Big girl pants.

 

Some days you have to put your big girl pants on, even if you don’t feel like it. Some days are just a bit crappy and all you want to do is sit and moan about how shit and unjust things and PEOPLE are and wonder what they very hell is wrong with you. And wallow. Wallowing is allowed though, you know. Just maybe for not too long, it can be cathartic for a while, then it just turns into self pity which is no good to anyone.

Yes, there will be a silver lining, yes, things happen for a reason and all that jazz. And yes, one day you will look back and realise that actually, this is probably a good thing, this was meant to happen. But now? No, now is for feeling a bit sad and wanting to eat garlic bread and Maltesers and get a fat food baby bloaty tum. Which actually, works to make you feel better, until you realise that will not actually help the situation and mentally make a note to go on a 12 mile run as soon as possible. Until you realise you’ve not run 12 miles in months and that’s as likely to happen as the whole of August being sunny in the UK. <shoves another Malteser in mouth>

Luckily, the big girl pants are big enough to go over the fat bloaty tum and you know the 12 mile run will happen, just probably in 3 separate occasions. And you know that sometimes, it’s not you, it IS them. And it IS their loss, as much as you might feel like it’s yours right now. And that no, there isn’t something wrong with you (although you do wonder).

The pants have superpowers. For those people going through a shitty relationship time right now (you know who you are), pull them up and embrace the power. Remember that one day this WILL all be a memory. There IS a light at the end of the tunnel, and it is shining brighter and lighter than ever before. There’s a new life waiting for you that, yep, isn’t the one you imagined, but maybe, just maybe it’s actually a whole load better. How about that thought? You are doing amazingly, you have no idea how much. You, at some point – months, maybe even years down the line, you’ll look back at this time, and wonder how the very fuck you did it. Maybe even laugh at the absurdity of it all. But right now, doing it you are, and with the utmost dignity. There’s no rule book, there’s no guidelines, just Big Girl Pants and a pair of hypothetical balls to strap on and fill them with.

Mine are Batman ones.

Body confidence.

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.”

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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”.

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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.

Image is everything.

Image is everything. Or is it? Today’s world and social media says so. Especially for women. Airbrush this, stick a filter on that, photoshop the fuck out of everything. So many apps that allow you to change your photos to make them look ace.

Which, let’s be honest, they do look ace. You can make something look pretty damn sweet with enough filters and editing. This is nothing new, photographers have been doing it for years. But now everyone can do it with their day to day photos, and then use that to present their life to the world. Which is OK, apart from that makes it intrinsically false and fake.

There’s been loads of talk of this in the media over the last few months, lots of people writing similar posts and sad stories of people who presented the perfect life when reality was actually far from it, some ending in tragic circumstances. I kind of posted about this back in May when the #lifeunfiltered hashtag was doing the rounds.

Today I read a story about a teenager who was making money from social media – mainly the pictures she was posting and the clothes she was wearing – when she decided to remove most of the pictures and edit the captions of certain pictures to reveal the truth behind the pictures.  How she didn’t eat, would take over 100 shots to get the ‘perfect’ picture and so on. What a great thing to do to try to raise awareness of the reality behind these ‘perfect’ lives.

I hate the world today in terms of the media and what we as women get told we should be, what we should look like, what kind of life we should be living. Who is anyone to tell us what we should or shouldn’t do? The life the media and advertising gives us is totally unattainable for most people, and can cause so much unhappiness and low self esteem. It’s like chasing a unicorn across a rainbow; unrealistic.

We should be teaching our daughters, nieces, friends etc. to love themselves. To be happy from within. That looks are not the be all and end all. That how much you weigh doe not dictate your happiness. That being healthy and loving yourself is much more important. That you do not need validation from others to feel worthy. That confidence is much more attractive than make up or clothes. That following your dreams and listening to yourself is a pretty good Thing To Do.

The older I get the more I see younger women unhappy and uncomfortable. I’ve found the older I get the more happy I become (and having chatted to a lot of my friends of similar age or older it’s common). Because the older I get the more I realise what is important (and what’s not). That worrying about what you look like in your 20’s is such a waste. Get to your 30’s and more and you’ll realise that looks wise, your 20’s is a prime time. That you weren’t fat. That you didn’t have wrinkles. That old saying of youth is wasted on the young. And I’m sure it will be the same in my 40’s. And 50’s. And so on.

