As you may have already heard, the 13th to 19th May is Mental Health Awareness Week. Every year, the Mental Health Foundation campaigns to raise awareness for a range of different topics, including stress, relationships, alcohol and friendship. This year’s theme is body image. It was found that a staggering 30% of adults have been stressed by their body image to the point where they felt unable to cope, showing that issues surrounding body image can occur at any age.
So, in the spirit of talking about body image and mental health, today’s post is about exactly that. Up until now, I’ve not really discussed my views on body image online, and while there hasn’t been an exact reason, I’m pretty sure most of it stems from feelings of being judged. I’m going to attempt to put that aside today. Wish me luck.
I won’t mince my words: I was not an attractive teenager. While I didn’t like most of my appearance, the thing I struggled with most was my teeth. Words cannot describe how horrific my teeth were. I never smiled in photos, and when I did, I would look back on them and be repulsed. I was fitted with a brace at 16, and my confidence took even more of a dip having a mouth full of mental, and at one point, a couple of elastic bands too. When I eventually had my brace removed a few months before my 18th birthday, I was amazed at the results. I couldn’t believe that this new, straight set of teeth were mine. Aside from the retainer which was and still is the most disgusting thing to endure, I was happy with my smile for the first time in years.
Unfortunately, fixing the one thing I hated most meant my mind was free to pick on the rest of my body. Don’t get me wrong, some days, I’d feel fine when I looked in the mirror. Other days, I’d feel so frustrated that I genuinely would say ask myself out loud why the hell I was so fuck ugly. I felt like my stomach was podgy, my eyes had terrible dark circles beneath them, my face was blotchy and covered in spots – the list was endless. I especially hated my stomach. My boyfriend would continuously tell me I was pretty, but I would never accept it. In my opinion, he’d only be saying it because he had to, or because I was upset or because he was trying to get into my pants. I flat out refused to accept that he genuinely believed it.
A lot of the time, it was almost like anxiety would refuse to let me feel pretty. No matter how well I did my makeup, how banging my outfit was, or how good I thought I looked at the time, it would take the tiniest negative thought or the most innocent comment from a friend to tell me that I was stupid for thinking I could even pretend to be attractive. Genuine comments that have caused my downward spiral include “Your bra strap is showing” and “You’re wearing heels? You’re crazy!”
This even extended to my wedding photos. The fear of looking ugly in my wedding photos was there from day one, and I invested so much money in my hair and makeup, along with skincare products and fancy shampoos to give myself the best chance of looking amazing. The day arrived, and I was thrilled with the finished result. I had so many compliments throughout the day, and for the first time in my life, I genuinely felt like I was pretty.
Cut to a few days later, when I was looking through some of the photos, and I started picking things I wasn’t happy with. Whether it was my hair looking slightly out of place or the train on my dress not quite splayed out how it should have been, you name it, I found it and I criticised it. I still remained hopeful for my professional photos, but sadly, when they arrived, they just gave me more to hate on.
I’ll be honest – I was angry that even professional photography couldn’t make me look decent. I felt as though I had let myself down – on the one day it mattered, why couldn’t I look pretty? I essentially ripped apart how I looked in a matter of minutes. I went from feeling like the most beautiful bride in the world to the ugliest piece of crap. I began obsessing about whether or not my dress fitted, whether my makeup was too heavy, you name it. My anxiety and my constant overthinking had well and truly ruined how I felt about myself, despite the fact on the day I felt amazing. While I hadn’t yet been diagnosed, this was also the point where my OCD started to worsen. OCD and anxiety had clearly become those two bitchy girls that made fun of you in the PE changing rooms, in addition to generally making your life shit.
Fast forwarding a couple of years, 2018 was the year that I got into pilates. I had started running the year before, but my reluctance to endure it during the colder months meant I had been searching for some form of exercise to do indoors. I’ve been doing them for just over a year now and when I compare how I look now with how I did a year ago, I notice a real difference.
I feel as though pilates has contributed a lot when it comes to me developing a more positive body image. Since noticing the changes in how my body looks, I feel more confident with what I wear. On the occasions that I go out with my friends, I worry less about wearing a shorter skirt and I now feel comfortable enough to wear a crop top. I’ll happily have my picture taken in a bikini and I won’t worry about repulsing anyone when I share it on social media. It may not seem like much, but for me, that’s a huge difference. One thing I’ll make clear is that I’m not saying have to work to change your body if you’re not happy with it, but for me, working to tone up and build my strength has helped massively with my confidence, not to mention how it helps to relieve my anxiety. It had nothing to do with me losing weight or dieting, I just found a hobby I enjoyed and that helped me cope with my anxiety. The changes it’s made to my body image have just been a delightful bonus.
I still have my down days. Every so often I have a day where I look in the mirror and hate what I see, but overall, at the moment I have more good days than bad. More often than not my stomach won’t look as flat as I want it to – because IBS generally puts a stop to that – and wearing glasses since I was a child means that the dark circles under my eyes probably will be there to stay. But I’m learning to deal with it.
This was a very hard post for me to write, but I feel glad to have shared it with you. If you feel inspired, why not write your own story on body image for Mental Health Awareness Week? Be sure to use the hashtag #BeBodyKind. I’ll look forward to reading them!
Find out more about Mental Health Awareness Week here.