Back to the beginning
When I was growing up, Body Positivity wasn’t a “thing”. Well, not in small town South Wales it wasn’t anyway! I was born too bloody early. Instead I was destined to spend all of my childhood stuck on a never ending succession of soul sucking diets, trying not to get caught stealing an extra 2 fingered kit-kat from the biscuit tin, not fitting into desperately longed for ‘trendy’ clothes, and feeling really, really ashamed of myself all of the bloody time.
I’m sad to say that not a lot changed as I entered my teens and early adult hood (what a monumental waste). But then as I edged ever closer to my 40’s, for a number of reasons (some of which I talk about in this post) things eventually started to click, and I finally began to realise that there was no magic dieting key that was going to unlock the gateway to the universe of body acceptance and happiness for me. If I hadn’t figured it out in the last 3 decades, then it was probably safe to say that I wasn’t going to solve it any time soon and so I decided that enough was enough and the time had finally come for me and the diet industry to part company once and for all.
So I said sayonara to 7lbs in 7 days. If they hadn’t stayed off so far, I was guessing they were on my belly and bingos to stay! And guess what happened? As I made peace with my body, while I didn’t suddenly shed 4 stone and emerge, Barbie-like from a fat-suit (sorry if that’s the ending you were hoping for) for the first time in my life, my weight actually stabilised. A concept which was completely alien to me after so many years of yo-yo dieting. But that wasn’t the only positive to come out of ditching the diets. Oh no! Slowly but surely, when I wasn’t obsessing over how shite I’d been on my latest diet plan, my confidence started edge ever higher; my energy levels sky rocketed as I listened to my body and fuelled it with real food rather than crappy processed “diet” foods, and I suddenly discovered that I had way more time to dedicate to real life rather than constantly obsessing over how many calories/syns/points I had eaten on any given day. What a bloody novelty!
Enter Body Positivity
During this initial time of change, finding the Body Positive movement proved pivotal. My mindset and attitude was shifting dramatically and finding bo-po on social media was like finding a beacon of light shining in the dark. It underpinned everything I was slowly learning to believe about myself. Here was a gang of other amazing women, living their own wonderful lives in fabulous bodies which didn’t fit the media ideal. Once I knew where to look for them, I could surround myself with them and flood my social media feeds with them so that they became my new wallpaper. I was no longer constantly being bombarded with images forced on me by the mainstream media. Instead, I was in charge of curating my feeds, and I was choosing to fill them with bodies that looked more like mine! Hallelujah!!!!!!!! What a marvellous, life affirming thing that was. It changed everything and had a huge impact on my confidence. Who’d have thought it…….? I wasn’t quite as alone as I’d believed all this time.
But while body positivity helped me make such a dramatic shift to begin with, over the last few months, it’s stopped talking to me quite as clearly. When I go to search for inspiration on social media, I’m no longer seeing what I’m searching for. I’m looking for a reflection of where I am in my life right now, but I’m not finding it. I’m desperate to see other 40-something women talking to me about their burning issues of the day. But instead my feeds are filled with sparkly, pink haired, unicorn clad 20-somethings, discussing burlesque classes and plus size bikini marches. It all feels very millennial. And as much as I’d love to tick that box, it just ain’t me!
Going all out for mid-life positivity!
Now don’t get me wrong, I still think that these bo-po warriors are doing a sterling job in terms of changing general perceptions and opinions. But at this point in my life, they are just aren’t cutting the mustard. From where I’m standing right now, body positivity is taking on a whole host of new meanings. In the not too distant future, monumental changes are going to be happening to my body, whether I like it or not. Ain’t no-one holding back the tides of change I’ve got hiding round the corner – not even a whole herd of glittery unicorns, and I want to talk to other women who are going to understand the feelings that come alongside those changes. Physically, mentally and emotionally, this time of life feels pretty monumental and I’m keen to reclaim it, mark it, and celebrate it rather than letting it simply pass by in a blur of parents evenings, pro-retinol and possible HRT.
