When I was 16, I was told by a nurse that I was creeping up on “overweight.” I was a UK size 8/10. I was stick thin. My hips stuck out and I was flat-chested. My peers asked if I was anorexic or bulimic. I was encouraged to eat more so that people would stop assuming I was anorexic.
So when this nurse gave me her opinion, I was left confused, upset and hurt. My confidence took another knock. These opinions were so conflicting. They were also dangerous.
I was an impressionable young girl who looked up to celebrities who were portrayed as having the most amazing figures. Magazines aimed at girls like me were all about fashion, looking great and having perfect hair, skin and teeth.
I spent 16 years of my life worrying about having the “perfect figure” because of other people and their opinions. Words hurt and they are very damaging. I would feel so miserable if I was a size bigger in one shop than another. I would deny myself treats, exercise too much and count calories. By doing this, I was preventing myself from living life and enjoying myself. I was forcing myself to be a prisoner, trapped in my own world of insecurities and low self-esteem. I would worry people would gossip or laugh at me if they either thought I was too skinny — or too fat.
Sixteen years is a long time to live your life this way. After 16 years, something finally made me become body confident — almost overnight. I decided to stop worrying about what others thought of me.
Here are five things I did to make that change sink in:
1. Accept that life is too short.
In 2010, I miscarried. It took me five years to get over it.
In those five years of grieving, I didn’t allow myself to laugh, live or love. I didn’t feel that I deserved to be happy. I just couldn’t let myself go. I was full of guilt and remorse. I wasn’t able to control my miscarriage, but I could control my life by continuing to punish myself. I also allowed myself to be defined by the various opinions and views of others.
I faced another potentially life-changing hurdle in 2015 after finding a lump in my breast. As I sat in the waiting room with other women waiting for the outcomes of our examinations, I realised how short life really is. I started to look back at missed opportunities. I had denied myself laughter, fun and the chance to make memories, all because I worried what others would think of me.
Luckily, my results were nothing to worry about. As I left the hospital with my husband, we decided we needed to grab life and not let go. We had experienced too much darkness, negativity and anxiety. We might not be able to control what happens in every aspect of our lives, but I wasn’t going to let people’s opinions of my weight affect me anymore.
2. Learn to accept compliments.
When someone compliments you, accept it! Embrace it and enjoy it. For too many years I would wonder if people were being sarcastic or if it was a joke at my expense.
I also felt I had to respond to compliments with negativity: “Your hair looks lovely!” “Ha, it needs a wash!” But my responses made people feel like their compliments weren’t valid.
Now, I accept compliments. I say thank you and I smile. If someone tells me my dress suits my figure, my mascara looks lovely or my shoes are really pretty, I take it. A compliment can easily boost your confidence and make your day.
3. Stop comparing yourself to others (or your former self).
We compare ourselves to how we used to look — not three months ago, but three years ago!
Life moves on and times change. Our diets and daily routines change. I recently looked at some photos of myself from five years ago. I have gone up three dress sizes. But a lot has happened in that time! I have quit smoking — not once, but three times. I have also had my gallbladder removed. I am now 33, not 28.
But one thing I notice that really stands out and resonates in these pictures is my smile. I might have been slimmer five years ago, but I wasn’t happy with who I was. I was sad, miserable and just existing. I was hunched over, arms wrapped around myself. How unhappy I was comes across through in my smile. The smile is sad. It is forced and my eyes look lifeless. In pictures now, my smile reaches my eyes. I am no longer existing, I am now living!
We also compare ourselves to celebrities, our friends, colleagues and peers. May may be doing this because we think they have the “ideal figure” — but you can be sure that they, too, are comparing themselves to people who look ideal in their eyes.
Instead of making comparisons, we need to appreciate ourselves for who we are and learn to love our true selves. Remember, the grass is never greener on the other side!
4. Accentuate the positives.
I am happy to go makeup free and I do so regularly. But there is nothing wrong with admitting that I also like to wear makeup. I love makeup! I have a drawer full of the stuff and I love to experiment.
I think my eyes are one of my best features and I like to accentuate them. My eyes are blue; contrasted against big mascaraed lashes, defined eyebrows and dark hair, they definitely stand out.
We all have something about our bodies that we like; we should embrace it and not be body shamed for doing so!
If you have “killer” legs, don’t cover them up! If you are proud of your bust, wear something that accentuates it. Don’t hide away and cover up what you are proud of!
5. Don’t be afraid of the label in your clothes.
I used to hate clothes shopping in case I had to get something a size bigger. I soon realised that it wasn’t me that had necessarily put on weight; it was the fluctuation of sizes in different stores! Once I realized this, I stopped feeling depressed about it.
There is no “standard” sizing for women’s clothing. What is a 12 in one shop might be a 14 in another. You might be a size 16 in jeans but have to get an 18 to be comfortable when wearing another brand because that particular brand’s size 16 runs small.
It’s the same with lingerie. I am several different bra sizes depending on where I purchase them from. I used to be bothered that I was bigger in one store than another. Now I just accept it. Wearing a bigger size doesn’t make me any less of a person.
I am much more comfortable in my skin wearing something that might be the next size up, rather than trying to convince myself I am still the same size I was ten years ago. By wearing something that is a size too small, I am not only uncomfortable, I am more self-conscious — and therefore less body confident.