Content warning: discussions of body image and weight loss
I wake up and stretch my arms, crack my neck and take a deep breath. Ready for another day. I make myself get out of my cosy cocoon and wander over to my draws.
Another day poolside sounds lovely.
Another day in a bikini? Not so lovely.
Settling on a cobalt blue number bought one summer from one of those beachside boutiques, I step into the bottoms and manage to squeeze, what feel like gigantic watermelons, into the top. I take another deep breath before standing in front of a full-length mirror.
What I’m faced with makes me cringe. Cellulite? Check. Stretch marks? Check. Plump tummy? Check. From the snail trail, to the excess body fat creating awkward tan lines and even the mosquito bites. I step to the side, not wanting to look anymore. At the hair. The fat. The marks. I’m not sure how to describe how I feel, but I do know I don’t want to stand and look at it anymore.
Summer after summer of the same process. Wishing I’d stuck to the ab workout plan to avoid the wobble on my tummy which bears a remarkable resemblance to a plate of jelly. Or wishing I’d done more squats so my bum might look less like a shrivelled-up prune. My neck aching from carrying what feels like the weight of 83 bricks around but what is really just my tits and looking confusingly pale because reading a book in the sunshine forces a double chin to shadow said body part. In fact the only thing I find even vaguely palatable about my reflection is my skin tone. Olive. In Winter, I look permanently grey and ill but in Summer I go golden in an hour and am guaranteed to leave a summer holiday with a tan. Yes, I’m grateful for that. It manages to distract people enough that they don’t notice all of the other unsightly characteristics of the picture.
But this summer was different. This summer, I wanted to try and look in that mirror and think positive thoughts. This summer I was going to learn to look at my body and accept it, and then appreciate it. After all, this body has served me 21 years of life and good physical health thus far. It’s gotten me through a global pandemic (who saw that coming?) and university (the freshers 15 is a real thing). It’s seen me through some high highs and low lows. I owe it to myself and my body to value that.
So, every morning for a month I’ve gone through that same routine. A big stretch, a neck crack, a deep breath. I’ve crawled out of my comfy bed where lying down and stomach empty means I feel the least chubby I’ll feel for the next 24 hours. I’ve walked to my draws, chosen a bikini from the animal print and bright coloured selection in front of me (anything to distract from the shape of my actual body) and pulled myself into said swimsuit. And then, I’ve taken a step in front of the mirror and opened my eyes. I’ve forced myself to stay there as the cellulite and the stretch marks and wobbly bits glare back at me.
Instead, I’ve noticed the glow of my tan, or the blonde in my hair from the sun’s rays. I’ve noticed the parts of my body that have changed after adjusting some of my eating habits and seeing some hard work pay off. I’ve looked at my boobs and thought, well I wish you were smaller but you look okay in that top. I’ve looked in the mirror and accepted what I’ve seen.
I then began to take pictures of what I saw so I could look back at them on tougher days. Then I started to post some of these pictures. Not to shove it down people’s throats and not because I was fishing for compliments but because I wanted to be brave, and take that jump. To put something online and to help to normalise normal bodies. To help create a positive space online where the only bodies we see aren’t those of size-zero, photoshopped models. My followers will note in several posts I’ve acknowledged that I’m not comfortable with my reflection and that my bikini body isn’t something I’m wholly happy with but that I want to help social media become a safer place for everyone. So young girls grow up seeing all kinds of bodies in all shapes and sizes. So young women can know they aren’t alone amongst their peers in struggling with their relationship with their naked self. So my fellow size 12-14s can see that, while the media and advertising sectors don’t represent us, our bodies still matter. Posting these pictures helps me to know I might be helping others by contributing towards breaking the stigma about what bodies should look like.
Self love is a long journey. It doesn’t just happen automatically. No one just wakes up one day, decides that day is the beginning of them loving their body, and then start celebrating their reflection. It’s long and it’s tiresome. Forcing myself to stand in the mirror and find positive things enabled me to change the way I viewed myself both externally and internally. I decided that to move in the direction of self love, I needed to start by accepting my body and then appreciating it. There are ups and downs, and there are still days where I wish all mirrors and front-facing cameras could be covered so I wouldn’t have to look at myself. I am still far from self-love. In fact, I’m still in the process of acceptance. But creating a positive space for others to interact with, and for my myself to exist within, is definitely something I can get on board with.
Self love has got to start somewhere. After all, as someone wise once said, every body is a bikini body.
[Disclaimer: Over lockdown I began a process of shifting some weight I wasn’t happy with. I am by no means advocating that self-acceptance begins with losing weight. In fact, weight loss wasn’t even my focus. Healthy changes to my life felt important, like getting fresh air and eating lots of fruit and vegetables. I began to change my relationship with exercise. This summer was the first time I was going to be looking in the mirror and seeing some of the effects of me listening to my body and its needs. This process will be different for everybody and will manifest differently. This is simply what worked for me and my body.]