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14.02.2020- On being grateful for the body you have...

Without a doubt, we’ve all had moments where we’ve felt frustrated by the way we look. Growing up in a culture which is obsessed with thinness, body shape and losing weight, it’s impossible not to feel slightly intimidated by a constant stream of images of impossibly thin bodies (often heavily altered in post-production), and a world which places a disproportionate value on appearance. I thought that this was bad enough for me growing up as a teenager, but now I think it’s even more insidious- back then, it was much easier to choose not to engage with certain magazine titles (e.g not buy them) than it is now to avoid a stream of heavily edited Instagram shots, and apps which allow you to make yourself thinner, lengthen your legs, make your cheekbones more prominent. Any insecurity you’ve got- there’s a fix for that. 

Don’t get me wrong, my body and I have always had a bit of a tumultuous relationship. As a teenager, I used to go through terrible phases of binge eating (usually precipitated by exam stress); I’d get home from school and very easily put away a packet of crisps, a can of Coke, sausage rolls and a steady stream of Jaffa Cakes. This (predictably enough!) lead to quite a quick window of weight gain when I was about sixteen- something which I only became acutely aware of after seeing photographs of myself from a holiday. That feeling of complete disconnection from the person you feel that you are and the person which other people see is one which peppered by late teens and early twenties- I felt like a stranger in my own skin, which in turn made me feel more unhappy. For context, at this point, I wasn’t especially physically active and my diet consisted primarily of food on the unhealthy side of the spectrum. It was only when I started university- a degree in Drama which had a few very physical modules- that I realised I needed to seriously up my fitness to keep up with the class, and also make a commitment to my overall health. 

Looking back, it’s easy to see where my negativity surrounding my own body image originated from. As a child, I was always the biggest of my cousins, and usually the biggest in my class. I hated P.E., and at both primary and secondary school I largely shunned any form of competitive physical activity. However, arriving at a regular exercise routine as an adult has been a total blessing, and one which I’m so happy to have stuck with. For me, the gamechanger (as I’ve posted about before) was arriving at running. When I started back in 2012, I couldn’t even run for a bus without getting out of breath, so being able to commit to a regular routine feels like a huge personal achievement, and has also made me realise what I can be capable of when I put my mind to it- as well as being a total tonic for my overall wellbeing, both physical and mental. More than that, it’s also made a huge difference to the way I think about my body. In the past, I’ve been so guilty of wishing it was this or that- more of one thing or less of something else. 

Now, and especially after my operation about eighteen months ago, I’ve become so much more appreciative of what my body is and what it can do, rather than what it isn’t and what it can’t. Yes, I still have days where I feel like a stranger in my own skin and am hyper critical of certain (teeny tiny!) aspects of my appearance- usually at very predictable times of the month- but as I’ve grown older I’m become a lot less self-critical, and have happily distanced myself from anything which makes me feel like my body doesn’t conform or fit into a certain way of being. A few weeks ago, it got me to the top of Box Hill twice, and at the end of April it’ll be getting my 26 miles along Hadrian’s Wall (sponsor me here!)- I owe it to what it’s capable of to treat it with the respect it’s due.

(Image credit: Sarah Farrell, please do not reproduce without permission.)


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