What I’m about to share is personal. But it’s also universal.
I know that many of you will relate to my body image struggles. The reason behind why each of us struggle to truly love the body we are given will each be different. But one thing is for sure, we need a revolution of self-love. Of body love.
So, here’s my story of struggle and triumph with my perfectly imperfect body.
Let me take you back to the 90’s… when I was wearing dungarees, barbie sandals and butterfly hair clips.
I remember around 9 years old beginning to really feel self-conscious and worry about what my peers thought of me; especially a particular cute boy I had a crush on! Pre-puberty I became a little bit chubby (aka natural oestrogen surge!) and I remember a couple of boys in my class at school making some very hurtful comments saying I was fat (including from the boy I liked).. so from this young impressionable age, it cemented in my head that fat is not okay, it’s something to avoid (toxic neural pathway being formed here)!
Though I believe that my body shame had creeped in even earlier than this. As very young children we subconsciously absorb what the cultures expectations are of us and what it means to be beautiful and sexy. I closely observed the adult men and women in my life, media messages and my peers, learning things that today I recognise as toxic body shame.
A big influence to my idea of ‘beautiful’ was my CRAZY obsession of the famous Olsen twins known from Full House. I idolised them from about 7- 8 years old, well into my late teens. I recorded onto VSH tapes every bloody movie and TV program they were in and my walls were covered in pictures of them and other gorgeous stars during my tween years! Their favourite things were my favourite things. I changed my name to Mary-Kate when I was writing to my best friend or in my diary. I wanted to be just like them. Actually, I wanted to BE them. I didn’t want to be me. In my mind they were gorgeous and successful. They were perfect. Without realising, I set myself up with a mind-set of self-hate, shame & comparison.
I also have a memory around 7 years old, when I had an accident on the farm where I grew up (I fell off the motorbike and was run-over!) and I was bruised all up my legs to my pelvis.. my privates had to be examined by a male GP as it was black & blue! I remember feeling embarrassed & shamed about having to pull my panties down to show the doctor my bruised fanny! At 7 years old I already felt shame about my yoni.
Fast forwarding a few years to about 11 years old, this is when I began wearing make-up. I no longer felt secure to enter the world without some sort of enhancement. Body image started to become VERY important... Was I pretty enough? Skinny enough? Sporty enough?
I wanted my crush at the time to think I was pretty but I don’t think he liked me no matter how hard I tried. I remember starting to compare myself to the other girls and wanting what I didn’t have, especially the smaller ‘sporty’ girls. I had already grown decent sized breasts and my body was closer to being a woman than a little girl. It was hard because a lot of my friends still had flat-chests and straight up and down figures. I was so upset that I had hips, boobs and pubes! I felt fat and so different from most of my friends. I didn’t want to stand out. I wanted to fit in. When we went swimming in the school pool I would wear a big baggy t-shirt and cover my chest with my arms because I was ashamed of my growing boobs.
When I was 12 going on 13, I started at a new school away from my home town, leaving all my old friends behind. I managed to make friends easily and I got ‘asked out’ by a few guys in my year when I first arrived. This buffered my self-esteem a little. Maybe becoming a woman wasn’t so bad after all?!
As high school went on I became interested in dieting and exercising for weight-loss. I was always curvier than most of my peers (in my eyes anyway) and I would try to loose weight by avoiding anything with fat and eating only low or fat-free foods. (The low-fat era!!) I would have low fat milk, low fat yoghurt and low fat ice cream. I would eat lollies thinking they were healthy since the packet said ‘fat-free’! (Not understanding anything about food what-so-ever!). Rice crackers were my favourite after school snack because they were 97% fat-free and I also liked Weight Watchers muesli bars. I remember getting upset at Mum if I thought that dinner had too much fat in it. Fat was the enemy to being skinny. And in my mind skinny equalled success, beauty & perfection. After school I would go for long walks or do aerobics in front of the TV. I was always trying to lose weight or prevent myself gaining it. I remember doing 100’s of sit-ups on my bed at night, willing my tummy rolls to go away. I truly thought I was fat. I remember one girl at school having an eating disorder and I tinkered with the idea of perhaps ‘getting’ one myself. It would be worth it if I could be skinny. I remember the conversation between girls at school was often about being too fat and not skinny enough. Many of us wanted to change our bodies. In the changing room for sports class I would change in the toilet so no one would see my body. I would dread swimming sports day, I couldn’t think of anything worse than being in my swimmers in front of my peers. I have a vague memory I actually skipped these swimming days.
But being seen as fat wasn’t my only struggle. I would never go to school without make-up on. I felt so ugly without make-up. I recall one-day out of the nowhere, a blue vein appeared under my eye. I thought it was very noticeable. I HAD to cover it with make-up. I also had to wear mascara & eyeliner to feel pretty. I didn’t like my naked face.
I remember so clearly when I grew hair on my upper lip and this was the end of my world. I was so embarrassed. I tried bleaching it and waxing it but I was still teased numerous times by boys at school. When I was speaking to anyone up close I would cover my mouth with my hand so they couldn’t see my moustache. Then I found out about electrolysis & I went through months of electrocuting each hair follicle to get rid of the hair. Even though it was painful I did feel much happier about myself after that. But it didn’t end there, I also hated my big birth mark on my left arm, so I decided to get it surgically removed. I didn’t want that on my body either. Now I wouldn’t have to walk around hiding it. I just had a scar now. I preferred that.
I just want to take a quick break and say how much my heart breaks for my young maiden self. All the precious energy I spent worrying about what I looked like. She never knew how beautiful and unique she was.
At the end of Year 12 I couldn’t have been more eager to leave school. I was over it and ready for the world. I was 16 when I left home and went on a school exchange to France. My year in France impacted my life so much. It changed me in many ways. I left my family who I was very close to, my two best friends, my boyfriend at the time and went to the other side of the world for a year. It was both the best year and the hardest year of my life.
