Looking Back at Me | My Body Image Journey

Hi everyone, This is a long one so sit back and get comfy! Don’t worry there are plenty of pictures to keep you entertained 🙂

Today I am going to Reflect on my Reflection.

My reflection is not just the one I see in the mirror, but how I see myself in my own eyes and in the eyes of others!

Honestly, I don’t believe that my body image story is more special or deserves more attention than anyone else’s; I actually believe that everyone’s experience is worth the same as we each have inner feelings about how we look which are relative to us. However I also think there are many stories that share common threads. It is a well known fact that many of us (especially women) struggle with accepting our “imperfections” (I mean who decides what is imperfect anyway!) and a large proportion of these people end up taking extreme measures to achieve a look that will make them happy or make them more confident. Actually “Up to 8 out of 10 women will be dissatisfied with their reflection, and more than half may see a distorted image”, The Social Issues Research Centre. It is for this reason that I feel sharing my story will at the very least help someone realise they are not alone.

Given the path my life has taken me and the decisions I made, I can say that NOTHING I have ever done to “improve” the aesthetics of my body (while hoping that change will make me happy), has actually made me happier! In fact a lot of the efforts I have made, with that single goal in mind, have actually caused me more unhappiness and a slight hatred of myself for doing it in the first place.  It’s possibly one of the most difficult things to explain as you feel a little insane by voicing such feelings about your own God-given body – but this is my truth and it is unfortunately a common occurance in the world we live in today. A world where more value is placed on someone if they look the part.  After all, the good fairy/princess is always beautiful; the wicked stepmother is always ugly.

I am not referring to every day vanity; the type that makes you get washed every day, to stay neat and tidy, or look good for yourself and your spouse etc. I am talking about when you become so self-conscious and so self-critical that you fear even stepping out of your front door! This post is going to reveal the TRUE feelings I have had for myself over the course of my short 29 years. Note I am calling it a journey because I am quite sure I have a lot of ground yet to cover. I even wonder, will I ever be 100% happy with how I look?

As a women, my body and mind go through many ups and downs through each month at the hand of hormonal changes and I now believe this is where the majority of my issues began!

As a child, I rarely gave my appearance much thought. My mum had to chase me with a hair brush most days and choose something “decent” for me to wear as I was apparently hell bent on wearing whatever was most suitable for climbing trees or playing war games with my older brother and his friends. I could have gone weeks wearing my raggy play-clothes, or without a thought to the mats in my hair – I actually remember not brushing my hair once over a 3 week period when I was 9 LOL. As a child, although everything was “about me”, I didn’t care at all what others thought of me – as you can see in the 1980’s I didn’t give a crap that I was cycling around in a jumper and my knickers!! And don’t get me started on the massive fringe – eek!

Only when I began hitting puberty at around 12 years old that everything started to change. Not so much my body at this point, but my mind-set. I would look at other girls and start comparing myself to them. I remember having a crush on this guy (I was around 14 years at this point), but he liked this other girl; for the life of me I didn’t know what he saw in her because I actually thought I was prettier LOL, so I thought it must be something else! Looking back, I’d say she had more confidence in herself as a person plus she was the same age as him, but at the time it HAD to be something about how she looked. What I decided, was that she was THINNER! Now, at the age of 14 I was a stick-figure so why I thought that I needed to be thinner is beyond me but I distinctly remember looking at myself in the mirror and beginning to wish I could change the way I looked! I would try and hold my stomach in and try to wear clothes that flattered my already tiny waist! I wanted to look more like that girl because I believed it would bring me what I wanted. Of all the things, why did I fixate on her being thinner?? To this day I still do not know that answer.  What worries me more looking back at that is how I needed to change my appearance to fit in with what I believed the boy wanted, not what made me happy.

Throughout my years in high school I would set my alarm extra early to allow myself time to apply my make-up and fix my hair. Many days I had significant stress over the fact that my hair was frizzy or didn’t fit in with how the girls in the “pretty crowd” looked.  I went through high school feeling totally invisible to the opposite sex yet highly self-conscious of how I might look to them. Never mind the obsession that I had about my “fat” knees. I will confess that even to this day, I am not fond of my knees, but boy did I hate them while I was a teenager! I remember dreading summer time, when we had to wear socks again and I could no long hide my “humongous” knees under 100,000 denier tights! Joking aside, this was clearly one of the danger signs that becoming fixating on an “imperfection” causes your mind to magnify it ten fold!

As I got through my mid teens I became obsessed with more body “flaws”. One was CELLULITE!! Why oh why do magazines draw so much attention to this? I probably would never have noticed my own cellulite had I never been exposed to the negativity and “stigma” around having it. Even though I am very toned now, I still have some cellulite. I’m not thrilled about this but what can I do – nothing – so I may as well just accept it! I’m certainly not the only female on earth to have cellulite.

