How did I learn to accept my body? It hasn’t been easy and I’m not there yet but I’m further along the journey than I ever thought I’d be.
The first time I realised I was bigger than the other girls at school was when I was seven. This was pointed out to me by some of the not-so-nice girls in my class. I was devastated. Deep down I knew I wasn’t as small as they were but I didn’t realise that I was “fat”.
I was able to ignore my growing body and the snide remarks until I went to High School. I was tall and overweight so some the other kids thought it was funny to call me the Green Giant (a brand of sweetcorn in the UK) and to sing the jingle at me during PE.
When I was 15 years old, I met a boy and fell head over heels in love. I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t eat so the weight fell off. That didn’t stop the bullying at school though. Now I was just bullied for being tall, I thought that meant I wasn’t worthy of the bullying stopping. My self-esteem plummeted even further.
I didn’t know my new body or how to feel in it. I was ecstatic to not be ‘the fat one’ anymore but I certainly hadn’t learned how to accept or be comfortable in my new body. How to dress it didn’t come easily to me so I continued to wear baggy clothes that I could hide in.
Throughout 15 – 27 years of age, my weight fluctuated by around three and a half stone (50lbs or 22kgs). I would lose weight and then pile it back on again. I hadn’t yet learned that I needed to change my whole relationship with food and my body in order to keep the weight off and learn to accept it.
For the next 10 years I controlled my weight by calorie counting and it made me miserable. I was always hungry and counting down the minutes until my next meal.
At 37 I left an unhealthy/abusive relationship where I’d constantly been told that my body was a wreck. All the years of bullying plus his mean comments had left me broken. It didn’t help that the media constantly bombards you with images of what ‘the perfect body’ looks like. All the happy, successful women on TV or in magazines were slim. Slim = happy and successful. Overweight = wrong and miserable. I didn’t really stand a chance.
Living on my own for the first time in my life made me feel terrified but also free and optimistic. I felt able to make my own decisions without judgement or criticism from my ex so I decided to learn how to run in order to get healthy and be more relaxed about food.
This kind of worked. I kept the weight off by running but I still turned to food for comfort. I’m an emotional eater and sometimes I would eat whatever was in my house in order to feel less lonely, or less anything really.
The Magic Number Wasn’t So Magical
I knew running had made my body stronger but I was still at war with it. I still hated it and felt cheated because I’d always assumed that my life would be amazing once I hit that magic number on the scales. I’d assumed that I would automatically just know how to accept my body.
I’d hit that number but it didn’t miraculously improve my life or make me suddenly love my body. My dream job didn’t come knocking on my door and Prince Charming was nowhere to be seen. I honestly thought my life was the result of my weight and that life would get better when I lost the excess weight.
The years of weight increase and loss too quickly had left my body with stretch marks and I hated them. My breasts weren’t as perky as they should’ve been for a woman who hadn’t had kids. I had bingo wings. My thighs wobbled even though I had that much-sought-after ‘thigh gap’. I could reel off a list of things that were wrong with my body and I hated myself for it.
Life is Bumpy
Whenever I hit a bump in the road of life, I would end up taking it out on my body. Even if the bump wasn’t anything to do with my body, I would turn my focus in on myself and decide my weight was to blame. I was a failure because I couldn’t control my weight.
I’d run more, I’d restrict my food intake and I’d obsess over my body. I’d punish my body for what was happening in my life. I still do this, I’m not ‘cured’ but it doesn’t happen as often as it used to. I have also learned to recognise the signs so can bring myself out of it a lot quicker now.
As a result of all this, I have body dysmorphia. Here is the NHS definition:
“Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), or body dysmorphia, is a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance. These flaws are often unnoticeable to others.
People of any age can have BDD, but it’s most common in teenagers and young adults. It affects both men and women. Having BDD does not mean you are vain or self-obsessed. It can be very upsetting and have a big impact on your life.”
My BDD means that I don’t know what my body looks like. I have this image of my body in my head but it’s me at my heaviest weight. It’s not how I look now. I can be out running and catch a glimpse of my reflection in a shop window, for a split second I don’t know who it is.
When it clicks and I recognise myself, I feel proud of myself for maintaining the body I’ve fought so hard to get but also sad. I’m 43 and don’t instantly recognise my own body. My BDD is still a big influence over my confidence.
Like or Dislike?
One thing that has helped me put my body image into perspective and to learn how to accept my body was to create a ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ list. I kept it simple, if I didn’t dislike a part of my body then it must go in the ‘like’ column.
I didn’t just put ‘leg’, I broke it down. My inner and outer thighs went in the ‘dislike’ column but my shins and calves went in the ‘like’ column. My biceps went in the ‘like’ column but my triceps (AKA my bingo wings) went in the ‘dislike’ column. And so on.
I took my time and listed every part of me; my eyes, ears, nose, toes, fingers were included. I left nothing out.
Once the task was completed, I counted how many body parts were in each column. I couldn’t believe it. I was gobsmacked. There were triple the amount of body parts in my ‘like’ column than the number in my ‘dislike’ column. TRIPLE!
I suddenly felt confused. If I liked so many parts of my body then why did I think I hated it so much? I’ve spent most of my life hating my body but it isn’t actually true. I like most of my body.
The next thing I did was to write down each thing on my ‘dislike’ list and then write next to it what I would need to do in order to change it.
For example; I don’t like my breasts. There isn’t an exercise that can be done to make them perky again so my ‘fix’ would be surgery.
Another example is that I wanted 6-pack abs. Eating clean and focusing my exercise on this area would be the ‘fix’.
I did this for every body part on my ‘dislike’ list and then I looked at it. I re-read what the ‘fix’ was and asked myself if I was willing to do it. For most of the list, the answer was no. I realised that I simply wasn’t bothered enough to do it.
Giving Myself Permission
So if I wasn’t bothered enough then why was I hating this part of my body so much? I couldn’t answer that question. I also started to question why this body part had bothered me so much in the first place. What standard was I comparing myself to that made me hate part of myself?
This was like a weight being lifted of my shoulders. It was as though I’d finally given myself permission to stop hating my body.
For the second time that day, I had shocked myself. I started to re-read the ‘like’ list. Again and again I’d go through it and marvel at how much of my body I liked. This became my new focus. This was how I was going to learn to accept my body.
Whenever I’m inclined to start attacking myself for my body again, I remember this exercise and challenge my thinking. Reminding myself of my reality and what I’d need to do in order to change it helps keep things in perspective. I also ask myself why I think it needs to be changed. Who am I changing my perfectly good body for? It’s my body and no-one else’s opinion matters.
I can’t say that I’ll ever love my body and I don’t think I need to. As my best friend said “You’re allowed to be indifferent about parts of your body. I don’t really have an opinion about whether I love my elbows or not, they’re just elbows!”
I’d Like To Hear From You
If you’ve read this blog and felt like I was telling your story then I hope knowing that you’re not alone in this has helped. I hope you try the ‘like or dislike’ exercise and get a bit of peace from it. I certainly have. Did you learn how to accept your body in a different way? What tips can you share?
I’d like to hear from you if you have a story to share or if you’d like to leave a comment below. However, if you’d rather contact me privately then please get in touch via one of the ways on my contact page.
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