Added to all of this, I can’t help but feel that the mood of the movement has changed quite a bit. Recently I have found that I’ve got to a stage where I was heavily censoring what I was writing on instagram/facebook/the blog for fear of saying the wrong thing and upsetting the ‘in-crowd’. The scene has become ultra politicised of late. As someone who’s admittedly not too clever at playing that game, it suddenly didn’t feel like the warm and welcoming, uber-positive place it once was.
Fight against it as I might, the parameters of the safe space have shifted. But do you know what, I’ve realised that that’s ok. It’s called a movement for a reason. Its a living, breathing, moving thing, and as such, it has changed and morphed into something different and will continue to do so as time goes on. And guess what……? So will I! So maybe it’s time I look for a new group of people to celebrate life, body diversity and growing (a bit) older with!
So what next? Well, I’m going to focus on the things that I think will help me in my current situation and I’m hoping therefore that they’ll also help others……… Unless, you know, I’ve got it totally arse backwards and I really am the only one who feels like a slightly confused 41 year old woman with lots of responsibilities who wonders how the hell she ended up in such grown up place when inside she still feels like the awkward 16 year old she was just a second ago?! Hmmmm, help me out here ladies……… ladies………???
Hi! How are you? Remember me?! To be completely honest I wouldn’t blame you if you’d picked up your ball and gone home! I mean, it’s been a looooong old time since I graced these tinterweb pages.
I thought it was about time I offered you a little explanation as to why I’ve been so quiet, and to be honest, I thought it might help me a little bit to write it all down too. I’m a big believer in the power of journaling and so here I am, putting my money where my mouth is in order to explain a little bit of what’s been going on in my world over the last few months.
Some of you will know that back in 2016, shortly after turning 40 I was diagnosed with epilepsy. It all came very much out of the blue (a huge seizure in the middle of Hyde Park during a weekend away with my husband saw the start of it) and it’s something that, I’m the first to admit, I’ve really struggled to come to terms with. In fact, for the first 8-10 months, I was in total denial and even insisted on more tests and a second opinion. As luck would have it, the second opinion was no different to the first and I finally realised that I really was stuck with the bugger! Epilepsy was confirmed and medication was recommended so that my chance of seizure was reduced to the same as the average Joe, therefore giving me the best shot of holding on to my driving licence once I finally had it returned to me (you have to be 12 months seizure free before you’re able to drive again – complete torture!)
Living with epilepsy and the daily medication I take to keep it in check has done a number of things to put a fairly sizeable dint in my self confidence. In the first instance, the thing that I found the hardest to deal with was the fact that after having spent such a long time working on building a happy, healthy, trusting relationship with my body, in one fell swoop I felt like epilepsy had gone and crapped all over it! Body positive you say?! Ha, take that, you crazy bitch! I’ll see your positive body image and raise you a totally unreliable brain………. Well, Cheers for that body. Excuse me if I feel just a tad let down won’t you?! I mean, piss-take or what!?
I also struggle with the fact that the threat of having a seizure is never far from my mind. Get me in any crowded situation and my thoughts start running wild…… busy shopping centres? The middle of my children’s school concert? That new, low-key restaurant and bar? Visions of myself uncounscious at the feet of strangers fill my mind, foaming at the mouth, limbs twitching, eyes rolling….hell, if I’m really unlucky, I might even wet myself!! There are over 40 different types of seizure, and some can even go unnoticed by the casual observer, but going by my past record, I’m not so lucky. My body and brain definitely want to cause a scene. Of course they bloody do! So what’s the big deal? Well it constantly makes me want to hide in the background, just to be on the safe side. To stick to the sidelines, just in case my epilepsy forces me to inadvertently draw attention to myself in the worst possible way. It has me looking for exits and escape routes wherever I go, just in case I start to feel “funny” (some seizures come with an warning or an aura – The Hyde park one did, I just didn’t realise that’s what it was at the time!)
