Wednesday, 22 February 2017

It's Not How You Look, It's How You Feel (Part 1)

I've been wanting to write about body image for a few of weeks, after having a bit of a break through following months of ups and downs. But I had trouble putting fingers to keys, part of me asking myself who am I to have insecurities when my naturally pretty slim frame is more "acceptable" to society than those of larger figures? To be honest, I've wanted to talk about body image for quite a while, when I had my issues and insecurities, but this is what's stopped me. But I do sometimes have insecurities, and I think most of us do, no matter what our dress size, and I think it's important to talk about that - especially if there are those who are thinking like I did, berating themselves for not being happy when others get more grief from society because of impossible beauty ideals. And after being inspired by Kathy of I am Kathy B's absolutely stunning post, This Body (seriously, go read it), here I am.

A photo of a woman's torso taken from the right, her left hand on the right side of her waist

So yes, I have been struggling. In my very first post for The Olive Fox, When It Comes to My Weight, Ignorance Is Bliss, I mention that in the six months leading up to that post, I had put on weight - which is a pretty big deal for me, as putting on weight is so difficult with a fast metabolism, and something I struggled with for a really long time. I talk about how I'd come to accept, and then eventually love my body, and with the weight that I'd put on, I was still tempted to weigh myself, but how I didn't need to. Because I was enough already, the number on the scale didn't matter.

And that wasn't a lie. The number on the scale didn't - and still doesn't - matter. And I have been happy with my body... but there have also been days when I have struggled. The thing with having your body stay pretty much the same for years is you get used to it. Even when I really wanted to put on weight, and was thinking negatively about myself, I was used to the body I had. And as I said, I got to the point where I loved my body. But then it changed. It didn't matter that I had previously wanted it to change for so long, my body no longer looked how I expected.

The change hasn't been drastic, I'm still pretty slim, but parts of my body are different. Instead of my stomach being flat, it's softer and rounder. My thighs continue to surprise me with how much more flesh they seem to have, even after all these months. I have a tiny waist, which has always been a little out of proportion with my hips, causing me no end of problems over the years when trying to buy clothes - but now more weight has been put on my hips, it's even more out of proportion. The curve from waist to hips is really quite pronounced, to the point where I've worried if I looked ill - I didn't worry if I was ill, I know I'm not, but if I looked like I was, because it seems more like my waist has got smaller than my hips have got bigger, though that isn't the case. My cellulite has become more prominent, and I've added a number of stretchmarks to my bum and thighs, ones that are still yet to fade, and at a 90 degree angle to the old ones, so my backside has a criss-cross pattern. I've looked at my body, and I've frowned. This is not the body I knew, had grown used to, had learnt, after a bloody long time, to love. This body was different, and I struggled to continue loving it.

But only on some days. On other days, I would be flooded with what can only be called joy, because look at those thighs, that bum, those hips! No-one would ever call me curvy, but I was curvier. I felt sexier, more womanly, and I would grin at my reflection with a sense of victory. I had done it! Until the feminist in me would raise her head and remind me I only think this because our patriarchal society tells us that women's bodies should be curvy; I liked my body more only because it fit the "ideal" more than it did previously. And then I would feel annoyed for feeling so excited and happy at the curvier me - as if my body was now better than it was before I put the weight on, as if it matters.

For months now, I've bounced back between (bloody long lasting) shock and dismay, to excitement followed by guilt. I've really struggled. But something happened about three weeks ago, and everything changed. I suddenly didn't care whether my body fit an impossible ideal more or not. I wasn't bothered by the little belly, the larger thighs, the cellulite and stretchmarks, the ridiculous (gosh, even now, but really, it is ridiculous) line from waist to hips. I suddenly stopped judging my body one way or the other, stopped looking at it how others might, and just looked at it as me. And you know, I do kind of like it. It's really weird, because the feeling isn't of "Yes! I look hot!" even though that thought has crossed my mind over the past few weeks. It's more warmth I've been feeling; I've looked at my body and felt warm towards it, fondness for it. Like seeing an old friend again. I've found that love again, the love that doesn't care abut lumps and bumps, circumference or softness, curves or lines - love that just is. And I really don't know what it is that changed, I just realised that I was seeing my body differently again, had found that healthy relationship again. And I am so happy to be back there again. To be perfectly honest, I did worry if I'd ever get back to this place, but I have. And I now know I can again, if I ever have a wobble. It will return.

But the other day, I realised there's more work I have to do. Though I may be happy with my body again, there's still a level of body-confidence I've never reached: when it comes to my body being "on show". But that's a whole other discussion, which you can read about in It's Not How You Look, It's How You Feel (Part 2)

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  1. This is a topic I can relate to pretty well. When I was younger I was SUPER skinny --- I was a competitive figure skater, and at the rink I was tinier than my peers, skinnier than my peers because I just didn't gain muscle mass the way everyone else did. And at school I was lean and trim compared to everyone else. And these were things that I didn't really notice until middle school. And they didn't bother me, because I was proud of what I was doing and who I was. But then I quit skating because of injuries, and it wasn't long before my body started to look different from what I EXPECTED it to, and there was a VERY long adjustment period. I finally settled into being mostly happy with myself in college, but then went through another "Holy crap what am I doing?" moment when I started dating the man who is now my husband a few years ago, and we both put on weight somewhat substantially. I've been stable these last several years, and I feel healthy, but I keep getting told that I weigh too much. I feel like I look average, but I still get self-conscious when picking out clothes.

    This was a great post, and thanks for sharing your experience! It can be difficult to set aside the expectations of others and focus on what matters to you, and it can be even more difficult to adapt to changes, even positive ones.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story, Michelle! It is odd, isn't it, when changes happen seemingly out of nowhere? And when you're used to your body looking a certain way, and then it changes, it can be pretty shocking.

      If you're healthy and you're happy with your body, then just keep doing what you're doing. Don't listen to what the other people are telling you, you're the only one you need to please. And it can be difficult to do that, but easier than trying to please everyone else. Keep doing you! :)

  2. I love this post, Jo. I think all of us struggle with our bodies from time to time and I've been in a period of flux regarding mine for at least the last seven years. It can be exhausting!

    I remember reading your Olive Fox post and the impact it had on me. It was so forceful and empowering and I loved that. I think if that's who you are on the inside then you've got absolutely nothing to worry about on the outside!!! I know that easy for me to say though. However, I'm so glad you're coming to love yourself again. I think we've all just got to acknowledge that it's an ongoing journey and we might have to relearn and reconsider from time to time.

    It's harder when you're a feminist too isn't it?! Trying to navigate how you feel about your body alongside how you know you society wants you to feel can be really tricky!!

    Glad you've explored your thoughts on this in writing though. Great read! xx

    1. Oh gosh, seven years! When you think back at the wobbles and realise it's been years, it seems so long, doesn't it? And it's so awful that we spend so long being at odds with our bodies. And yes, it is bloody exhausting!

      Thanks so much, Suzy! I'm so glad you liked my post so much, and it had such an impace on you! But you're right, it is a journey - even without losing or gaining weight, there's the aging process, and changes are inevitable, so we're always going to have to adjust to those changes and try to be kind in the way we talk and thing about ourselves.

      Oh my god, it can be SO tricky! I do worry about the internalised sexism that I might not realise is there. I'm trying to figure things out, still, and love myself for me, for what I like, that has no relation to what the world thinks is beautiful, but it's just hard. How do I know what I think is attractive - in myself or other women - is what I actually think, or based on internalised sexism and how people look in relation to how we're told women "should" look? It's a problem.

      Thanks, Suzy!