When you’re battling against a mental illness that spends every waking moment trying its hardest to bring you down, it’s hard to see the best in yourself sometimes. I’ve been quite fortunate recently, in that I’ve been feeling pretty good about myself and the way I look, dress and act, which isn’t something I’ve ever been all that familiar with.
I’m putting most of this new-found confidence down to how I’ve slowly-but-surely changed my attitudes towards body image, whether that be my own or how I see others. These changes are by no means revolutionary, or even particularly original (let’s be honest), but they’ve worked.
(A little disclaimer, before I jump in: I’m writing from my own perspective as a white, British girl, whose body type has always been fuller and heavier than the majority of my friends. While I’m not obese I am overweight, BMI be damned, and I’ve always been reminded of it in some way or another, whether that be via the media, my grandparents’ off-hand comments or the way I’ve been treated by men in clubs.)
Valuing Strength over Shape
I joined the gym in January 2016 to give myself a bit of a breather from the horrible, difficult place I was in at the time. At first, I didn’t really take it seriously – I rocked up, plugged my headphones into the elliptical and peddled until whichever episode of Bob’s Burgers I was watching had ended, then left – but since September last year I’ve been making more use of the facilities after enrolling on an introduction to weights course. Now, I’ve seen the things my body can do and how strong it is!
Discovering this strength in myself has made me realise I’ve been prioritising my body’s capabilities wrongly. I’m not slim or slender, so I can’t rely on my body to make me appear delicate. What I do have, on the other hand, is a pair of arms that can rally crates of milk up and down the stairs at work and carry a suitcase without a wheel through the streets of Vienna for more than a couple of hours without breaking a sweat, and a body that allows me to run for – at the moment – 5km in one session, which is something I’m both working to improve on and very shocked that it can do that in the first place.
If I never have a flat stomach or legs *not* built like tree trunks, that’s totally fine, because it’s my bell thighs and bulky arms that allow me to live my life in the way I like.
I think social media is subconsciously where all my silly dispositions about my own body have come from. Put me in front of my bedroom mirror with the clothes I’m feelin’ myself most in and I’m fine. Shower me with photos of skinnier, fitter, clearer-skinned people in my age group and I’m all of a sudden considering why I don’t have xyz, and reflexively comparing myself to other negatively.
Instagram is a social media platform I scroll through absent-mindedly more than a few times a day, whether I’ve just woken up, am about to drift off to sleep – or it’s literally any other time of day and I’m up to date on Facebook, Twitter and everything else, ha ha ha – so I don’t want using it to impact negatively on my life outside my phone!
I got into the habit of seeking out and following body positive Instagram accounts – my particular favourites being @bodyposipanda and @chubbybabe_ at the moment (and @helenanderz for just owning who she is in every way!). I’m not looking for accounts of people with similar body shapes to my own, but for accounts with unabashed, shining optimism, celebrating the beauty in how diverse our bodies can be.
It works! Learning to see the light in what you have, and appreciating the way you’re shaped in the ‘now’ as opposed to constantly striving for ‘WHEN I’ve got abs/I’ve dropped to x weight/I’m xyz dress sizes smaller, THEN I’ll be happier/more successful/better’ and so on.
It’s hard, I know. It’s taken me this long!
Until next time,