And then, there’s the final problem. The one that’s been the root cause of my blog-writers- block. The medication that I’ve finally relented into taking (it took me a while before giving in!) comes with a number of pretty unpleasant side effects. But the ones that I’ve allowed to become the monsters that sit on my shoulder are the issues I sometimes have with “word recall” and a feeling that my brain just sometimes isn’t working at quite the same speed that it used to. Every time I’ve even thought about updating this blog, that evil little monster of self doubt – the same one that used to rejoice in telling me I was too fat to take part in life – now gets busy telling me I’m too stupid to write; that my words won’t come right; that I won’t be able to string together an interesting, amusing or coherent sentence. At times, I also struggle with this anxiety in Real Life social situations, but it’s fair to say that blog writing is far easier to dip out of than Real Life is. So, that’s exactly what I have done. My laptop has stayed shut shut and my blog has remained out of bounds….. Until now! After some words of encouragement and a gentle bit of cajoling from my coach and friends in my yoga class (cheers ladies), here I am. Tapping away in the hope that sharing my story might help me, and who knows, maybe even someone else out there who’s struggling with confidence wobbles at the minute.
Ever one to search for the positives, I’ve been wracking my addled brain trying to figure out whether I’ve managed to gain anything from this crappy chapter? Well, I guess that the main thing is that I now really, truly realise that body positivity is 100% more than merely making peace with your reflection. I feel as though I’m having to work my wotsits off in order to learn to love a whole new version of me. From inside, out. An Amy 2.0 And let’s not beat around the bush, most of the time this particular update has not felt welcome or necessary. But it is what it is and I’ve had no choice but to accept it.
I’ve also been reminded (and this is where I’m praying that I’m not going to fall flat on my arse after pressing go on this piece…..) that there is huge value in sharing your feelings and telling those around you what’s really going on in your world. For a long time, I’ve kept most of these worries and concerns to myself. Why? Well, I’m not really sure. It all made me feel far too vulnerable I guess. But once I started opening up and telling people what was going on in my head it was like that old chestnut about shining a light in the darkest corners – the bogey monsters had less space to hide!
So here I am, gingerly easing myself back into the saddle. For a while back there, I thought my blogging journey was over forever so I’m hoping that this is at least one small step in the right direction…… aaaaand that I haven’t made too many glaring mistakes!
A couple of weeks ago, I was dead chuffed to be asked to take part in a body positivity masterclass with Laura Agar Wilson. Laura is a really brilliant health & business coach and she asked if I would like to talk about my experiences of, and opinions on Body Positivity for her online membership group, The Balance Club.
Of course I jumped at the chance to be involved. I loved being able to chat freely to Laura about some of the lessons I’ve learned about body image, body positivity and my relationship with own body. But what I really valued was the opportunity that our chat gave me to really sit back and reflect on how my thoughts and feelings have changed (and continue to change) over the last few years.
And never one to waste an opportunity, I decided to turn some of that thinking into a new blog post!
Body positivity is a choice
I know I bang on about this a lot, but we are so brainwashed by the media and the fat shaming that happens all around us, that sometimes we accept without question the “fact” that our body isn’t good enough.
Well I’m here to tell you that that’s bullshit! Your body, complete with wobbles and wrinkles and rolls, is truly a thing of wonder and it’s just waiting for you to wise up to it, start to appreciate it and choose to be more positive about it. Think about it…..Has being negative about your body helped you or improved your life in any way up to this point? Nope. Didn’t think so. So maybe, just maybe the time has come to switch things up a bit and hop on-board the positivity train.
Give good gratitude
It’s a game changer. Honestly. I know it may sound a bit woo, but if your internal dialogue is currently set to negative ninny” then stopping to practice gratitude can flip an otherwise unused switch. Start small…….daily pauses for a quick shot of gratitude to the legs that carried you around the supermarket this morning, and who knows where it’ll lead!
Oh and notice that I mentioned the P word. Practice is where it’s at. This sort of stuff doesn’t cause lasting change because you had a quick go at it a week last Wednesday. You need to practice regularly so that it becomes your default setting (over-riding that nasty inner bitch)!
