It’s taken me almost 33 years to finally realise that I am good enough, inside and out. I am by far my own worst critic, and I’ve always been terrible at accepting a compliment, feeling it’s not deserved, like I hadn’t put in enough effort to receive praise. It’s something I still find myself working on now.
How many of us have been deep into Diet land, wishing that when we were younger/thinner, we believed it when people said how great we were?
My first real diet was aged 21. I lost a lot of weight, and I still didn’t feel better about myself. I couldn’t work out why. But then I ended the long-term relationship I was in, and I felt better. However, I still found myself “needing” to lose weight and stick to a diet. Why?
Honestly, the only answer to that question I have found, is the culture. The culture around weight loss and its communities. Because I wasn’t at my “goal” weight or a weight considered “healthy”, I had to continue. I’d been engulfed in the world of BMIs, measurements, “good” and “bad” foods and everything else that goes along with it.
Over the next ten years I would re-join and drop out of various weight loss groups – usually with an event, or a goal in mind that I just HAD to lose weight for. I’d get to the event date, either successful or not, and that would be it. Or I’d tell myself “I’ve got this, I can do this from home and save some cash”, and end up gaining the weight back, and the cycle starts all over again.
In that decade, I had so many changes in my life, that I was no longer that naïve 21-year-old. My life experiences, both good and bad changed me, my opinions, my perspectives and my attitudes about myself, and how and where I fit in this world. Turns out, there’s room for me at any size.
I hit the lowest of low points when it comes to my self esteem and body confidence in 2015, after the birth of my daughter – and I didn’t even notice it happening. I had found throughout my pregnancy I was being told by doctors and nurses that “You’re very healthy…considering your weight” – and other variations. Even the smallest of pregnant women feel like a whale when you are carrying another entire human being within your body – so thanks for that boost to how we are feeling.
After a traumatic birth experience, I was quick to jump straight back on the Diet Wagon – I had to lose that baby weight – can’t have people knowing I’d not only created a life, but grown it, fed it with my own body, and brought it into this world, can we?
I lost the weight quickly – probably too quickly. I was diagnosed with Post-Natal Depression and at the same time I discovered I’d been living unknowingly with severe anxiety, probably since my early teens, likely even earlier than that. I had to decide – what was more important? A number on the scales and in the hidden labels of my clothes, of the mental health and wellbeing of myself and my family? I was sensible enough to choose the latter and started on a journey of self-discovery through mental health and wellbeing communities.
However, I couldn’t shake the complete lack of body confidence. This wasn’t me – while I was always conscious of my size and weight, I was an extrovert, I didn’t let that show or hold me back. But I felt my body had changed somewhat. I was right, it had, of course it had. I’d created a life. But I was left with permanent physical scars and nerve damage as a result, and I’m still struggling to come to terms with that.
I was left with the feeling that my body was no longer my own, and at times, when my depression was at it’s worst I’d go as far as saying I felt like I’d been violated, robbed of personal space. I hadn’t been assaulted or attacked, and I felt such extreme guilt for feeling like that, because I had a wonderful child as a result, and culture seems to dictate that no matter what you went through, if you have your child, all is ok isn’t it?
About six weeks ago I discovered Body Positivity and the overwhelmingly supportive and incredible community behind it. This community has allowed me to acknowledge these feelings, and enabled me to tell myself that IT IS OK TO FEEL THIS WAY – I accept that something very very hard happened, AND MY BODY SURVIVED IT.
When I first dipped my toe into the Body Positivity Pool, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It has turned out to be everything I never knew I wanted and needed. Acceptance, as you are, as you want to be. You do you, and no-one who is an ally or a self-professed “member” of the BoPo community will ever make you feel ashamed of doing and being the person that makes you happy and able to live your life the way you want and are able to live. It has been truly life-changing. I have experienced epiphany after epiphany in just a few short weeks.
Body Positivity for me isn’t about not caring anymore. Far from it. I am healthy, I try to exercise regularly, in a form I enjoy – because it’s not about punishing my body for looking “wrong”, or having eaten that extra doughnut or two (ok, three), but it’s about celebrating what my body can do! Exercise for me personally is beneficial to my mental health. Yes, I have a bigger body than some, and not as big as others – but I, and my doctor know that I am healthy and I’m looking after myself. Anyone else’s “I’m just concerned…” opinion is irrelevant as far as I’m concerned.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve let my depression and anxiety change the choice I make when it comes to how I put myself out into the world. I’m a big fan of lots of colour, yet I was finding more and more black creeping into my wardrobe. However, just last year, at my own wedding I totally owned a unique dress that I had made to my own preference – with lots of green, and rocked bright pink hair, and it was just an amazingly fun day! It was 100% the old me, and I missed her so much. I’m working hard each day to get her back.
The biggest priority in me working to accept and celebrate my body in any form is this: I am now raising girls, and I don’t ever want them to feel like they are less than they are, or that they can’t do or achieve something purely because of the way that they look. They have so much potential to give to this world, and I’ll be damned if they get worn down into feeling like they aren’t worthy of happiness, success, love, friendship and life-changing positive experiences.
I accept who I am and how I am now. I love my body for all the days it has given me and the adventures it’s allowed me to experience – and I can’t wait to see what it lets me do next.
You can find Hayley on Instagram
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