April 15, 2019
I remember the moment my friend told me on holiday that she loved my shape and wished she had more curves like me. It took me back. I had always put her shape (skinny, muscular, long) on a pedestal as the celebrated ideal I had been fed my whole life. She liked my shape? I at once felt complimented and also like maybe this was some kind of joke she was playing out on me. That’s how much I thought someone with her shape couldn’t want parts of mine.
But she did. And her telling me was the first shift in seeing my body in a different light, and eventually coming to love it. A lot.
I have always had an hourglass figure. I was a gymnast growing up and my hips were something I hated every week, for 8 hours, when I had to stand next to and train with the other girls on my squad. I looked different. And different is not what you want when you’re in your early teens. Hell, it’s not what you want in your early twenties, either. You want to feel like you are one and the same as your peers, as your tight group.
I used to constantly compare myself looks wise to the girls who were my best friends. The images in magazines let me know the ideal, and I would compare each of us accordingly. This felt normal to me at the time, the constant comparison and worry. Even something as insignificant as the size of my arm when I was leaning on it would make me worry. Worry that someone else would then compare me badly to them or to others and somehow within that I would be seen a lesser.
It’s no surprise we’re confused. As women our bodies are powerful weapons. We’re taught from a young age that they can be easily sexualised – both in good and bad ways. We’re told not to be too revealing in our choice of clothes but yet to conform to the male ideal when dressing up. It’s no surprise we get confused. Women’s bodies are also the most talked about thing in media (I’m ironically adding to it here, then) and naked women are the most celebrated pieces of art, too. The female body is this magical, mythical thing that no one quite understands what they want to think about it. So owning one means you’ll likely go through stages of understanding what it does, what it looks like and what other think of it.
On top of this, we now live in an era where we see even more images everyday, and most likely, they are images of the women we follow and aspire to on social media. It’s hard when scrolling through your feed to forget that a) a photo posted is likely on of 150 photos taken and not what someone looks like the whole time and b) there is (sadly) so much editing going on in terms of lighting and sometimes even shape that these images should not be seen as reality but also c) even if they are, you are not lesser than them.
A huge reaction to this is why I started my un-retouched self portrait series of my body. When I first started my self-portrait series they were images that is was shooting for myself, not to share. They were my way of moving out of the currency of tiny images we have on social media and seeing myself from different angles and lights, and capturing myself in different moods. They genuinely helped me become confident because I explored myself – and my body – through them. Maybe it was a way of documenting my move into womanhood. Into owning my own body – quite literally – in the image. That’s why they feel very personal, because they were. They were my saviour in understanding my body and through that, myself.
Although the smallest comment in the scheme of things, it really was that day on the beach for me that really shocked me into realising something: that all women, no matter their size, compare themselves to each other. Compare their bodies to each other. Even the girl who you think has your dream body and she can’t possibly have a worry in the world will be comparing herself to someone else – and it might just be you, too.
It was upon realising this that I decided to try and see my body through the eyes of someone else. Not through a male gaze that might sexualise my body but of a woman appreciating my body for all that it is. And that woman became myself. I noticed the best parts. I had always had parts I liked but they had come second to the parts I hated and would dwell on daily and which became all I saw when I looked it the mirror.
I decided to just see the parts I liked – for all I knew, those were the parts other people saw, too. It became easier and easier as time went on. I wore clothes that complimented these parts rather than hid the bad parts. Those were no longer my concern, they began to not exist. I was free.
It was surprisingly a lot easier than I had thought to loose those decades of self taught disgust at parts of my body. Now when I’m with friends on holiday I don’t compare my body to theirs. We are all women and we are all different – that’s the magic of our bodies. They are all wonderful in their own unique way. It sounds painfully cheesy but it’s true: why would we all want to look the same. I don’t need to compare my body because I no longer see us as a comparison. Once myself and a friend were looking in the mirror before heading out, and we noticed out loud to each other that although we had completely different body shapes and sizes – we were both womanly. Both beautiful. Both happy to be different and comfortable in our own bodies. And I think that was a growth for both of us as we acknowledge our love of each other bodies as well as our own.
Just because my body is bigger doesn’t mean it is lesser, even if I also admire my friends’ body.
Another women’s beautiful body does not lessen the beauty of my own. I’ll say it again: another women’s body, does not lessen the magic of your own. The same way another women’s success doesn’t take away from yours.
And since being more confident in my shape – and owning it as my shape – when I see a photo of myself in a bikini next to my friends, I don’t begin to compare the size of our legs or arms: we are happy in our bodies. In the incredible physical body that keeps us alive – why would I want to hate on that?
In a world of facetune and over editing online it seems even harder to accept the beauty of difference. Your point of difference in your body is your beauty. It’s always the little ‘flaw’ in something that makes me think of it as beautiful. The imperfect is perfect. The perfect is boring. Being different is great – it’s sexy. Why would you want to become a robot and blend in? Your point of difference is your magic. To love your body you do not have to be the unattainable ideal of ‘perfect’. It’s about allowing yourself to love it as it is rather than becoming something or someone else to love it.
Learning to love your body is about a new way of seeing – both yourself and the world around you. It’s only though changing our ideals of beauty and the way in which we see things that we begin to feel new things. New ways of seeing give you new ways of feeling.
Although it is of course a long process, the few tips I have to feel comfortable in your body is to stand in front of the mirror – either naked or in your underwear (I started with underwear but feel comfortable enough nowadays naked) and admire yourself. Sound foreign? It can be. But pick out your favourite parts even if it’s something like your wrist or your knees. The parts I focused on that I loved were my ankles, my lower back and my waist. These were (and are) my favourite parts that I decided to focus on. Try not to dwell on the parts that aren’t your favourite. They will eventually disappear, I promise. Tell yourself, to your reflection: I love you, every part of you. Hug yourself. This wonderful body is what keeps our hearts beating, and if you’re lucky enough to have a fully functioning body: thank it. Not to get all Marie Kondo on you but it’s a good thing to appreciate how lucky we are to have these bodies. Rather than think of them just as our appearance towards the world, to see them as the vessels that keep us alive and able to do what we would like to in this world.
Do things that make you feel attractive. I love feeling stronger in my body through Pilates. Take a bath and scrub your body, feel every part of it. Enjoy how it feels, rather than just how it looks. Put on your favourite outfit for no reason – just for you. Look at yourself in the mirror and enjoy what you see. I love drinking a glass of red wine as I cook myself dinner. It’s about a balance for me. Allow yourself to accept compliments from others rather than shun them away. If someone tells you that you look great in those jeans, say thank you, I think so too – not ‘oh no it’s the cut!’ No girl, it’s you. Allow yourself great sex, and masturbation. Feel at one with your body. It is yours: enjoy it. Feel well in in rather than fixating on what it looks like.
But the biggest ‘tip’ I can give is: be gentle to yourself. Be kind. Allow yourself bad days and good days, don’t berate yourself. The same way we try to be happy mentally, trying to be happy physically will of course have its ups and downs.
I’m often asked how and why I am so confident in my body. It’s a hard question to answer because there isn’t one simple response. It took time but I persevered, bit by bit. I do not think of myself as perfect, but rather as perfectly myself.
Allow yourself to relax into your body, and not judge detached parts of it as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. But rather as a whole, a physical body that is linked to your mind – as the two have a huge impact on one another. The first step towards loving your body – and yourself in your body – is a mental one. It is a learned mentally of comparison that robs us of our self-acceptance. Comparison is the death of all joy. So make a rule to not compare yourself – in real life and the digital world.
this was originally written for Sunday Edit