It really is a journey
Just because I opted to choose body positivity, do leap out of bed every day, clicking my heels together and whooping about my fabulous body? Hell no! Some days are easier than others. Occasionally I still want to hide away in a dark hole where no-one can see me. But those days only happen once in a while now, whereas they
used to be an almost daily occurrence.
At some points I think I’m making great strides towards fully and completely loving the way I look, and then at other times, I feel as though I’ve taken a huge leap back again. Progress is not linear and there will be lows as well as highs. It does not mean you have “failed” and have to start again on Monday! Treat yourself as you would a child who is growing, learning and developing. Nurture and treat yourself with loving kindness. You will get there!
Self reflection is a great tool
Most of us are unpicking YEARS worth of ingrained behaviour and thought patterns. Keep looking back at where you’ve come from to help you appreciate the progress you’ve made. Use regular self reflection as a method of selfcare.
Set aside time where you’re able to pat yourself on the back and celebrate the progress you’ve made or get to the bottom of a negative spiral you might find yourself in. A huge part of this journey is about getting to know yourself rather than constantly putting your needs to the bottom of the pile because “You aren’t good enough!” Journal it out. A really useful tool that I’ve used is to think of my body as if it were a friend, a separate entity. I’ve found that It can really help me to gain a bit of perspective.
Insecurities are inescapable
Look, we’re all human and we ALL have insecurities. I bet even Kate moss has the odd day where she looks in the mirror and doesn’t like what she sees! The trick is in minimising those thoughts and living your best life despite them, rather than allowing them to take over and stop you living. Instead of waiting for a magical day where you no longer have any negative thoughts about your body, choose joy, choose life and flick the insecurities a big fat middle finger!
Be positive about YOU
It can be really easy to get caught up in the world of body positivity and to start comparing yourself unfavourably to all of the other bo-po babes out there. I love the fact that there are so many “ordinary” women taking back control, turning their back on the mainstream and flaunting their fabulous selves in a fabulous array of bikinis and lingerie. But I’ll be honest with you, for a while there I felt as though I wasn’t allowed to call myself bo-po because I wasn’t shimmying on Instagram in a skimpy two-piece. And then I sat back and really thought about the essence of what body positivity means to me, and that is doing/ thinking/ wearing what I want to wear, in order to feel more positive about my body. No comparison. No competition. Just me, myself and I!
Ultimately, we have one shot at life, and one body to live it in. Is mine the body I’d have picked out from the pre-life catalogue had I been given a chance?! For years I’d have said a resounding no, but do you know what? I’m getting to the stage in my life where I’m thinking that maybe it is! Because so far in my 40 years on this earth it has done me proud (even with the pretty serious demands I’ve put on it) and it enables me to live a bloody brilliant life that I am thankful for every day.
Am I body positive? You bet your bottom dollar I am!
I don’t know if anyone noticed, but last week we had a bit of a heat wave here in Britain! For over a week, we were all ROASTING and while at the minute the sunshine has taken his hat off and the clouds are back, I’m hoping that we’ll see at least another couple of sunny weeks before summer 2017 is over.
And here’s the thing – Even the fact the fact that I wrote that last sentence is nothing short of miraculous because for most of my life, just the mention of a heat wave would have sent me headlong into a spiral of panic and dread. I’d have panicked about my sweaty face, chaffing thighs, exposed bingo wings and I’d have spent the long, sunny days beating myself up for having failed to achieve the perfect body for yet another summer.
I’ve lived in Cornwall for the last 17 years and while I love walking on the beaches with my two dogs, I have definitely not made the most of that idyllic, picture perfect “beachy” way of life. Hot summer days and dips in the sea have never really been my thing because I have always done such a great job of convincing myself that I wasn’t invited to the party because of the way my body looks. In my mind, the beach life was strictly for the beautiful people only.
But then last week’s heatwave happened and the sun was inescapable. The garden was too damn hot, the kids were over excited and the husband was dead keen because the surf was good. So without too much hesitation, we resolved to spend as much of the weekend as possible at the beach (or 5 different beaches as it turned out!) and right there and then, I decided that I was going to dig out my bathers and go swimming in the sea with my children.
