It’s an emotive one. What is it? What isn’t it? Do you have it? How do you get it? What does it mean? Who should have it? What’s it about? Looking good? Feeling good? What you weigh? Flashing some flesh? Being toned? Having a six pack?
This isn’t a post to go into detail about those kinds of things really. This isn’t a post to tell you to have body confidence and to fake it till you make it or something similar. This is just a post to celebrate the female body. All bodies. All shapes, sizes, colours. To look at all the different parts that people love and why, based on some real life examples. To understand the reality of that.
Did you know around 90%* of women hate their body? This is so high. So many reasons I imagine. The media, society, peer pressure, upbringing, culture norms and differences, own perceptions, the list could be endless.
And why? What do we covet? Body shape? Weight? Measurements? Clothes size? Thigh gap? I suspect so much of it is around weight. And being ‘skinny’. What about being healthy or unhealthy? If you’re ‘skinny’ but eat unhealthy foods, you can be gathering visceral fat around your organs which can cause some pretty shitty health issues. Is that worth it?
What about promoting a healthy lifestyle, to be active and strong and fit? Sometimes it seems like it’s just all about being thin or fat. Underweight or overweight. There’s a caveat to this, in that I’m generalising about ‘media’ in my own view and perception. I haven’t done extensive research to get any kind of idea of actually what is out there. But maybe that’s the point – I’m talking about the “media” for the general public who don’t go looking so much – as it’s probably safe to assume that anyone looking for that kind of information has an interest in that area, and therefore will have a different perception to start with. For example, I know there is a lot of fitness stuff that’s now popping up. ‘Strong not skinny’, #fitfam, #girlswholift. This has got to be a good thing right? Or then is it? I see those women with ripped abs, strong arms and a toned leg so solid you wouldn’t see a jelly wobble if you balanced one on a thigh and know that there is not a cats chance in hell I could achieve that. Why? Because a lot of that is extreme fitness. That requires SO MUCH dedication it’s totally unrealistic for the majority of people. So there’s the chance that people are hating on themselves because they can’t look like that, but they’re on a hiding to nothing because they can’t/don’t want to change their lifestyle to that extreme. Train 6 days a week. No alcohol. No meals out. Just eating chicken and broccoli. Early nights. This is a great article which explains it in a lot more detail, but in a way that is a bit more meaningful to the everyday Joe (also in a handy infographic).
How about the thought of treating your body with respect? This is essential, surely? And that hating it is shit and destructive. If you think about your body as something to be nurtured, developed, looked after, then surely the least you can do is to treat it well and be kind to it. Feed it good, healthy food that will nourish organs, skin, hair, energy levels and every little cell it contains (on average 37.2 trillion of them). Get good quality sleep, and enough of it. Think of it like a friend. Would you criticise your friends, give them a hard time, deny them sleep and feed them crap food that makes them feel rubbish? I’d hope not (and if you would, maybe you should check whether you actually like your friends). Don’t forget to treat yourself too, like you would your family and friends. Pampering, in whatever format that is for you. A new haircut, a massage, nails, fake tan, sports massage, a new tattoo. Stuff that makes you happy and feel good. Things with no guilt, remorse or conditions attached.
Keep active. One of THE best things you can do for your body. There are SO many benefits; not just weight loss. In fact, weight loss should perhaps be looked at as one very small reason to keep fit or do exercise. What about the other stuff? Like releasing those endorphins which make you feel good. Doing a type of activity you enjoy means doing something that makes you happy. Spending time with people if you’re doing group exercise means being social and having fun times and laughing lots – a major mood booster. Keeping active and exercise is not just about going to the gym. Any kind of movement is great for your body. It’s about living an active life. Sport, the gym, walking, active movements in life, competitions and races, a way to get to work or around town, there are heaps of different ways to keep active. Try just one. You don’t have to run a marathon or deadlift your body weight. A gentle walk down the river or cycling to work once a week will do just as good if you’re not a gym bunny.
Vicki J loves her legs. Because they power her on bike trips (and she’s done many – I actually met her when she was about to cycle the Manali to Leh highway in Northern India). “They bear the tan lines from 2000km on the bike in Chile and Argentina, and have a very visible scar below my right knee from my ACL reconstruction surgery.”
Check out the This Girl Can campaign for real life, real ways of getting and staying active. Be inspired by real life stories from active women up and down the country who are doing their thing no matter how well they do it, how they look or even how red their face gets. A happy mood can affect how you view your body. By doing stuff that makes you feel good, you’re more likely to view yourself better.
Vic M says, “I think a lot of how I feel about how I look has a lot to do with my mood in general from day to day. If I’m knackered, stressed etc, I think I view myself ‘looking like shit’ a whole lot more than if I’ve had a good week, got a bit of colour, dyed my hair, had my nails done etc.”
And of course it’s all about self esteem and self worth. Like a vicious circle, it’s all intrinsically linked. The more self esteem and confidence you have, the more likely you are to feel good about yourself. A lot of it is down to mindset. Sometimes what we love about ourselves isn’t necessarily physical.
