Body Image isn’t everything….
I am currently taking respite in the quiet area of Ibiza. It is my first stage of recovery after my recent inpatient stay in a psychiatric hospital. I am doing nothing but lying on the beach, seeing friends and hanging out in local cafes. Sounds amazing and it is. I am very thankful to be living my life right now but my body isn’t up to doing much more.
Today I was lying on the beach and enjoying the moment, soaking in my surroundings. The beach was busy and filled with different nationalities. Everyone was relaxed, smiling and chatting, oblivious to others. I was the only committed people watcher. I noticed that every single woman had a completely different shape and size and I could find something attractive in each. And I realised how comfortable I was in my own skin.
The versatility was extraordinary – different skin colours, big breasted, small, curved, slim, apple, pears and even orange shaped! Some were covered by sarongs, others high waisted bikinis (me) and many wearing teeny bikinis involving a barely there thong. Many were topless, possibly to prevent those fateful ‘white bits’ or because they just didn’t care and felt free to laze. What was most inspiring was the fact that no-one was staring at each other. There was no judgement in the atmosphere unlike some of the ‘image central’ beach bars and clubs on the island.
The ideal that what you wear, your size, diet and exercise regime gives you self-worth is simply an untruth. Comments and admiration from others will give you confidence but it is still an outsider affirming who you are! I think there is something sadly missing if you find the only way to feel good is through how you look. It may be cliché but it’s what’s inside that really matters.
I spent years recovering from an eating disorder and it was a hard slog. I underwent specialist cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to change my whole attitude towards food, weight and diets. Food is a symptom of the illness and not the cause. I was ridden with self-esteem issues, attempting and failing to cope with my life. Undoing the web of distress inside was difficult and took a long time.
The peaks and troughs of extreme dieting exacerbated through media messages, celebrity weight loss and diet pills is overwhelming and mainly communicates the key message:
“If you look good, you’ll feel great”
Using the knowledge I’ve built from learning to live at peace with my body, I propose to spin this on its head.
“If you feel good, you’ll look great”
Regular exercise to the best of your ability and eating a balanced diet (everything in moderation) is the real solution to make you feel good. How many times have you scoured the room and become fixated on a girl, any shape or size that oozes ‘something’. Her attractiveness is her confident persona and individuality. So why do so many of us get the jealous pang when the distorted perception of perfection walks into the room – the skinny, model type figure swathed in expensive material? I look and of course appreciate but I feel no more. At the end of the day I don’t know her as a person and that’s what I care about.
Skinny may feel powerful but it is unfulfilling if you associate it with happiness. I am a size 12 with a curved tummy and cellulite on my bum but I don’t obsess about them because in the grand scheme of things, neither give me self-worth. When I was an unnatural size 6 I was restricting and purging, anxious, depressed, unable to sleep, had no period for eighteen months, shin splints from over exercising and irritable bowel symptoms. I had pushed myself to such an extreme I broke my body and my mind. I had to learn that food is fuel and shouldn’t dictate your feelings. Changing your weight doesn’t make you a better person. Now, my self-worth comes from writing, lecturing and campaigning to break the stigma associated with mental health.
True power is knowing who you are as a person, identifying and being proud of what you’ve achieved and overcome and trying not to absorb negativity. I refuse to criticise women around me because I don’t know their story. They don’t know that the little English girl staring out to sea fought and recovered from an eating disorder and that obsessing over weight, diet and exercise is actually dangerous to her recovery. They also don’t know that her food choices dictate the nourishment of her body only in an attempt to keep mental health relapses at bay.
I don’t care that my short hair is flicking in all directions and I’m make-up free with my pouch out. I am sitting on the shore of a shimmering blue sea where a beautiful man with full sleeves of tattoos has just emerged.
Internalised obsessing made me miss the beauty of life but not anymore. I’m going to lie on this beach with my eyes open because some things are just too gorgeous to miss!
Enjoy your holidays’ ladies and don’t forget that less obsessing makes better memories.
- b-eat.co.uk – National eating disorders website
- http://mengetedstoo.co.uk/ – For men with eating disorders
- IAPT (Improved access to psychological therapies) – google IAPT in your area for free support resources
- livinglifetothefull.com – online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) website
- youngminds.org.uk – with parents/carers helpline
- amazon.co.uk ‘Madly Seeking Sanity’ – Lola Jane
- http://www.samaritans.org/ – The Samaritans are a non-judgemental ear where you can talk confidentially about anything
Don’t grin and bear it. Share it.