This is a topic I've been trying to write about since I started my blog but have struggled to get across what I want to say.
I decided today to go for it. I'm really passionate about body confidence and sharing what I've learned in the hope of helping others recognise they can take control of negative thought patterns.
I experienced extremely low body confidence, especially in my teenage years and my early twenties. This was inextricably linked with low self confidence.
During those years and periods of time, I believed I was my body and it was an indicator of who I was as a person, showing the world I was successful and confident was about being a certain shape and size.
In the photos below I've included a progression in chronological order from age 17 up to today at age 36 years. They may not look drastically different from one to the next but there's at least a stone between the first picture and the last one. Along with that stone came a bigger smile & a bucket load more confidence.
I can see from each of these photos what was happening in my mind and I know whether it was negative or positive based on how I look. I feel many women (in particular) trick themselves into thinking their problems relate to their appearance and if they could only be thinner, more muscly, taller, prettier, this would solve ALL their internal & external issues.
Looking at the early pictures below I feel sad for my younger self because my thoughts were unhealthy & negative. I also feel grateful for how far I've come. I have equipped myself (with a little help along the way) with tools to auto correct when I feel negative thought patterns. I feel I can share some of what I've learned because I am no longer the insecure 17 year old who didn't have a clue what her purpose was.
What I would like to share is my own experience because I am not a mental health professional, dietician or life coach qualified to give others advice. Forgive me if you're a professional and I'm using the wrong terminology (self-confidence/body confidence/self esteem) but I feel they are all connected. I do hope you can take something positive from my journey.
Around the time of the long flowery dress below is when my body and self confidence really started to grow. I was 31 years old!!! I decided I was no longer a slave to what I looked like, I was going to appreciate my body and what it can do. I'd given birth to a baby and I'd run a marathon the year before. I knew I was strong and could achieve anything I wanted to physically. It was then I properly started my journey of personal growth and learning to love myself.
I read a fantastic book by the author David Hamilton recently called "I Heart Me, the science of self love". I'd highly recommend this book for anyone who struggles with low self confidence or a lack of body confidence.
These are some of the key things that really changed for me and helped me feel confident in my own body:
1. I stopped believing my dress size and weight defined me as a person
I knew there was something far deeper and more important inside. I realised I have something to offer and I'm a good & worthy person no matter what size I am.
2. I started focusing on being kinder to myself and more accepting of who I am and loving those around me for exactly who they are.
I stopped questioning & challenging everything and letting my ego get in the way of my happiness. "Cognito ergo sum, I think therefore I am" became my mantra and this has helped me accept the good, the great and the down right crappiest of situations.
3. I stopped trying to change my body
I started to focus on changing my life in a positive way, filling myself with positive influences, energy and experiences, doing what I love instead of saying 'yes' to everything I didn't want to say yea to. I learned how to meditate and started Yoga.
I'd highly recommend reading The Secret by Rhonda Byrne and looking into the laws of attraction for an understanding of how positive thoughts attract more of the same as do negative ones.
Wayne Dyer is another amazing speaker and author who taught me about the power of silence, meditation and achieving your greatest dreams.
4. I realised I don't need to be affected by what others do and say.
I don't have to be like other people or liked by everyone. In my teenage years I wanted to be like the slim girls in magazines. I copied what others ate and no doubt, others copied me too. I wanted to be liked by everyone.
Have you ever noticed that your closest social circle often do similar things, eat similar things and talk in a similar way about others & themselves? This is no coincidence. We are the sum of the 5 people we spend the most time with. It affects our way of thinking, our self-esteem, and our decisions. Of course, everyone is their own person, but research has shown that we're more affected by our environment than we think.
If you grew up around someone saying things like, "my legs look awful in these trousers", "I ate too much", "I wish I hadn't eaten that", "I've put on lots of weight", "I need to lose weight" etc, you are more likely to start saying these things to yourself. Thankfully that wasn't the case for me but I know others who did experience this.
It's the same for all aspects of your life. It can be extremely difficult to deal with constantly negative people. The "mood hoovers" or people who bring your mood down with their pessimism, anxiety, and general sense of distrust. If you are constantly discouraged from pursuing your dreams because “very few people make it big", this can have a huge impact on your self belief.
Thankfully, the opposite is also true. When you surround yourself with positive people who support your dreams and encourage you, you are far more likely to be successful and pursue what you want.
5. I started complimenting others
I made this a habit after reading something about the power of kindness to strangers. I don't even think about this anymore, it's become second nature. It's not hard to do and it will brighten that person's day. Why opt for criticism when you can look for kindness. I stopped focusing so much on myself and my problems and started thinking, how can I help others?
6. I started to challenge my body through running
I love running and it makes me feel strong and capable. After having my son, I stopped doing this as much and it really affected my mood. In the past 3 years I've run at least two half marathons every year and I'm about to take on my first marathon since the picture above (Rome 2011). I know I can run whatever distance I set myself and this gives me confidence and pride in my body.
I do talk negatively about myself sometimes but the difference is that I am aware of it. I try not to vocalise my thoughts out loud. I realise that when I do (generally to my husband), I'm seeking validation from him when I have the ability to sort myself out!
I wish for my son to grow up positive and talk kindly to himself. I already hear him say he isn't good at things and I remind him he is learning and we have to make mistakes and keep trying if we want to get good at anything. I tell him how long it took someone else to get good at that thing and I try to foster positivity and self love in our family. I'm sure my husband will disagree with this at times when I shout at him for not doing the dishes or being organised in the mornings.
I recognise that although I feel confident right now, a change could happen. I accept that. We MUST learn to accept and embrace change and teach our children the same. The more set backs and failure our kids see us face and deal with in a positive way, the more resilient they will become.
7. I accept failure and recognise it's part of growing
In the past I hated to think of failing at anything. I was a complete control freak!!! Failing would send me into a spiral of negativity. I often connected failure with my appearance. Now I can embrace failure. I don't love it (who does?) but I know that I'm learning when I fail. There is always a lesson that will be valuable for the next phase.
I feel more confident than I have at any point in my life and I no longer connect my value with my appearance. I have to work on this daily especially when my chimp Frank gets loose.
I generally like who I am and love myself regardless of my faults, failures and set backs.
For anyone who is struggling with self worth, self confidence or a negative body image, please know that you are worthy, you are capable and your are absolutely deserving of happiness & success, no matter what your life looks like right now.
If you are worried about how you feel or someone you know, please seek help from a medical professional or mental health advisor.
I'd love to hear how other people deal with a low body confidence or self confidence.
Lots of love