Before I left for France, I distinctly remember at one of the exchange gatherings it being mentioned that most of the exchange girls put on about 10kgs during their year away! I remember thinking to myself “That was not gonna happen! Not to me!”, I was determined not to put on any weight on my year away!
The first 6 months I made sure that I didn’t indulge in fatty french foods, I really controlled what treats I ate. I regularly went to a local gym with my friends to workout and walked everywhere to keep thin! But the tide turned at the end of my summer break in August. My mum had come over for a surprise visit and had just left, I was going back to french school which I was not looking forward to and around the same time there was a tragedy in the host family whom I had just moved in with and the dynamics in the house were not good. A lot of change in the space of a couple of weeks for a sensitive young woman.
This is when I really turned to food for comfort for the first time in my life. I found myself sneaking down to the kitchen at night when everyone was in bed or when I arrived home from school and the house was empty. I would devour biscuits, Belgium waffles, chocolate and anything sweet and fatty! At first I tried to vomit after binging but found it incredibly difficult. I managed a few times but in the end I just resigned to binging. It made me feel safe in those lonely, dark moments. It became my life-line. And that’s how I managed to put on 10kgs in my last 5 months in France.
Coming back from France was tough. I felt a lot of shame about the weight I had gained and also the stretch marks that emerged from the fast weight-gain. But at the same time as being embarrassed, I was determined to loose all the weight I had gained. The next couple of months I tried to control my binging episodes but I would find myself back in the pantry or fridge looking for an emotional fix. I had serious thoughts about being anorexia or bulimic. I saw others doing it. It can’t be that hard I thought to myself. I didn’t know how else I could lose the weight, fast. My inner world was turbulent. I really hated my body and the toxic thoughts swarming in my head. I was not happy.
Then one day I had a divine internal shift.
It was a dark stormy night and I was driving from my hometown to a small village in the mountains to visit a friend. I remember during the drive yelling out to God to help me. I didn’t want to live in this turmoil any more. But I didn’t know what to do. I was stuck. So for two stormy, dark hours alone in the car, I cried, screamed, prayed and emptied my soul of it’s sorrow.
The next day when I woke up, I distinctly remember that something had shifted in me. I felt lighter. I felt less burdened by my negative body thoughts. Over the next week or so I noticed I didn’t have the same urges to binge on food. I felt calmer about my body. There was a gentleness towards myself that hadn’t been there before.
It didn’t change everything but it definitely shifted something deep within me that had me trapped and stuck.
Looking back I see from this moment onwards it was a crossover into a ‘summer’ season of my life.
The years following I produced and presented a children’s TV show, I fell in love, got married (at 20!), found my passion in natural health, moved to Australia and travelled Europe in a camper van with my hubby! Looking back I see a confident young woman, having fun, exploring life and chasing her dreams. Through my twenties I was consumed with my health struggles (blog coming soon) rather than my body images struggles. Being in a loving and safe relationship since I was 18 years old has meant that impressing other men was low priority.
But just because I didn’t absolutely loath my body, I know now that I didn’t truly love and embrace my body. I had no idea about self-love and self-celebration. I buried a lot of my body insecurities and had very much an outer focus to my life. Ignoring my inner world. A lot of my body struggles continued subconsciously like clock-work.
I still always wore make-up when leaving the house (this hadn’t changed since I was 11 years old) and I would freak-out if anyone came to the door and I hadn’t put my ‘face on’. I also never enjoyed beach days much. I didn’t want to be seen in a bikini. It exposed too much of my body. I remember on my wedding day, my dress just wouldn’t sit right and my double D boobs were showing much more than I cared for. I remember feeling a lot of shame about letting the world see this sexual part of my body. It’s funny because the photographer actually said something like this to me... “Embrace them honey! You got boobs! Show them off!” If only I had believed those words of wisdom, I would have enjoyed my wedding a lot more! And then there was always the body ‘pruning and grooming’ I felt I must do to be accepted as a woman. It’s important not to underestimate the cultural pressure put on us around our body hair. I’ve always really felt this pressure having struggled with excessive hair growth from PCOS.
When I first discovered the idea of actually LOVING myself completely, I was deeply challenged. It was around 2016 that this concept landed in my life.
Through various encounters, I ended up around my 28th birthday, going to a naked yoga workshop and to a Shiva Shakti Dance weekend workshop. Both of these experiences challenged and inspired me on my body-image journey. The naked yoga was the first time I had been (out of choice) completely naked with other women. I was fucking nervous but I tell you, by the end of the evening I didn’t want to put my clothes back on! It was amazing being in a room with women of all shapes and sizes, vulnerable together and without judgment. And then the Shiva Shakti dance was 2 days of devotional erotic embodiment practices and the weekend re-introduced me to my sensuality and sexuality as a woman! It was such a powerful experience and has been so important on my journey to love my body. Being sexy and expressive through dance has brought me back home to my body.
I also want to mention too that being aware of my menstrual cycle day I am on has been enlightening regarding body image. I notice that during my pre-menstrual phase I care a lot less about what other’s think of me and I feel more confident in my skin! But the spring and summer of my cycle are tougher phases, I can feel the pressures of the world around beauty a lot more.
So coming now to the present in 2019, I’m cycle day 18 and I’ve had one of those days where I feel like I have gone backwards. Before writing this blog I devoured a bar of chocolate and wallowed in my misfortunes. I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw. I felt so much regret for choices I had and hadn’t made.
But now reading back through this blog, I realise that I have actually come a long way. Yeah I haven’t arrived at perfectly loving my body but I’ve learnt a lot along the way. Here’s 10 things I have discovered and that support me on my body love journey...