Louise L loves her “once I put my mind to it I can achieve it” attitude. “Or at least my ‘give it my best shot, my pick myself up and try again’ attitude. As she’s aging through her 30’s, she’s aware of who she is, and happy with that.
I’ve certainly found that as I get older, I care less about what other people think, or what their perceptions are of me. Like Louise, I know who I am now and I’m happy with it. Is that acceptance or confidence? Wisdom or experience?
I’m also more aware of other people’s behaviour, and of mine on them. Like body shaming. There’s no need for it. If 90% of women hate their own bodies, why would we want to do anything that might have any kind of impact on others and make that worse? Why pass judgements full stop? Be kind. And confidence boosting. What we say or how we act around people can have a lasting effect, so choose your words and actions carefully.
Because sometimes, what other people think does matter. Not always in a bad way. Getting compliments is great for self esteem and brightening up a day. Knowing someone loves something about you, notices something or just takes the time or effort to be nice is bound to make you feel good. It might even make you feel differently about something.
Like Holly P. She’s had so many compliments her whole life about her eyes. Not necessarily something she would pick out herself as a part to love, but says it’s a real confidence booster to hear it. Similar to Nicky W, who loves her smile because it’s what everyone comments on, saying it’s infectious (I can vouch for that). And Sian, who loves her ears, because “they’re small and perfectly formed”.
Elena Del T, who, after years of regarding a certain body part as the scourge of her life due to past relationships, has moved above and beyond and realised it is not actually her that has the issues. She says “the first time I knew that actually what I have always called my Spanish butt was not too shabby was a gay guy at work who said that even he thought it was pretty hot and could turn him..this was the start of my crawl back to confidence. It is OK to be rounded, it is OK to not be petite and thin, it is OK to have a strong body and not be dainty. What is more, my friend pointed out that my now current BF couldn’t keep his eyes off it, which led me to have the confidence that he did actually like me. 4 years later and it is one of his favourite parts of me. I think I am pretty lucky, as bottoms are now ‘in’ courtesy of the Khardashians! What is more, it is strong, and allows me to run up hills, and is pretty comfortable to sit on..”.
Nicky W has a 9 inch long appendix scar running from her public bone past her hip bone. It’s 4 times the size of a normal one because, in her words, “things went a bit wrong”. But if she had the choice to somehow remove it, she says she wouldn’t, because it’s a part of her and a part that not everyone has, making her feel unique. Her first long term boyfriend used to kiss it and tell her he loved it because it was part of her, which she says set her up to never be self concious about it. It’s also linked to childhood memories with her father, remembering “it is the only time in my life I remember my dad showing real concern for me (he wasn’t one to show his emotions) – I was rushed to hospital in an ambulance with flashing lights and as the back doors opened my dad jumped in – this was a man who was so committed to his patients (he was a dentist) that he worked really long hours so it has always stayed with me that he had dropped everything to get to the hospital.”
Because the thing is, if you don’t love yourself, then how can you love someone else? Or be the best you for them? You want them to love you, so you also need to love you. Think about the oxygen masks on planes; you put your own mask on before helping others. Do the same in life. Because, there is nothing more attractive than confidence. Which can be built up in all different ways.
Vicki B believes it’s all about acceptance. “I’m totally not unhappy with my body at all. If I don’t love it, who will? It’s all about acceptance in my opinion. With acceptance comes confidence. Admittedly my tummy is a little more less toned than it used, my thighs are more lined and my width greater than it used to be but after having four children and having moderate diastasis recti I can totally live with that and accept that this is what it is and all these things have happened and altered me physically for a reason. I make an effort to eat well and I make the effort to stay fit in what ever capacity that takes at whatever stage my life and time dictates.”
The pictures above are Vicki’s recent six week effort to tone up (start, 3 weeks, 6 weeks). She says, “it makes me realise what I could achieve if I put just a little more effort in.”
Vic M agrees, although for her she will also happily make improvements where she needs to. “I am a massive fan of plastic surgery and so if it can be fixed with surgery, I am all for it. It’s nothing to do with how anyone else views me, it is about how I feel I look and what will make me feel better about myself. I would still opt for surgery, but I am a lot more comfortable with my wobbly bits than before. If I feel a bit chunky, I will walk to school rather than drive, as I’m not good at cutting out my favourite foods. “
For a lot of women, children are a real thing, and being pregnant and giving birth has a major impact on a woman’s body. This is such a personal, intimate thing, and the experiences are so different and individual for everyone. Quite often negativity is prevalent. Like how it wrecks and ravages, destroys and maims. Like pregnancy is a monster that just chews a woman up and spits her out the other side, battered, bruised and bleeding.
Pregnancy is beautiful and precious. Miraculous and stunning. Something to be treasured and enjoyed, not endured. Some of us will never experience it, but do marvel for other people. A life growing, as a result of love between two people (OK, I know not all conceptions are like that but I’m going with the majority). The practical elements can not be ignored, but they do not have to be the everything.
Holly P is proud of the changes to her body from having two children. “My scar from caesarean especially. And the tiger stripes from being a humble abode to my girls.”
