Body Image, Self-esteem

And Exhale

Wow. I’ve just got back from Exhale festival. It was another wonderful experience this year. There is so much to process from the weekend. So many feelings, ideas and inspirations are running through my head. Yesterday I had the honour of running a body image talk. It was to my great delight that a packed barn of men and women came together to share, discuss and listen to what I had to say. If I think back to three years ago when I first publicly talked about my eating disorder I realise how far i’ve come. It’s still hard and emotional to talk about but this time there were no tears just big smiles. I just want to say a HUGE thank you to each person who showed up, your presence was greatly appreciated. And to those who shared thoughts and feelings in the circle thank you for being brave. Thank you to my partner Gerard for being there, supporting me and always believing in me, even when I struggle to.

I remember wishing the ed had never happened to me. Now I realise it’s one of my greatest gifts. When I was ill I NEEDED to hear and see stories of recovery, that there was a way out, that I had a hope to be back to myself. It is this that pushes me to keep talking about it and to keep sharing because I know that if it makes a difference to one person then that is fucking amazing.

There is far too much pressure on people to look a certain way, to attain to an ideal that is unachievable for most. We are all unique, that is what makes us so special. We all have something to offer this world, to share and a unique inner strength. It’s so important to appreciate all that we can DO and all that our bodies do for us. The image stuff, well it’s there but you are perfect just as you are. If you want the cake then eat the cake, life is too short not to. I really worry for the younger generations growing up in a world where social media is at their fingertips. With constant expectations about how you ‘should’ look then how we can we ever match up to it if you don’t achieve it?

I did some powerful work with Mark Walsh yesterday on yoga for social change. It was thought provoking and timely. I want to see people being kinder to each other and most of all kinder to themselves. We need to have communities and support, not segregation, isolation and wars. I want to help people who are suffering with body image issues, whatever that may be. I need to use all I have learnt, keep sharing and develop ways for actionable change. It’s not enough to say ‘love your body’, if only it was that simple right?

So thank you to each and every person who I spoke to this weekend and Carl & Darren for making Exhale festival possible. The sharing, connecting, love and community had a powerful presence and i’m sure a lasting effect on everyone. Lastly but by no means least as I write this I think of my wonderful parents who looked after me when I was ill. You encouraged me to keep fighting and to always keep learning, thank you.

 

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Body Image, Uncategorized

Learning To Love Myself

When I was in the midst of an eating disorder I felt totally detached from my body. It became something to punish.  The habits and rituals formed to ensure the mind felt safe at the expense of my body and my life.

Growing up I barely gave a moment’s thought to what I ate or the size of my jeans.  Once I reached 17 I began to re-think my regular chocolate bar breakfast.  Amongst my peers suddenly a chocolate laden meal didn’t seem the best idea.  Still, my weight and body image hardly factored into my conscious.

When I found myself at University, 5 hours away from home and my friends I began to panic.  I felt uncomfortable and like I didn’t belong.  Going out and getting drunk on alcopops was the thing to do.  I had to cook for myself properly.  It became so much easier to eat junk food, after all, I was in control of the food shop.  Quickly I began to see a whole packet of biscuits as something I needed to finish.  After that I would probably eat more chocolate.  Sure enough these eating habits coupled with no exercise and drinking made me put on weight.  Suddenly I wasn’t in control of my body or my hunger.  I ignored the feeling of being full and continued to eat more.  By the first term of Uni I had put on over a stone and felt out of control and uncomfortable.  I obviously didn’t understand that the way I was eating had become a way to cope, to feel safe.

Going on a diet felt like the perfect solution.  Restricting my eating and being more selective of what I ate began to work.  Yet this path was slippery and once I was on it I slipped all the way to Anorexia Nervosa.  There was this feeling of victory over my mind and body.  I could control my eating habits and therefore please my mind.  Once I had this nailed I could just focus on not eating.  I trained myself to eat so little that I switched off hunger pangs.  My routine and rituals were my safe places.  I felt so clever and powerful to have found a new way to eat.  As my weight fell I felt temporarily happier.  There’s this place where you’ve lost weight so people compliment you.  It’s the norm to congratulate weight loss right?  Like being a smaller version of ourselves is the best thing.  Like our happiness should be measured on whether we can wear a smaller size skirt?