Back in 2012 I did a photo-a-day blog to document my first year of single life – a year I knew would be spent rediscovering myself. One post was some advice I would give to my 15 year old self. It’s a fairly short post but still stands true today. I’ve recently seen a post about what older women would also say to their younger selves too. And similar articles on the internet. It’s all fairly similar. Tricky though, as I also know that had someone told me this back when I was 15 I totally wouldn’t have listened. Because of course I knew everything, I was a teenager. I was lucky enough to have parents who made me believe I could do anything, and even though events in my 20’s could have quashed that belief, they didn’t, luckily. It just took me a few more years to start putting it into practice.

People need make and learn from their own mistakes, but if we could foster a world where some basic principles become the norm, I’d like to think that the lessons would come from where people had reached for the stars rather than cried over what stares back at them from a mirror. If someone is only interested in you for what you look like, then do you really want to know them? Does their opinion really matter? Why do you feel the need to be validated by them, and especially why do you feel the need to be validated on what you look like?

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know there are a number of things out there trying to break down the notions of a ‘perfect life’. To encourage and inspire women (and men, this isn’t a gender-specific problem) to believe in themselves, ultimately boosting self confidence and self esteem. And I’m going to try to do that at any opportunity. I don’t have kids, but I have a niece, a god-daughter and many friends with children. If I can be some kind of role model to them and try and pass this message on, then that’s the least I can do.

In the words of Nelson Mandela:

“Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”

Skinny fit.

I’ll admit it. I want to be skinny. I always have. I’ve never been overweight, but I’ve never been skinny either. I used to want to be bony skinny, especially as a teenager and into my twenties. That little bit too thin. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because it’s what society says we should be. All those pictures in magazines and on TV. Maybe the teenage me thought that’s what was attractive or it was what I should look like for other people. Maybe it was my own brain saying that’s what I find attractive.

Whatever it was, I never was. I never had the willpower to not eat a lot. Because generally, that’s pretty much what it takes. Unless you’ve got natural genes, metabolism and small bones.

But, I still want to be skinny. Well, actually now, I guess it’s not really ‘skinny’. I want to be lean. Healthy. Toned. Thin but not bony. And, well, I guess I’m pretty much there. I’m happy with the way I look. And feel. I judge my well-being on how I feel inside, what I see in the mirror and how I feel when I run or do exercise. I’ve never owned a pair of scales, and doubt I ever will. I feel pretty healthy, and know I eat [mostly] healthy stuff, exercise a decent amount and don’t smoke. Ok, I probably still drink a little bit too much but hey, I’m not perfect. And I’ve realised that if I feel healthy and do all those things, I feel good, and I’m happy with what I look like in the mirror.

That’s not to say there’s things I wouldn’t change. Of course there is, everyone’s got them. The bits they’re not that keen on. But really, I can live with them, and overall I’m happy with how I look. It all makes up me. Character, as my Dad would say (generally about anything that’s a bit different, wonky, not quite right or imperfect).

But why do people, women especially, get so hung up about what they look like? Why are women never happy with the way they look? According to surveys, most women are unhappy with their bodies. One, commissioned by REAL magazine, found that only 3% of the 5000 women surveyed were totally happy with their bodies. 3%? 3%? That’s bloody awful. (Link here, sorry for Daily Mail link but it’s the only write up I could find)

Why ladies? Why so negative and down on yourselves? Do you treat others that way? Would you say the kind of things apparently said to yourself to someone else? I doubt it. The survey found that 91% of the women surveyed were happy with the way their partners looked. So what do you think their partners think about them? They’d probably say the same surely? But if you told some women that I guess that wouldn’t make any difference. Whatever they were told they wouldn’t believe it because those thought processes are so ingrained. They don’t want to accept compliments. Don’t believe them. Unfortunately it’s not a new thing either.

Interestingly, a survey conducted for Fitness magazine shows slightly different results. Still not great, but a bit better. The numbers and % seemed to be a bit better. I’ve read before that people who exercise tend to feel better about themselves and their bodies, whether they look different or not, the fact they are doing something seems to help the way they feel about themselves. And this can only be a good thing.

People come in all shapes and sizes. We should learn to love ourselves for who we are and what we look like. Character and all. We should look after ourselves, eat healthy stuff, do a bit of exercise and have the odd bit of indulgence. Give ourselves the credit we are due. Accept compliments. Take pride in who we are. And if other people don’t like it? Well, it’s none of their business is it? Their problem, not yours.

Confidence. It’s a powerful thing. Remember, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. So, go forward, accept yourself and your character and always realise this: “those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind”.