As I stepped out of my sun dress and on to the sand, I took a look around me and was hit by the fact that I was surrounded by hundreds of COMPLETELY different bodies. Tall ones, short ones, thin ones, fat ones, taut ones, wobbly ones, stocky ones, willowy ones, old ones, young ones, scarred ones, blotchy ones, lumpy ones, black ones, white ones, red ones, big boobs, big bums, pear shapes, apple shapes….. It was a truly phenomenal sight!
Now maybe it’s always been this way, but I can honestly say it’s never struck me quite so dramatically before. Why? Well I guess it might be because I’ve been so damn busy stressing out about my own wobbly bits, feeling hot and uncomfortable and trying desperately (and unsuccessfully) to cover my imperfections, that I’ve not really had the time to notice everyone else.
What has changed this year? Well……me! And when I say me, I mean my mindset, NOT my body. I am not suddenly the taut size 10 I once dreamed of being. I am still the wobbly size 16 that my body seems to have settled at since I ditched the diets a couple of years ago. But, a few things have occurred to me which encouraged me to unleash my tankini on the beaches of Cornwall so I thought it might be worth sharing them.
- Bikini/beach bodies are bullshit.
I mean seriously bullshit. In fact, as I sat on the beach last weekend I spotted one woman who could have legitimately featured in a bikini body magazine spread. ONE!!!!! There were HUNDREDS of scantily clad women on the beach and only one actually looked the way the media has brainwashed us into thinking we need to look if we want to spend the summer on the beach!
- I’m angry
Angry at the media, but mostly angry at myself because I’ve allowed myself to be brainwashed. I was so busy believing what I was being told and being seduced by the airbrushed pictures I was seeing that I didn’t take a minute to look around me and think about it in real terms. Of course bikini bodies aren’t real. Hell, not even the models used in the campaigns look as good as the finished images that appear in the magazines!
- I have a duty
A duty to my children to prove that my body has just as much right to be on the beach as anyone else’s because that’s exactly the sort of thing I want my kids to remember when they grow up. I want my daughter to see a woman who doesn’t flinch at peeling off her dress and parading her wobbly, dimpled thighs proudly into the sea so she can jump and splash and cool off with her two precious children. And while I’m at it, I also have a duty to others. In fact, I really hope that there were some women staring at my body last weekend! Not because I’m some sort of exhibitionist, but because I would love to think that by seeing me having fun in the sea with my husband and kids, it might have encouraged someone else to get her swim suit on when maybe she’s not had the confidence to strip off in public before.
- I want to have fun
I am not prepared to miss out on any more fun with my children because I’m too busy apologising for not being the right shape or size. This is my body. It’s the only one I’ve got, just as this is the only time I’ve got to enjoy my children’s childhood and to create happy memories that I pray they’ll carry with them for the rest of their lives. Life is too damn short to spend any more of it sitting on the sidelines while everyone else has all the fun!
So I say it’s time for all of us to stick two fingers up at the “bikini body” lie and reclaim our right to beach life. Do you know what? When you dip your toe in the water, amazing things can start to happen!
I haven’t stepped on the weighing scales for over 2 years, and I can’t tell you how much freedom that has bought me. Gone are the days when I would weigh myself umpteen times a day and then allow the number before my eyes to dictate how the day was going to pan out.
These days, while I can’t tell you my exact weight, I haven’t lost all sense of perspective when it comes to my body. Hell No! Have I put on weight in the last few months? Yup! How much? Enough to make my chinos a little too snug for my liking. Do I know what has led to this? Yes, yes I do, but I might save that for a separate blog post! Am I going to do something about it? Yup, I’m going to drink more water, swap my (too many) refined sugar snacks for some thing else (or maybe just eat less of them) and I’m going to keep cracking on with my new fitness regime. Do I need to get back on the weighing scales? Errrrrrrr, WHY?! What further valuable information would they give me? Would they make me feel better? Would they fill me with hope and positivity? Or would they fuel a little simmering well of self hate and send me “off on one”? I think we all know the answer to that!
