body confidence – or not.
I started writing this blog post a few weeks ago and have been trying to edit it and finish it since then. Not because I was struggling with the writing but more the actual subject. Having an opinion nowadays is a dangerous thing and is likely to upset someone somewhere. As an individual who actively skirts confrontation like I do big scary social situations, I struggle with the idea of upsetting anyone. But this is something I feel quite strongly about – ask Shane who’s listened to many half-drunk rants about it.
So, here it goes.
Today has been one of those days. I got up late due to what I like to call an emotional hangover (the remnants of feeling shit about something that happened the day before) and did my best to avoid all the stuff I need to do. Of which there’s quite a bit – my Etsy shop won’t open and stock itself no matter how much I will it to. After I finally managed to drag myself in and out of the shower and slap some make-up on my face, I did what everyone has to do and got dressed. Well, I attempted to and that’s where things went tits up.
I’m a size 12, I’m 5”4 and have been between 10 and 11 stone most of my adult life. The only exception to that was about 3 years ago when I was so horrendously poorly with my mental health that I dropped to 8.5 within the space of two months and hovered between a size 8/10. I’m not going to lie, I fucking loved it at the time and everyone told me how great I looked (if lollipop is what you’re into) and asked for my secret. I lied and said, ‘running’ because ‘nervous breakdown’ didn’t seem like the answer people wanted somehow. I look back at photos from that time now and I feel so sad for who I was and how unwell I was at that time. I was so fragile, both mentally and physically. I got a taste of how skinny felt but realistically that’s not where my body is when it’s happy.
Whilst my shoulders are a tad too wide, making my boobs look even smaller and my thighs are chunky with a capital CH, there’s nothing altogether wrong with my body. It’s healthy and has pulled me through some of the toughest times of my life. It even took the years of abuse I’ve given it without much complaining. Nowadays I work out about three times a week, my diet is the healthiest it’s ever been and I try to only give into my sweet tooth at weekends or when my mental health demands it be cured with sugar. No matter how much I’ve exercised or dieted my body has usually always stayed the same, save for a bit more muscle definition or less panting going up flights of stairs. I know all of this, but every time I look in the mirror I’m left feeling disappointed with what I see reflected back it. My appearance and vanity is something I battle with a lot and I constantly berate myself for being fixated on something as shallow as how I look. On the one hand, part of me is like ‘fuck it – I work out, I’m healthy and I’m happy. Get on with it, Dina and wear what you like even if it’s slightly unflattering’. But then the other part and annoyingly the louder part is all ‘You can’t wear that unless you’re going to suck it in all day, you look ridiculous’. Obviously, that part of me is a total dickhead.
Now I could blame my years at secondary school where the most attractive girls were skinny, blonde and doused with a toxic level of Gucci Rush. Or perhaps the ex who rubbed my belly and told me ‘someone’s been eating too many sweeties’. Maybe it’s down to the girl who once said in passing ‘I’d rather die than be a size 12’ or the guy who remarked ‘You’d be perfect if the bottom half of your legs were as long as the top’. Yes, someone actually uttered those words. That’s probably the reason I can’t wear my awesome check trousers without feeling like everyone will be as disgusted with my stomach as I am, right? Well, it definitely hasn’t helped but I think the hard truth of the matter is it’s about the opinion I have of myself. Or more accurately, letting the opinion of others (or the opinions I’ve imagined they have) then dictate how I feel about myself.
A Youtuber and blogger called Helen Anderson recently addressed this whole ‘Body Confidence/positive’ movement and her thoughts on it were interesting. As someone who is openly in the public eye, she gets a lot of people commenting on her appearance which I suppose is a part of the job that can’t be avoided. Most of the comments she receives are super positive and champion her body confidence, but her argument is that she is confident and she has a body, but the two are separate things. Which got me thinking about my own relationship with confidence. The confidence I had as kid disappeared when I became aware of a set of ideals I was supposed to fit into that dictated what I was supposed to look like. These ideals moulded a world where our worth is relative to how many likes we get on our social media. Where we have made idols out of people who are paid to work out, eat kale and prance around on beaches in tiny bikinis. We lust over men with perfect teeth and washboard abs or women with huge bums and tiny waists without a stretch mark or sprout of hair in sight. Don’t even get me started on porn and the unrealistic image it paints of what sex is supposed to look and sound like. I’m an adult and I find it hard to navigate all of it, I can’t even imagine how much damage we’re doing to the generations that are going to come next.
The body confidence movement is a tricky subject to talk about because no matter what my opinion someone is going to disagree with it and tell me I’m wrong. And maybe I am? In short, my issue with the concept of body confidence is it often implies there’s something to not to be confident about in the first place. Know what I mean? I find it beyond frustrating that so much of our self-worth is linked to what we look like and how our appearance fits into what we’re told is normal or desirable or acceptable. There’s so much more to us than how we look on the outside. How many times have you looked in the mirror and thought, ‘I’m unhappy with how I look today’ but have then reminded yourself ‘But I work really hard, I have a degree, I’m healthy, I have great friends, my family are awesome, I’m a bloody good knitter and that is far more important than my cellulite’. I have never done it. Well, the ‘I Weigh’ movement started by the frankly amazing Jameela Jamil was started to encourage all of us to do just that. To look past the skin on our bones and celebrate all the things that make us a whole person. Whether it’s our accomplishments, attributes we have or struggles we have overcome. Understandably the movement has received a lot of press coverage since it’s birth and there are people from all over the world getting involved and celebrating everything that makes them amazing. You can check it out using the link below.
Hands up, I’m not saying tomorrow I’m going to suddenly to trade my dislike of my wobbly bum for my ability to colour in like a pro but I am aware there needs to be a shift in my thinking. A shift away from ‘I wish I looked like her, I bet her life is amazing’ to ‘I’m glad I’m me and have accomplished X, Y and Z’. If I want my children to be able to be proud of who they are for more than the skin they’re in then the change needs to start with me. Even if it’s hard, or uncomfortable or confrontational. Also, there needs to be some (massive) acceptance on my part of my body, dimples and wobbly bits included. It’s not an easy thing mind you when we are constantly being bombarded with messages that who we are is not good enough, smart enough, thin enough, tanned enough. But there are people out there proving it can be done, and if they can do it then we can too.
Here are some of the people/accounts that I personally think are doing a great job at being proper role models for everyone when it comes to loving yourself and your body.