But then there’s this point where the compliments stop.  Where people start asking you why you don’t cook anymore?  Why you don’t come out anymore?  Why your heater is constantly on?  You retreat further inside yourself, don’t take away my routine.  If anyone gets in the way of the rituals you get so upset.  You feel so loathsome.  You just want to return to ‘normal’, to your safe place.  At this point I stopped looking in the mirror.  Weight loss was a daily occurrence, clothes fell off me.  Punishing my body felt so good.   Pushing the wheels on my bike, running another mile all felt like I was running away from myself and my mind.

It was only once I admitted that maybe I had a problem that I realised quite how much my habits had become ingrained.  I didn’t like how I looked, yet anything was better than going back to feeling out of control.  I didn’t know it then but I would have to go on huge journey to re-educate myself, to learn to love myself and to stop listening to a voice that wanted to hurt me.  Along with re-introducing foods into my diet I had cognitive behavioural therapy.  I started to understand that my new way of living wasn’t helping me at all.  That in-fact my way of coping was to hurt myself more than I had ever known.  I had to learn to accept my flaws and to be more kind to myself.  I had to stop seeing food as the enemy and re-educate my brain that it was a necessity and something to be enjoyed.

Putting weight back on was a gradual but essential part to recovery.  As I began to eat more nutrients I re-found my energy and my motivation.  I would still be referred to as the ‘skinny’ one.  Yet I had to look beyond my body and know that with a healthy mind comes a healthy body.  As I felt better I reignited my friendships, the desire to talk to men, to go out and to have fun, just like any other 20 year old.

When I was ill I was so unhappy, I truly hated myself.  As I worked through my issues I began to be release these negative thoughts.  I saw my body as something to take care of and to love.  When my periods returned I was so relieved to feel that my body was healing.  As I began to feel physically stronger my mental strength and resilience started to build.

We live in a world where people are obsessed with weight, body image, diets, clean-eating, the list goes on.  Yet we forget that each of us has their natural size and shape that’s what makes us varied and beautiful.  It can be so easy to be preoccupied with attaining a ‘better’ version of yourself.  But perfection doesn’t exist.  You get to your goal and then what?  What comes next?  Because unless you learn to love yourself and your being then you will never be satisfied.

A huge part in my recovery was regaining my sense of self-worth.  A friend once said “Alice you need to love yourself before others can love you”.  She was right because I needed to discover that I was worthy of a healthy life, a healthy body and mind and ultimately was loveable.  I would never be purposefully mean to others so why would I do it to myself?  As I’ve become stronger both physically and mentally my body image doesn’t factor into my day to day.  Of course I have days when I feel happier than others but that’s normal.  What’s important is that I know my self-worth and that I am kind to myself and those around me.

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Body Image, Health, Self-esteem, Wellbeing

What is right for YOUR body?

In the past week my social feeds have been awash with this brilliant response from two bloggers towards the PW advert.  I wholeheartedly appreciated their message of actually “my body is already bikini ready (see image)”.  Yep, any body is bikini ready because you know what, we all have bodies.   The sentiment of the advert is the issue, not the model.  Then I read an article which really made me annoyed.  A brave and brilliant woman, Juliette Burton tweeted to PW about how their advert played on her anxiety of her body image issues.  Their response was nothing short of disgusting and cruel,  the responses came from the CEO and MD.  Wow guys you really know how to empower someone and make them feel good about themselves don’t you?   Two men in a position of power being purposely unkind.  Funnily enough the cowards deleted their tweets, shame for you that snipping tools exist chaps!

Anyway it got me thinking, and it got me juiced up to write this blog post.  As a body confidence campaigner and someone who has struggled with body image issues I just think we need to stop shaming and start appreciating what is right for OUR body.  Because frankly who knows your body better than you?  I just finished a circuits class and i’m so glad that I feel fit and strong.  My friend Laura took this image of me before yoga and one of the first things I saw was the roll on my tummy.

Bloody happy right now

Bloody happy right now

Why?  Because I have been conditioned to believe that I should have no rolls, be perfect.  Um reality check, i’m not perfect.  I have fat, it keeps me warm and it keeps me alive.  I live in this body and I respect it and I don’t care what others say about it.  I just cannot fathom saying cruel things to people about their bodies, what do they get out of it?  Does it help people sleep better at night knowing they’ve made someone feel crappy.  I sure hope not!  So mean people keep your thoughts to yourselves?   Instead of saying mean things why don’t you use that energy for something useful and donate to help those affected by the earthquake in Nepal?