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m still keen on having a concrete way of judging and plotting progress. I am a bonafide list lover, and as such I definitely get pleasure from tracking my goals and ticking shit off! Unfortunately, the way that most of us are encouraged to do this is by keeping a food diary (groan) and being a slave to the weighing scales, and let me tell you, that is 100% NOT where it’s at if you’re aiming to pack a little more positivity into your life!
So in a bid to buck the trend, here are my current go-to tracking tools which help keep me focussed on the good stuff:
Have I eaten a rainbow?
Back last year, I bought one of these lovely rainbow charts from Liz Cook charts in order to encourage my kids to eat a wider range of fruit and veg. But guess what? It worked just as well for me as it did for them! I loved keeping a little mental tally about which colours I’d managed to eat each day. I didn’t nick their stickers – honest!!
And while I was concentrating on getting the good stuff down my neck, there was inevitably less space for those beige foods…… Yup, it’s back to my old favourite, crowding out not cutting out!
How much H2O am I necking?
It’s a great idea to keep track of how much water you’re drinking. The experts suggest that in order to keep our bodies ticking along just as they’re meant to, we should be aiming to drink about 2 litres per day (you’ll need more than this in hot weather or if you are doing a lot of exercise). Now in simple terms, the easiest way to monitor this is to grab yourself a litre bottle and drink two fills of it per day. Simples! However, a quick scroll through the beautiful world of Pinterest will also show you some gorgeous ways of marking your bottles with washi tape so that you can ensure a steady stream of water throughout the day, rather than forgetting all about it and trying to drink it all in the two hours before bed, which really isn’t great for undisturbed sleep!
How do I feel?
Rather than using your weight as the only measurable which dictates how your day goes (we’ve all been there!) why not have a go at really getting in touch with how you feel?
I like to use my Happilicious scale which kinda does what is says on the tin. It’s a simple 1-10 scale (in your head or on paper – your choice) with 10 being “totally Happilicious, on top of the world, I feel so good I want to sing from the rooftops”, and 1 being “I want to wrap myself in a blanket, curl up in a ball and shut out the world.” When you get up in the morning, take a second to think about your score on the scale and feel free to revisit and reappraise as many times throughout the day as you like! Taking the time to really get in touch with what’s going on inside your head is a great practice. It helps you to slow down and take stock of all the little facets of your life rather than getting over whelmed by the big headlines. Which brings me on to…….
A bit of daily journaling
In an ideal world, we’d all set aside 10 minutes as soon as we wake up in the morning and 10 minutes just before we hit the hay, to set some intentions for the day ahead and then reflect on our day at it’s end. However, I know that in the real world of children/packed lunches/teeth cleaning/dog walking, that’s something which is easier said than done; but having said that, it’s definitely something worth aiming for!
Now if you head back to Pinterest and search for bullet journals (or bujos if you’re really down with the lingo) you will all at once be inspired, in awe and terrified of the beautifully constructed works of art that you see before you! But, don’t panic – your journal really doesn’t have to be anything fancy shmancy and there’s no right or wrong way of doing it. Just grab a notebook and pen and do what works best for you. You can literally just write out whatever is going on in your mind in one big splurge, or if you prefer, you can stick to a regular daily pattern, helped along by some prompts to get you started.
In a similar vein, I’ve recently discovered Fran at thehappiEmpire and I love the Playsheets you can buy from her on-line shop. There are three different sheets available, “self care check in”, “Happi Maintenance” and “Clarity” and while I love them ALL, I’d say that in terms of getting to grips with a daily practice, the “self care check in” or the “Happi maintenance” sheets are a great starting point.
Now it’s your turn!
If you decide to give any of these methods a go, I’d love to hear from you. Or if you have any other ways which work for you, please drop me a line or hop into the Facebook group to share them. Let’s work together to come up with some fabulous ways of kicking the weighing scales into touch!