I’ve been thinking lately about happiness in relation to body image, size, fitness, being healthy and that kind of thing, which has lead to yet another of my off-piste and probably rambling blogs…
Anyone who knows me will know, at least to some extent, how little body confidence I have, and that I have a pretty low opinion of myself in regards to how I look, and most people also know that I used to be much larger than I am now. It can be hard it seems for some people to understand why I still have a problem with myself, “but look how far you’ve come” they say. It seems support for trying to feel better in your own skin is reserved only for when you conform to the stereotypical unhealthy person, it can be hard for some people to understand that to keep that fat girl I used to be at bay it will be, for me, a life-long struggle.
So I found myself today, after a run, berating myself for my slow pace, conveniently forgetting as I’m feeling rubbish that I am recovering from injury and can’t expect to run as quickly as I was before my months out, I stripped out of my sweaty gear, about to head for the shower, but I stopped long enough to look in the mirror and find yet more things to shout at myself for. “Look how chubby your face is getting, you shouldn’t have fallen off the wagon for so long” “jeez, look at the size of your stomach” “Legs aren’t looking as toned anymore, and just look at those thighs!” It goes on and on… even though I’ve actually made a pretty positive start to the month, and kicked off the healthy eating and reduced alcohol drinking anew and started to try and turn things around for the umpteenth time. I found myself thinking almost wistfully about the girl I once was.
I was huge yes, and I hated my body, but where I didn’t care enough to make a change, in a funny was I actually cared a lot less about how I looked. I didn’t worry back then about what I was eating and when or how much, I would go out for lunch, have a take away, drink what I wanted, when I wanted without a second thought,and without beating myself up all the time. Now I’m equally sure that I’m just forgetting, with the passing of the years, just how miserable I was at that size and only remembering the care free parts, after all, it was the fear of wedding photos that first kick-started the change in me, I didn’t want to be a big fat bride!
I achieved my goal of losing weight for the wedding, found a new will power and love of exercise I’d never had before and was pretty happy with how things were going, until I discovered the double edged sword of weight loss – the backslide. I had my first backslide in the month before our wedding, stress had me stuffing my face with the foods I like, to cheer myself up. Work was giving me hell, on top of planning the wedding, and I gained weight in the final school term before the big day. In the end I do look back at my wedding pictures and dislike what I see, I’m angry with myself for my lack of will power and only see how chubby I think I look in the dress that had looked great when I first tried it on slightly smaller!
For the last 4 years since my wedding I have been in a cycle of doing well, then sliding back sometimes not a lot, and sometimes (like now) far to far. This year I was doing pretty well up until August, but then birthdays, bad news, injuries and a general bad head space lead to a 3 month binge of unhealthy food, a lot of drinking and a drastic reduction of the amount of exercise I was doing leading to inevitable weight gain and loss of fitness.
So back to what prompted me to start writing in the first place, happiness in regards to body image… What I’ve learned over the past 5 years or so, is that happiness absolutely cannot be found on a scale, but unhappiness certainly can! Now I’m not a slave to my bathroom scales, however I may sometimes come across, I use them to confirm what I am seeing in the mirror. I’m hyper critical and I always know when I’ve gained a few pounds and just use the scale to confirm this, for me it’s a useful tool to help me keep track of whats going on, but I never used to be so hyper aware. When I was fat, I didn’t notice the times I got a little fatter, or lost a little weight, it wasn’t until I started consciously making changes that I became almost obsessed with my own size. When I see I’ve got a bit bigger I’m sure other people must be noticing it too, that they must be thinking about how I’m getting bigger again, when in reality I doubt anyone much cares.
When I look at other people I never judge or think about their size, I never think “oh they looked thinner last time I saw them” what I notice is peoples beautiful smiles, expressive eyes, how hard they are trying, how passionate they are when they talk about something they are interested in. Someone doesn’t suddenly become less attractive or a worse person in my eyes if they gain or drop a few pounds (if I even notice!). If I think back to the dim and distant past when I was single (well and now, I’m not blind) the guys I found attractive weren’t (aren’t) necessarily the ones with the best bodies or the fittest (actually back in my late teens and very early 20’s when I was single I didn’t care about fitness at all!) it was the ones who were kind, a great smile, made me laugh (not that I don’t appreciate a hot bod, I am human after all) basically I’m a sucker for people who are actually nice to me, how someone looks is never the most important thing.
I really believe that people can be happy and beautiful at any size, and if they are happy with themselves then that’s amazing. I’m often jealous not of how someone looks but of their apparent confidence, something I sorely lack. I also believe that if someone is unhappy in their own skin, maybe they want to lose 1lb or 20lb or maybe they actually want to gain some weight, or build muscle, whatever it is, they should be able to try and make a change without judgement and hopefully with support.
Now like I said at the start, if someone is perceived to be very overweight they will invariably get that support, but If I dare say I wan’t to lose some weight, that I don’t like how I look in a photo, or something else negative (and I know most of what I say about myself is negative so I do myself no favours) I rarely get supported, often get ignored and at worst get berated by some of my friends who can’t understand that I do, sometimes, have to be hard on myself to halt a slide back into the bad habits that lead me to be very overweight in the first place.
If someone expresses a desire to change something about themselves, even if you don’t agree, or can’t see why (I myself have gotten very good at hiding the things I don’t like in pictures for example by getting a good angle and good lighting), then perhaps the best way to proceed is to say something sincere but supportive like “well I think you look great, but how can I help?” Build people up don’t tear them down!
Happiness obviously isn’t all about shape and size, but I managed to get so hung up on it for so long that for me it plays a bigger role than it should do. What I really need to work on is confidence, but that’s not so easy to fix as my diet. So here I am trying to turn around my latest backslide, and what I need is kindness, support, motivation and a little understanding, and to any of my friends who read this, whether you are happy in your skin or not, I think you are beautiful and if you ever need my support, know that you have it.