 

 

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Body Image, Self-esteem

Body Positive with Cosmopolitan

Cosmopolitan November

Cosmopolitan November

In the sea of negative media articles telling women they should be thinner, better, taller, smoother it is SO refreshing to see that Cosmopolitan have started to go against the tide.  Ever since being part of their Amazing Bodies series last year I have noticed the content become more body positive and celebratory of the female form in it’s natural glory.  I know that re-touching will always happen, such as colour correction, but I would love to see re-touching of size or shape eradicated.  Women and men are hard enough on themselves without unrealistic and unnatural images disguised as ‘real’.

Recently an advert popped up on Facebook about some ‘magic’ slimming aid, it had some ridiculous claims and ridiculous photos.  I don’t want this garbage clogging up my feed but unfortunately that’s down to FB’s algorithms.  However, I can chose the magazines I pick up.  Thank you Cosmopolitan and Cosmo Body for making strides in promoting body positivity, long may this continue!

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Body Image

This Body at 27

“I am not this body, I am not this mind” was a mantra I repeated whilst staying at the Sivananda Ashram in Kerala, India.  I always liked to ponder on what it would be like to not be attached to the physical and mental sides of ourselves.

But here I am aged 27 amazed at how much my body can change. This body is resilient as a wall and I’ve put it through a few challenges and it’s been good to me. Yet now I start to begrudge my greying hair (yeah it’s happening), my love handles and sometimes my body dissatisfaction. As a body confidence campaigner I won’t list all my qualms about said body but nor will I pretend I have a perfect relationship with it.

It surprises me how my perception of my body can change weekly.  Sometimes I notice niggles and feel down on myself. Then a girlfriend will comment on how great my legs look and suddenly all seems rosier.  I try to push through those rubbish days when a skirt doesn’t fit how it used to. Does it really matter if my hips are a little wider? Was I any happier when they were smaller? I don’t believe so no.  I’ve noticed patterns in body dissatisfaction and the monthly cycle when it becomes particularly bad and thus my attitude to my body takes a nose dive.  Three days later and suddenly I’ve forgotten what I was moaning about.

So if you’re feeling down on how you look remember it’s a temporary state and try to look for patterns in attitudes and feelings. I know I feel better if I practice Bikram or run, it not only lifts my spirits but the endorphins rush around and life and thus my body seem happier!

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Love what you've been given

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Body Image

Eating Disorders Are Not A Choice

This week I read this article on the Daily Mail about the supposed rise of the super skinny celebrity. I read it and thought to myself how can this woman presume the women in the article have eating disorders.

You can’t 100% accurately tell if someone has an eating disorder, its not always visible, there are many different types.  Having suffered from one I want to point out that anorexia is not a choice, neither are bulimia or other types.  Also you can look relatively healthy and still be suffering. 

Should these women not leave the house for fear of influencing people to be ‘too thin’.  No.  We have no right to judge their body types.  I believe the media portrayal of celebrity figures have a lot to answer for.  Having articles on ‘who’s too skinny’ or ‘who’s too fat’ or ‘look at their rolls’ alongside each other to me is far more damaging.  The thing is these magazines and online articles sell, that’s why there’s such an abundance of them.  People are inquisitive by nature and sadly judging someone on the size of their waistline makes the front page.

I agree with the writer that it’s a huge worry for our children who are growing up in a much more digital age than I did where access to articles written in a negative way about body image are in abundance such as ‘thinspiration’.  However I believe its about educating people on self esteem and not focusing on purely our aesthetic.  Celebrities and models didn’t cause my anorexia but I would read for hours in forums written probably by girls like me about the weights of these models.  I want to see articles on raising self esteem and tips on how to boost confidence, not pieces set to knock down confidence.

Eating disorders are serious mental health issues with serious consequences.  Working to be pro-active not reactive to them and build up self esteem I believe is vital to helping reduce incidence and improve recovery.

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Body Image

This Body of Mine

The inspiration for the name of my blog ‘So Much More To’ came partly from being asked what my favourite part of my body is.  I thought to myself there’s more to me than my body and I don’t want to compartmentalise too much. There’s also more in life that I want to see/do/discover/experience…….

