As a young teenager I, like so many, would constantly critique the way I looked. More to the point, I would obsess over other people’s traits and how I wanted to look like them. Every day was, “I wish I had her curves” or “Why can’t I have hair like that?” At this time, I viewed almost all aspects of life from a “why is the world so against me?” perspective, and my body image was certainly no exception. Everything was so unfair.
It took me years to realise why my opinion of my own body never improved. Everything I tried was to look better; I wore makeup to look less ‘plain’, I changed my haircut to try to look like someone else, and the amount of times I VOWED to ‘eat healthier and exercise’. Of course, it never panned out that way. I expected to go out for a run, eat an apple and suddenly be this motivated, fit, gorgeous person. Looking back, the failure was inevitable, because no amount of exercise, make-up or veg can make you into a different person. Each time my efforts appeared to be in vain, I looked at things from the same perspective; “why me”, “it is actually impossible for me to exercise”, “why is it so easy for everybody else?” It was a completely toxic way of thinking.
Realising my mistake was a slow and indirect process, which came about when I joined the gym (for the third time) in October of last year. Readying myself for the worst months of SAD*, I was adamant it wasn’t going to get the best of me this time. Over the years I had learnt the most powerful tool for me mentally is to take good care of my all-round health. To my surprise, for the first time ever, I found committing to the gym relatively easy. For a while I couldn’t figure out why, but eventually realised it was because – in contrast to every previous attempt – I was adopting healthier habits to feel better, rather than to look different. And there was another unexpected side effect; my body confidence began to soar. At first I thought this was odd, seen as I didn’t look drastically different from when I started out.
However it eventually dawned on me that I had begun to see my body as something strong, powerful and capable. My body was no longer something to be looked at and judged, but something with a purpose and a job. That job is keeping me healthy. In time, I realised that all of my past insecurities are really nothing to worry about at all. For example, I used to get so hung up on my shoulders being wide and a bit out of proportion. Now my perspective has totally changed; it dawned on me that despite having quite a big chest considering my 5’2 frame, I have never suffered with back pain as a result. Having broader, strong shoulders has almost certainly helped with this. This simple shift towards realising that your unique features are about much more than the way they look, is so empowering. Just think for a second about all our bodies do for us; if we get a cut, a sprain, or an illness, our body immediately gets to work to try to heal us. It really is all about perspective, and viewing your body as something functional rather than aesthetic, something to work with rather than against, can strangely make you so much happier with it all round. Not at a certain size or shape or weight, but however it happens to look when it is helping you to feel happy, healthy and strong.
*Seasonal Affective Disorder