How getting naked changed my body image…

I did a naked photo shoot last weekend. Yup. Tits out, floppy belly exposed and peggy flaps flapping in the wind for all the world to see. Well, when I say ‘for all the world to see’ it was actually just me and the photographer. A lovely, charming young woman called Eve Hazelton who specialises in photographing births, maternity and motherhood.

Now, why the Jaffa Cakes did I do that I hear you cry?

Am I having a midlife crisis now that I’ve hit forty? Am I desperately trying to prove that since becoming sober my life is definitely NOT boring?

Maybe.

My husband did not get it AT ALL when he found out.

‘What you’re going to be naked? That’s so weird.’ He’d said. ‘Why do you feel the need to do that?’

He made me feel a bit silly and small.

‘I dunno.’ I’d answered. ‘I guess I’ll let you know after I’ve done it.’

Now, last November I decided I’d had enough of diets after having spent most of my adult life on one (I first went on the Slimfast Plan when I was twelve). So, desperate to find another way, I did a bit of research and came across ‘Intuitive Eating’…

“Intuitive Eating is an approach developed to help people heal from the side effects of chronic dieting. An intuitive eater is defined as a person who “makes food choices without experiencing guilt or an ethical dilemma, honors hunger, respects fullness and enjoys the pleasure of eating.”

Sounds simple, but let me tell you, after nearly thirty years of dieting, it’s not.

Now, I found rejecting diet culture and throwing the scales away pretty easy, but for me, one of trickiest things about embracing intuitive eating is – accepting that my body may never be the slim ideal I always wanted it to be.

What? Throw away my size 10, Topshop white skinny jeans that are older than both my children combined? NO way! I’m going to get back into them one day… surely?

Maybe not hun.

So what’s the answer? If I’m not going to change my body by starving it to fit into society and culture’s idea of what a ‘perfect’ and beautiful body is, yet I hate my body and I’m not happy with it, what am I going to do?

I’ll tell you.

It’s time to change something else my friends – it’s time to change my mind. To make peace with my body and accept that – maybe this is it.

In my recent quest to make peace with my body, I started following some body acceptance advocates on Instagram and I came across Body Cons. A wonderfully insightful, inspirational and informative podcast by the beautiful Molly Forbes and Lottie Storey. And that’s when I heard about the Body Cons event and photo shoot –

‘Bodycons Love Event. To celebrate the end of Mental Health Awareness Week, on Saturday 18th May we are hosting a very special day of workshops, talks, a live podcast and a nude photoshoot experience for mums in our very first Bodycons “Body Love” event. An empowering, inspiring and uplifting day to celebrate the female form and the bodies of mums, through the female gaze, in private one-to-one photo sessions for ten mothers.’

And that was it. I bought a ticket and booked my naked photoshoot. Just like that.

The blurb asked me to bring a robe. I promptly bought myself a new one online. Because my fleecy old Barney fur number, is definitely not fit for public consumption.

Now, the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2019, was body image. How we think and feel about our bodies is closely linked to our mental health, and therefore can have an extremely negative effect on an individual’s mental wellbeing.

Bad body image can affect self-esteem and confidence. It can cause anxiety, stress and even depression. I mean, I’ve never really thought about how my body image was linked to my mental health before but the more I think about it, the more it makes perfect sense.

How many times have you gone on a diet and reached your ‘perfect weight’ yet have still felt dissatisfied? Exactly. That’s proof right there that no matter how much you change your body, if you don’t change your mind, you will still possess bad body image.

Think about your monthly cycle – when we’re ovulating quite often we feel attractive, self assured and confident. Compared to when we’re premenstrual and we maybe feel – disgusting, fat and horrible. But the thing is, your body is much the same weight and shape during both these times, and so that in itself, is also proof that it’s the mind that’s affecting our bad body image.

So is bad body image carried in our brain cells not our fat cells?

You only have to look at the new wave of curvy, body positive models and influencers to answer that. Yes, they may possess more rolls, more fat and more wobbly bits, but they also possess a sense of self love, self assuredness, positivity and confidence. They believe they’re beautiful, therefore they are.

So instead of trying to change your body with yet another fad diet that is bound to fail – as research shows 95% of diets do fail – stop and ask… is it maybe your mind, not your body, that needs to change?

Instead of hating your body and beating yourself up – for not being the shape and size that society and culture tells us we should be in order to be beautiful, attractive, healthy or successful – try and change the conversation in your head.

