How many women reading this can relate to looking at a photo that someone tags on social media of you, and gasping. “Oh my god, I cannot believe they would upload this photo when my bingo wings look like THAT!”. Do we all have friends that nasty that they get a kick out of uploading ugly photos? No. We have friends that perceive a photo differently to us. What a friend sees as a great night, great moment or a lovely memory can quickly change to a source of self destruction and criticism over your ‘flaws’.
I say ‘flaws’ in inverted commas because there is always someone, somewhere, who envies those ‘flaws’ of yours as they will too be full of self criticism for what they don’t have, or what they do have not being ‘perfect’. This blog is about our perception of what is perfect, what we should look like and other people’s perceptions of us. It’s written by someone who has had a lifelong battle of low self esteem, an unhealthy relationship with food, and a previous eating disorder which I do find hard to write about as I still can’t believe what I used to put myself through mentally and physically. Some of my closest friends won’t know what I put myself through just to fit in or have any insight into my history of mental health problems. I became a mother 18 months ago, and as many mums will know, wow does your body change. This is has been difficult to adjust to, and a journey I am still travelling on with my LYL journal (cheeky plug there yes but a genuine one).
Growing up with a sister like mine wasn’t always easy in secondary school. Kids can be nasty, and daily jokes or comments can be humiliating and stick to your subconscious like superglue. Eventually, you too believe that you’re not good enough and not the perfect fit of how a girl should look. The modern obsession with comparing ourselves to other girls lead me to crucify myself daily for being me. My sister has always been supportive and we were and are still very close, best friends in fact. She used to tell me not to listen and that boys were idiots, and to look at all my wonderful friends. Sadly, I continued to self destruct, obsessing over celebrities and cursing myself for my shape, size and facial features. Quite often if Kelly tried to comfort me or help me choose an outfit if I was stressed about a party, it would end in tears with me shouting “what do you know, you’re a size 8 and always look pretty you have no idea how it feels to be like me”.
I would continuously compare myself to all of my friends, feel sick before a night out, and my wardrobe contents would regularly end up on the bedroom floor in conjunction with the sound of me shouting “NOTHING FITS I AM NOT GOING”. Sound dramatic and spoilt? Yes. Was it dramatic and spoilt? No. It came from physical pain I felt when I had to get ready to go somewhere. The pressure to look nice consumed me for hours, often to the point where I would feel physically sick and like someone was strangling me. It was deep self hatred to my absolute core and nothing anybody said could relieve that pain.
The moment I realised that I was really mentally ill was my first week at university at 19 years old. I met a new group of girls in the halls of residence, and one of them was quick to compliment me on my gym honed body. I had spent the last year kickboxing 4 times a week, attending spin classes, hill running and spending every minute I wasn’t at work in the gym. I worked long hours in a care home to keep busy so that I couldn’t binge eat. If I did binge eat I would punish myself with exercise whether it was 10am or 10pm (My best friend Lucy will recall me locking myself in my room to workout at 11pm just because we ate a pizza). If I couldn’t exercise, then I would spend an hour with my head down the toilet. My whole life for that year had been controlled by food and exercise, and looking back I would die for that body now.
So from reading all of this how do you think I reacted to the compliment?
I completely ignored it and quickly pointed out my imperfections. My perception of myself was so warped that it didn’t matter what size or shape I was, my feelings were the same. I went home that night and sat on my bed. I didn’t have many friends at this point as I had been difficult during the last year of school with depression (I found out mum had HD at 14, so this fueled my self-destructive personality greatly) and only two friends had stuck it out with me. Meeting new people who instantly complimented me had a huge impact that week, as it made me question why I hated myself SO much, and why I couldn’t be happy.
Two months later my sister (typical rescuer personality) bought me a photo shoot package at a local studio, where they glammed you up with hair and make-up. These photos were fantastic, but I hated them. I had none printed, hated the day and felt angry after. Don’t worry, this blog is almost over and the rest is definitely not as depressing as it has been so far, but I am sure there are lots of women who can relate to that inability to see something good about yourself. At this point so many women would tell me how lucky I was I didn’t have a baby belly or ‘saggy’ bits, or that it was ‘ok’ for me as I was young and would soon fill out. Little did they know how grueling my daily routine was to maintain the size I was. You can see from the photo shoot I wasn’t anorexic looking, I was an 8-10, but my natural size is a 12-14 so I lead a very unhealthy way of life to achieve and maintain this.
Now, as a size 12-14 mum to an 18 month old, with wobbly bits and a tummy that won’t ever be the same, I am the most comfortable with my shape I have ever been. I am not at a stage where I love myself or accept the fact that I am not toned, I will always have a goal to be fit and healthy as nothing gives me an endorphin release like it. However, my goals have changed. I no longer have Sienna Miller stuck on my wall with an unrealistic goal of being like her, I have a goal to exercise and be the best I can be with my shape and size. My perception has changed because I have been lucky enough to give birth to Rosa. I look at my belly and feel so amazed that I grew my little girl in there. She will always be worth the wobbly jelly layer! I also feel so passionate about not allowing Rosa to feel the way I did, and ensuring she grows to love herself. People bigger than me still say comments about me not having a big baby belly, or how lucky I am that I stayed the same, but all I will say is never remove the right for someone to feel insecure or unhappy with their body. I looked at myself as a toned size 8-10 with defined lines on my stomach, and saw a disgusting, wobbly, unworthy person who was too fat to get where she needed to be. We are all entitled to low self esteem, and often it’s not a direct result of your body image. I know my sister’s low self esteem was hugely driven by her divorce (anyone who has been through divorce will know that it can make you feel completed stripped , exposed, and like you weren’t good enough) and is now largely driven by the possible inheritance of Huntington’s Disease, something that makes her feel deeply inadequate as a woman when people ask her about the prospect of having a baby.
Your perception of somebody will always be different to their own. So the most important thing to remember is that your perception of yourself will ALWAYS be different to how others see you. Measure your beauty by how many people love and cherish you, and how many people smile when they see you. The more kindness and love you have to give, the more beautiful you are. I tell myself this every time I feel self destructive and it always pulls me out of it. Remember most women will be fighting the same battle as you even if you think they have it all.