Anna F was unsure about how being pregnant would make her feel. “I’ve been naturally slim all of my life; my Dad had the metabolism of a wasp and I’m very grateful to have inherited it! I have always been very proud of my tiny figure and enjoyed showing it off. So when I fell pregnant last August, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about my changing body.. Well, I needn’t have worried – I absolutely love my huge, round stomach!!! So much so that I purposely choose clothes that accentuate my bump and turn sideways every time I encounter a mirror to admire my profile. The bigger I look, the happier I feel! For a girl who has spent her whole life revelling in complements about her trim waist and flat stomach, it’s ironic that I now glow when people tell me I look ‘huge’! I’m actually quite sad about that fact that I shall shortly have to say goodbye to my bump, I’m very fond of my raft of affectionate new nicknames (Fatty, Chunk and so on) – being pregnant has almost become a part of my identity!!”
I asked Anna what it was that made her love her bump so much. “I think it’s mainly because I’m so thrilled to be having a baby, I’d got to the age where I never ever thought it would happen and had sadly resigned myself to never being a mum. Not only am I having a baby but I’m having a baby with the man of my dreams so I guess the bump signifies the happiest and most excited I’ve ever been in life!”
The fact is, bodies change. Whether you have children or not. We need to accept that fact. No, we need to embrace it. Change in all aspect of life is inevitable, things won’t stay the same. To expect they will is where it can become difficult. What you can do though, is have some say in how you deal with it, and how your body changes. Treating it with respect and keeping active will go a long way. Understanding and loving the parts that make you different. Accepting the wobbly bits. But knowing that you could do something about them if you choose to. Being proud of what your body can do, whether that’s grow another human being or cycle 2000kms. It can do more than you think, I guarantee you that. I’ve learnt it.
The bit that I love is my feet. It was a toss up between my legs (like Vicki J) and feet. They’re both intertwined really. My feet are not pretty, not in the slightest. But that’s not why I love them. They often they have blisters and bruises. Which I actually love. Because I love them for what they can do, and blisters tell me I’ve been doing stuff. My feet get me from A to B. You know, that thing we take for granted. That thing that actually, a lot of people can’t do. Over the last 5 years I’ve realised just how much I can do, and what the body is capable of. They run, jump, hop, skip, dance, hike, cycle and stand still. They’ve taken me over mountains, through rivers, mud and snow. They got me around the world and back in one piece. Even if I sometimes want to stop, they keep going. They make me stand tall even if I don’t feel it sometimes. They march, very much to the beat of my own drum. And they will take me to places I thought I would never go.
There are loads of women out there flying the same flag. Championing body confidence for all shapes and sizes. Celebrating the female body and what it can achieve.
Sophie Radcliffe, female adventurer/athlete/mini power house, ran the London Marathon last week in body paint to champion it. Tess Agnew (aka FitBits) writes about going from a smoking coach potato to fitness junkie in her blog. And there are numerous websites and campaigns. You only have to google body confidence and there are a plethora of links to click on. Let’s join in.
I’m not saying everyone should go run a marathon or take up boxing classes, but I do believe being active is a major part of body confidence. It’s one of a number of things that can improve the way your body looks in a mirror, and will affect how you feel inside too. But, it’s not easy. It does take a lot of hard work. But the rewards are worth it. And it is amazing what the body can achieve. It’s about looking beyond the physical aspects of beauty, beyond the mirror.
Because mirrors are twats. Just being there, taunting you. How many of you when looking in the mirror/walking past, look straight at a body part that you’re not so keen on? And ignore the other bits? It’s probably subconscious and you don’t realise you’re doing it. And what about when you see a photo and think you look nothing like what you see in the mirror? It can be a headfuck. Because what you see is not what other people see. They see your animations, your warmth, your charisma and your confidence. Your smile and the twinkle in your eyes. You don’t.
Here’s a challenge: try having some time without a mirror. So you’re not thinking about what you look like. So you’re not reminded about that physical image of yourself. I had a week earlier this year in the mountains hiking without a mirror. I had no idea what I looked like while I was there, and I found nor did I care. Because you almost forget you have a physical presence, as you’ve not seen yourself. It no longer becomes relevant, it no longer is at the forefront of your mind. Your physical presence is felt in your body instead. You start to concentrate on how your legs feel, your energy levels and how strong you feel and how far you’ve come. The people I was with were interested in my stories and my chatter; my mind and my experiences. They had no interest or comment on what clothes size I was, whether my hair was dyed or natural or whether my stomach was flat. And that’s how it should be.
Love yourself, and everything that makes you, you. Enjoy the compliments and let confidence shine out of you like a beacon. Recognise that beauty comes from many different things as demonstrated above. There are tons of parts that make up one body, and they are all unique to everyone. Respect and celebrate your body for what it can do, and for what it can achieve. For what YOU can achieve. Give yourself permission to be kind to yourself; and in return, demand kindness and respect from others.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to this article – you all rock!
*A figure of between 85-95% appears in many different studies, 90% taken as an anecdotal figure for general purposes only.