Some helpful tips I learnt at the Body Cons event on changing your mind to improve bad body image –

Acceptance

It’s time to accept that this is your body and you don’t need to change it. Your body is just a vessel. The thing that’s carrying you through life. It doesn’t make you who you are. It’s your intrinsic qualities that make you you – your kindness, humour, wisdom, loyalty, intelligence and your honesty. Maybe genetics determine that you will always be the shape and size you are. Embrace that. Make peace with your body. Also remember, your body is not supposed to stay the same all your life. For example when we become mums our bodies change, as well as when we grow older. Our bodies are constantly ageing and evolving. Things wrinkle, sag, get bigger and droop – but that’s life. That’s just the way it is.

Gratitude

Be grateful for you body. It’s carried you this far after all. Maybe it’s given you children, maybe it’s run a 10k, hugged a friend when they were sad or created a delicious meal. Your body is amazing. A miracle. Celebrate that. Remember, there is always someone out there far worse than you – people who can’t walk, those who can’t see or people in poor health. Men and women who have been horribly disfigured in accidents. When you find yourself hating your body turn that inner voice into something you are grateful for. No matter how small.

Be angry

Be angry at diet culture, the media, the film and advertising industry for feeding us the lie that all bodies need to be a certain size and shape to be beautiful or healthy. Call bullshit on this. Because we’re all supposed to be different. The world would be a very boring place if we weren’t, right? When you’re telling yourself you’re ‘too fat’ or ‘too skinny’ or ‘too short’ ask yourself – in comparison to what/who? Disney Princesses? Kylie Jenner? Some knob head off TOWIE? We’ve been drip fed the message that we’re not good enough compared to these ‘beautiful’ beings for years. Why? Usually it’s in order to sell us products or lifestyles that promise to ‘fix’ us. Say NO to all that. Rebel against it. It’s unrealistic, shallow and just plain f**king annoying.

Respect

Love and respect your body by nourishing it with healthy food, exercising, sleeping well, stimulating your brain and keeping your mind healthy. Be kind and compassionate to yourself. Look after yourself by having regular medical check ups.

Know you are not alone

Feeling negative about our bodies is more common that we think. A recent study by The Mental Health Foundation shows that one in five adults are dissatisfied with how they look. This is a universal problem that lots of us struggle with. There’s something quite powerful in recognising that, don’t you think?

Wear nice clothes that fit

Sound obvious but up until very recently I was desperately trying to squeeze myself into my size 12 skinny jeans, which was pretty much like trying to squeeze a bean bag into a thimble every morning. WTF? That shit does not make you feel good. Would you put your kids in shoes too small? No. Would you put a collar on your dog that was too tight. Nope. Clothes that feel nice, that don’t pinch and squeeze make you feel great. Simple.

Have a social media clear out

Follow a diverse range of body shapes and sizes. It’s time to tell your brain that there is more that one body shape and size out there. I recently did this and seeing a wide range of bodies has definitely made me feel less dissatisfied with my own body. Report any dodgy slimming adverts, like that recent one where some dick head pregnant influencer was promoting skinny coffee. Jeez. Unfollow anyone who makes you feel bad about your body. Life’s too short mate.

So…

Next time you put yourself down or beat yourself up for not having a body that is good enough, try having a word with yourself. Because I promise you, the thing that needs to change is your mind and not your body.  

And what about that naked photo shoot? Was there a point?

Well, I could throw all the cliched answers at you and tell you I felt empowered and liberated, because I did. But for me it was more than that. I just felt normal in a way. Natural. As I stood there letting it all hang out (I was actually on my period and so was praying my Mooncup wouldn’t let me down), happily chatting away to a woman who’s basically seen it all, I just felt comfortable. Like… and I will shamelessly quote the Bearded Lady here – ‘This is me!’ I felt like I was accepting my body for the first time. Just as it was. I was at home in my skin. And it was as simple and beautiful as that really.

So has all this helped me with my body image?

Yes. Since the shoot and the event I have definitely been less critical of my body when I see it in the mirror. I’m even excited about getting my bikini on for my holiday in the sun next week. And guess what? The fat cells are still there. They haven’t shifted. But it seems like my brain cells have.

Further reading – Mental Health Foundation Report, which proves “…the more comfortable you are with your body, the greater your overall well being, and the less likely you are to engage in destructive behaviours.”

Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy from Pexels

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