrible when we were young and I dread to think what it must be like for kids now. Hopefully there's enough body confident voices out in the internet these days that they'll be able to access resources that reinforce their self-worth. <3

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  2. Superb! I think you have researched deep insides before writing it and its worth reading. Love it. Thinking to feature it in My Lingerie Blog My Lingerie Magazine

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  3. This is a fantastic take on body confidence and I can really take something away from your words. I read it the other day and then bookmarked it to read again because I just really love the way you've put everything. You have such a way with words!!

    Rebecca, libfemblog.com xo

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Rebecca, that's some high praise indeed! πŸ™ˆ

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