I seem to talk about body image a lot. I know that. But here I am, back on it again, like a broken record. Sorry ’bout that. This time, though, it’s because a friend of mine sent me this fabulous article and it gave me pause for thought. It’s amazing what an impact the things people say to you as a child can have – I still can’t pass Slim Fast in the shops without being reminded of how often kids at school told me to try it – but it doesn’t end when you leave school. Self-esteem is very easily damaged – which is why, as I’ve said before, we need to start being nicer to each other.
I was really lucky in that my parents never put pressure on me or my sister to look a certain way – they just wanted us to be happy, and to keep things in perspective. Work hard, have fun, be happy no matter what – that’s pretty much how I was raised, and it’s served me well. But the big wide world can be a scary place, and I know that when I first started trying to lose weight, my self-esteem had been pretty much shot to bits.
It seems to me that a lot of weight issues, be they overeating, undereating, emotional eating, whatever – are triggered by some kind of crisis of self-esteem or self-belief. Whether it’s a sudden shock to the system, or the peak of a doubt that has built up over a number of years, there’s almost always a reason we end up the way we do. In fact, this doesn’t just apply to food-talk – I’m no expert, but I’m willing to wager that a hell of a lot of self-destructive behaviours, be they drinking, smoking, whatever – come into play in some small part because of issues of self-esteem. In your mind, you’re already not good enough, so logic dictates that you might as well just do what you like, regardless of the consequences.
When I’d reached my lowest point, before I figured out that to lose weight you have to be healthy (and patient), I tried a few crazy diets. I’d starve myself for a couple of days, then get really hungry and eat myself silly again. I read up on all the celebrity diets – at the time, it was between the master cleanse and baby food – and contemplated them all. Obviously, they didn’t work – and I suspect over the course of a couple of months there, I gained at least 20lbs (and found myself considerably more depressed) whilst trying to lose weight. Smooth, huh?
That’s why one of the main points of the article that really stood out for me, personally, was this:
“I realised that the most exhausting aspect of my life was the fact that I hated my body.”
Preach it. It’s hard work pouring all of your energy into hating yourself, and it can easily spiral. It’s hard to be objective about our own bodies; more often than not, we’re either too hard, or too easy on ourselves, and as such, it’s easy to either exaggerate or ignore our flaws. That, my friends, is human nature – and by God does it make things difficult. That is why, when I harp on and on endlessly about this being as much a psychological battle as a physical one, I mean it.
Once I’d decided I hated my body, I found it ever easier to engage in self-destructive behaviour, which would make me hate myself more, and… You get the point. It’s a vicious cycle. I had to give myself a very, very stern talking to to get out of that downward spiral – and I know that without continually reinforcing my motivation and confidence, I could fairly easily end up that way again.
Fortunately, my self-esteem has improved a hell of a lot as a result of losing weight – but not for the reasons you might think. It’s not because the route to happiness is losing weight, and it’s not because I’m thin/slim/skinny (I’m not even close to thin/slim/skinny.) Nope, this is a self-control thing.
The fact that I know that I am capable of following a programme of positive lifestyle changes – of getting out and hitting the gym even when I’m not in the mood, and of walking past the curry house downstairs without making eyes at a naan bread – has done more for my self-esteem than having lost the weight. When I was bigger, I was weaker than I am now, because I hadn’t taught myself any kind of self-control. Now, I’m like the Karate Kid. I’m hardcore.
The thing is though, my body isn’t perfect. Not even close. But it’s the only one I’ve got, and I’ll be damned if I spend the next sixty years slagging it off just because it’s got a few (more than a few) stretch marks, or because I’ve still got a bit (more than a bit) of flab on my stomach. Screw that. They’re my stretch marks and my flab – and they’re fine by me. I mean, don’t get me wrong – I don’t exactly do the midriff thing like Britney Spears circa 1999, and I certainly have no intention of getting into belly dancing any time soon.
Rather, I dress in a way that accentuates what I’ve got, and hides what I don’t – but at the same time, next time I need to get naked (Ryan Gosling, if you’re reading – hear this) I will not be insisting on complete darkness. My stretch marks and I are at peace with one another. We’re cool.
Two years ago, they were just the tip of the iceberg of things that made me miserable. Now, they’re a sign of how far I’ve come. They’re a reminder of how much ass I’ve had to kick to get myself healthy and happy – and they’re a part of me. The me who has a pretty good sense of self-esteem; the me who has an almost Yoda-like sense of self-control; and the me who has time to do a PhD, a job and a blog because I’ve shaved hours from my schedule just by quitting hating my body.
Because this is the thing – you can decide how you spend your life. It’s a bit of a cliche, but you’re only ever going to be you – so you might as well make the most of it. And it doesn’t matter what the number on the scales says, or what clothes size you wear, or anything else – if you can find your way to loving your body and being happy, then to my mind… You’ve made it. The way you see yourself is infinitely more important than the way anyone else sees you – so take a look in the mirror and appreciate your body for what it is.