I wrote this blog post in early January 2014 from my teeny tiny room in a village in Southern Sri Lanka.  I was sat on my bed, totally alone and feeling completely relaxed to write freely.  Promptly after jotting down my thoughts my laptop decided it didn’t fancy working anymore.  I have just salvaged the article so here it is, enjoy.

When I entered Star in a Bra last year I never could I have imagined what an incredible experience it would be.  The excitement of being picked for the top thirty was only just the beginning.  When I refreshed that button awaiting the top ten results and saw my photo I literally jumped out of my seat with joy.  The little girl inside me who had always wanted to be that pretty model having her hair and make-up done finally would be getting a professional make-over.  The day of the top ten photo-shoot was so much fun.  You could feel the surges of positivity towards everyone and their individual stories about their bodies.  I met so many wonderful women that day.  The team at Curvy Kate are a cracking bunch who make everyone moment enjoyable.  It’s not that often that you can feel the backbone of a brand which has integrity and a desire to empower women to feel better about themselves. 

It’s only been since speaking at Bournemouth University last February about my recovery from Anorexia that I realised how important it is for me to be open about it as I had so much feedback from people that it was helpful.  Sitting in front of a room of strangers talking about my past was much more emotionally challenging than I could have realised (there were tears).  I remember vividly not caring if I died when I was ill, how awful is that?  Now that is a thought I could never possibly entertain.  However it stood me in good stead for dealing with the flurry of news stories that followed from my Curvy Kate adventure.  Interviews with The Huffington Post and newspapers such as The Daily Mail online were beyond my wildest expectations of what would ever come from such a horrible period in my life.  But that’s when it made me realise its important to turn a negative into a positive.  Too often men and women are detrimental to themselves over their looks or their size.  Body confidence is a term which has so many facets.  I wouldn’t say I am 100% body confident, there will always be parts I feel good/bad/indifferent about.  But no longer do I let those thoughts prevent me from doing things or eating this and drinking that.  Life is for living, not for spending your time worrying over 5 pounds. 

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At first when I saw this pic and my tummy I was a bit like agh rolls but then I thought who cares and probably ate some rice and curry

Recently someone suggested to me that perhaps I could lose 5kgs (this was in relation to some pain I had been having in my foot).  Now if this had been a few years ago I may have been very upset about their comments.  Instead I explained to them that the time I was 5 kilos lighter in recent years was due to having Dengue fever in Bali and being in hospital and bed ridden for three weeks.  My weight is stable and my body is happy at the size I am.  Now I am surfing every day and doing yoga more frequently I have seen changes which is great because its a sign I am fitter and stronger, not skinnier. 

Last July I was invited do to a nude photoshoot with Cosmopolitan magazine.  Standing there totally in the nuddy with a very sweet photographer was probably one of the most surreal moments of my life.  After my initial “ohhhhhmmmmmyyygawd’ in my head I got into the ‘swing’ of it and loved every second.  All I kept thinking was how lucky am I to have an experience like this??  Again it was a huge boost to my confidence and empowerment.  The picture came out better than I expected (of course I was nervous about how I would look to the world).  Now I have a collection of tasteful shots that if I am lucky enough to have kids they will be hugely embarrassed to see!

I’ve been thinking about tips I can suggest for feeling body confident, some mentally and some physically, so here goes:

1. Knowing your value as a person doesn’t come from your body size/shape
2. Enjoying what life has to offer, there’s more tummy in my bikini these days but it doesn’t stop me wearing one!
3. Putting things into perspective, do people really care that much about how I look day to day?  Probably not. I don’t sweat the small stuff when it comes to what others think about me
4. Wear glitter (I swear it makes me feel good)
5. Wear some Curvy Kate underwear, I always feel great in it
6. Give people compliments, energy follows thought so spread positive thoughts and your energy will be better
7. Focus on your good points, don’t dwell on the negative
8. Embrace the body you have.  I’m lucky to be busty so I may as well enjoy them, a little cleavage never hurt anyone
9. Having negative thoughts about how you look/feel or someone else has no benefits to either person, keep negative comments to yourself and try to re – work those thought processes
10. Get outside and sweat! I feel best when I have been exercising, be it a run, the gym, yoga or a surf.

If you are reading this (thanks for reading) I hope it helps you to love your body more and embrace life!  Say yes to everything and don’t worry about things that aren’t important.  Remember energy follows thought.

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