For much of my life I have been ashamed of my body. My mind and body have been at war.
I distinctly remember the age when my body image anxiety took hold. I was 13 on a family holiday to Spain and mortified as my Dad waved a camera in front of me on the beach…in my swimming costume. The resulting photos were awful to me, all I saw was thunder thighs. At this point I had started secondary school, begun puberty and was playing sport on a regular basis. I was naturally strong and competent at sport. My legs were powerful and at 13 I was the fastest girl in my school, faster than 18 year olds. Those legs which provided me with a talent like that, while they weren’t going to lead me to any Olympic titles, should have been a source of great pride. Instead they caused me a deep sense of embarrassment and insecurity. Who wants to look strong when attractive girls look slim? Like many teenage girls, as my body was changing I was wracked with insecurities about what I looked like and some of those insecurities have been difficult to shake.
I have strong legs with defined shape even without exercise. A cyclist friend of mine when he first saw me in tight jeans remarked that I have ‘cyclist’s legs’. My mother would tell me as a teenager that ‘I’m sorry to say it but you’ve inherited your Dad’s legs!’. My legs are not particularly long and my thighs bulge front and back when I stand side on to a mirror. I have no thigh gap nor have I ever. These muscular legs of mine did not see daylight for several years due to the shame of feeling I had ‘men’s legs’.
This is not to mention the war with my gut which started around a year after those photos on the Spanish beach. My digestive dysfunction riddled belly would grow a dress size in a moment’s notice. Some days every item of clothing I owned could not feel comfortable against my taut, distended belly. I never believed I was fat but I always felt that this belly was not mine. It was not the size I truly am and it did not look or feel good on me.
Fast forward to the age of 30. I have found an approach to eating through years of experimentation which really works for me. I am getting on top of the stress which triggers the unpredictable bloating and discomfort. And I’m wearing dresses, skirts and shorts (mostly) without embarrassment. At the age of 30 what I have discovered about myself is that…….I am amazing. For real! Amazing! And so are you. If you choose to find out what your body can do.
These muscular legs of mine have climbed mountains, cycled tracks and trails, learned to dance, gained a Pilates qualification and walked for miles and miles and miles. Getting on top of my health meant getting out of my head and into my body. Feeling my body. Noticing my body.
It would be wrong to tell you that this was simple, it wasn’t. I had to do the groundwork including getting on top of my gut health -which is now being more and more linked to mental health. I can honestly say now that most of the time I truly love my body for what it can do and a convenient outcome of this is that I genuinely look better because I am healthy and happy. In the past year I have learned to track cycle, ski, paddleboard, surf and gained a Pilates instructor qualification. Never have I appreciated more the power and stability my body can provide for me when I love it and treat it well.
Getting out of your comfort zone, trying a new physical activity and being brave enough to be a beginner can provide you with a fulfilment and satisfaction that is far cheaper than therapy. It is therapeutic and wholesome and it gets you out of your head and aware of your body. Experiencing yourself from the stand point of enjoying what your body can do is transformative. When you make that connection between your brain and your body you really start to learn about yourself. Without this awareness I would never have learned to really breathe deep into my lungs and use them to their capacity. I wouldn’t have learned that my body can truly move gracefully and elegantly through dance. My feet are stiff and need care to soften them. My glutes work too hard sometimes and I need to remember to relax them. My hips are tight because of the bone placement…
Most of all I wouldn’t have learned that my body is beautiful and amazing because of all the incredible things it can do. And yes, sometimes we are still in battle. But the war is being won. And these legs of mine, the legs I was once so ashamed of, they are powerful and strong and every turn of my pedal on my bike reminds me that I should be thankful for what they do for me every day.
This is my story and it is an ordinary one. I am sharing it with you in the hope that it can help you to find self-acceptance too. It’s a rocky road and there will be ups and downs but as you add these tools of self love to your repertoire you get closer all the time to lasting contentment.