Updated: Feb 12
Guest Blog on @saltyseabirds by Seabird Claudine. February 2020
“Wow, she really loves herself.” It was a serious insult to others when I was growing up. Conceited, cocky, arrogant. Probably an offensive slur I had thrown at me at times, when the brash exterior self I showed to the world belied the insecure reality underneath. “Self-love” was certainly not something I was striving to achieve. I thought it was a bad thing. It seemed better to be self-loathing, self-deprecating, self-conscious – all whilst being bubbly and confident, but not too confident, or else you loved yourself. See the conundrum here?
That was back then. Over the years, with all the personal development I’ve done, it slowly dawned on me that loving myself wasn’t an act of arrogance and it didn’t mean I thought I was better than everyone else. I realised that self-love was not only acceptable, but maybe even preferable for my mental and emotional wellbeing. In 2017 I discovered the body image movement, when a friend suggested going to a screening of Embrace, that’s when it really struck me as more than “OK” to have self-acceptance. After a lifetime of dieting, striving for a smaller body, putting things on hold until I’d just reached that next size down, lost those last few pounds, hoping then I would feel more comfortable in my skin, I discovered it didn’t have to be that way. The content of the documentary about positive body image hit me like a ton of bricks; a ton of bricks I didn’t have to diet-away. I heard messages I’d never considered, and had a number of genuine light-bulb moments whilst watching the film, as well as some tears at the sadness of the time wasted on diet culture and self-criticism. We can become desensitised to the message that we need to be slender to be attractive, have curves in the right places and not the wrong ones, and that the only way to be healthy is to be slim. That our skin can’t show the signs of ageing, wrinkles or cellulite, and god forbid we have hair anywhere but on our heads! We are told from a young age we must strive for the ideal of beauty that we see everywhere, but these days, that ideal is fake. Big lips, bums and boobs, small waist, ankles and arms. Photo-shopped, botoxed, filtered, surgeried, dieted, obsessively exercised, waxed, shaved, sat with a make-up artist and hair stylist for hours. We can’t look like that and it’s not just young women thinking they can and should.
The beauty industry has told us we have flaws so they can sell us creams, exercise plans, diets, pills and even lollipops to fix them; and we fall for it, making them billions of pounds. Restrictive eating is a slippery slope to eating disorders. Living our lives striving to be smaller, fitter, smoother, creates a perfect breeding ground for anxiety and depression. And putting our life on hold and waiting to feel happy when we’ve made that final change that definitely will be the last one, is a recipe for living an unfulfilled life.
I listened recently with sadness to a radio story about a mum whose daughter had stolen her credit card to get botox, fillers and even surgery to improve her looks at 16 years old, and her parents found out the night before she was booked in for a nose job. The daughter begged her parents to let her go ahead with it, and they eventually agreed, as she was absolutely convinced that the surgery would sort her out, solve her problems, and make her feel good. And it did: for a few days. Her problems weren’t physical, they weren’t about the bump on her nose but she had been brainwashed to believe they were, and they’d be fixed by the surgeon’s knife. What if we started to really believe beauty comes in all forms? Because it truly does. What if we saw getting old as something to be celebrated as not everyone gets to do so? We should welcome each wrinkle as it shows another laugh we shared with loved ones. What if we learned to value people for more than their looks? We should realise that we are so much more than the shell that carries us around. What if we stopped assuming we can tell how healthy someone is just by looking at them? We should know that thin people get ill, and fat people get ill, and can be healthy. Also, that people aren’t worth less even if they are unhealthy. What if we weren’t glorifying obesity by being body positive, but recognising that the mental health crisis we have in society could be somewhat eased if we took this beauty burden off our shoulders. We would still take care of ourselves, we would move our bodies for fun and to make them stronger. What if we worked with girls from a young age to believe this, to value and take care of themselves and see beauty inside themselves and others regardless of the outer casing?
I have totally changed my attitude towards exercise. I do the kind I like as there isn’t only one way of being fit and strong. I don’t have to force myself to run when I hate it. I don’t have a marathon in me, or a half, or even any more 10k’s, but I can swim 4km and can yoga like a yogi. I don’t always do as much exercise as I’d like, but I don’t beat myself up when I don’t, then turn to the biscuit tin because, “well, what’s the point now?”
In recent years, I have felt so much more comfortable in my skin. The road to self-love, of which a positive body image is just one part, is a journey, and body neutrality is on the way. For some, that’s where they will get off the train and where they’ll stay, and that’s good enough. Feeling neutrally towards one’s body is far better than loathing it, and it will give you so much more freedom.
At the same time as discovering this new way of thinking of my body, I discovered outdoor swimming, now in my second winter, and this helped on my body image journey. It’s pointless worrying about how I look when I’m trying to get dressed and it’s blowing a gale. I’ve come to respect my body for what it can do, that not everyone’s can, such as walking into 4 degree water and having a swim. I truly believe this body is worthy, I value my health and wellness, and at times even love it. There, I’ve said it, some days I love myself, and whilst my 14 year old self still cringes a little inside, my 43 year old self knows that’s OK. So this Valentine’s day, if you haven’t already tried saying it to yourself, go on, have a go. You might even believe it.