The next flaw brought my body image issues to a whole new level and this is the one thing that has shown me that tampering with your body to try and “fix” something, will not bring you the results or effect you wish for.  Genetically I was blessed with a nice arse, however the boob department always caused me great anxiety; especially when all my friends seemed to be bigger than me. I thought of course I was a freak and that no man would ever want me if I didn’t have bigger breasts, because I would never look feminine enough or ever fit into all the nice clothes and NATURALLY my arms looked disproportionately big because of my flat chest etc etc bla bla (the list was endless).  All I ever noticed about other girls was how good they looked BECAUSE of their bigger boobs. I saw all the clothes I could not wear, because you would have to go bra-less. God forbid I took off my padded 32A bra!! I think I even slept in it 🙁 So instead of learning how to accept the way I was, I would research all the fad methods and even exercises to try and increase my breast size. Why did no one tell me that they would never work?? Why was I so obsessed with being perfect?

At 17 years old, I had tried everything but nothing was working, so then all I wanted was a boob-job! Thinking it would solve all my confidence issues I went to my Doctor and was placed on a waiting list for a bigger “better” pair of breasts. Now here’s the irony – I was on that waiting list for about three and a half years and, by the time I was called for my appointment, I had actually started to accept my body shape. I was even in a steady relationship with a guy who, despite being a self-confessed “boob-man”, loved me the way I was.  But I went ahead with it anyway thinking it would only make my body, relationship and life better. Guess what, it actually made me extremely unhappy for the first couple of years and I have honestly regretted it since. Although I have now accepted the mistake – I wish I had never tampered with what I was given!

In the midst of all this manipulation, I was also struggling with my body weight. Up to my mid teens I had been very sporty but then was forced to give it up partly due to hip and knee pain and partly because I was getting plain lazy.  After this, I began to notice a change in my body shape and size as I started to gain weight. This was very difficult because I had always been the “athletic” or “sporty” one in the family.  As you can see from the picture below, the sack race was my greatest achievement in my early years:

The next picture is me at aged 19 (also, this is pre boob op). Later, after gaining a total of about 35lbs, I often dreamed of returning to this tiny weight of 119lbs (ish). This became my ultimate goal – regardless of, and ignorant to, body composition.  I think a total ignorance or disregard for body composition is one of the biggest errors anyone can make during a weight loss attempt. For one, it should be called FAT LOSS!

Only two years later, I had probably gained about 14lbs and I started hating myself even more. For some reason, I always seemed to believe that I was a giant beside my friends. In any photos in University while we were out I always cringed at myself because they all looked so pretty and petite in comparison to me. CRAZY I know!! The three pictures below were taken about one year apart. I was 21 in the first one (pre boob op), 22 in the second (about 6  months post op) and 22 in the bottom one (at my fattest).  To this day I hate these bottom two pictures! How did I let myself get like that?  I never did myself any favours that’s for sure; eating junk food, drinking sugary alchopops, and doing zero exercise. Okay I was never obese but, at about 11 stone 3 lbs (157lbs), I was overweight for my height and age. Besides, what matters is that at that time I was extremely unhappy with how I looked.

My weight loss journey began shortly after this as I increased my activity levels by walking everywhere and trying to make better diet choices. Along the way I made many mistakes like doing crazy diets such as: only eating salad, only eating soup, taking appetite suppressants, starving myself. Each new method would last about 5 days and I would give up after I saw no effect.  This sort of silly behaviour was bad enough but it was when I fell off the wagon that I was at my most vulnerable to even more dangerous behaviours. For example,  if I ate a large meal or had a treat I went through a phase of making myself sick. This is shameful I know, but I was so desperate and I would have done anything just to be THIN! I used to look at all my friends and want to look like them! Thin = happy 🙁 Not so! Not only did I just want to be thin, I wanted to be thin YESTERDAY, so I had zero patience and zero concept at how to actually lose body fat and stay healthy.

Unrealistic expectations can be so dangerous!

The picture below was taken about 6 months after the last and I had lost a bit of weight just from being more active. I was feeling a lot happier with myself, but ONLY because I had lost weight! After another few months, the weight started to creep back on! It is hard to notice yourself putting on weight, especially when it happens slowly. Either that or I was living in denial hoping that it wasn’t true and wishing it would go away. My unhealthy behaviours started to come back too. I would feel SO guilty after a large meal that I hated myself. That feeling of self-hatred and regret that you have eaten this fattening meal was the catalyst for more extreme diets and lots of tears. I was always comparing myself to my sister or my friends thinking that I was the ugly fat one and no man would ever really like me.  Despite having the boobs my feelings towards myself had not changed.

By my final year in University, I had started to feel better about my body and had lost weight again.  It was around this time that my back pain got really bad. I didn’t know I had arthritis at the time and I think it was the inflammation and stress that caused most of my weight loss in the last few months of university. Would you believe that the next two photos were taken just months apart?? I must have lost about 10 – 14lbs in that time and was nearing my lightest weight, which was back to my goal of 119lbs! Although I was in pain, I was VERY happy to be thin. I was also very happy about everyone noticing that I had lost weight and saying how thin I looked etc etc!

What happened next was that I got into fitness and a whole new world of body image issues cropped up.

As some of you know from reading my older posts, my main fitness goal was to have a six-pack. So although I was happy to be thin, I had fallen into the belief system that in order to be considered fit, I needed to have low bodyfat levels and highly defined muscles, oh and maintain my tiny weight of 119lbs!! It was at this time that I became obsessed with eating healthy, trying to cut out all the junk and have strict meal times and set portions *yawn*! This was never going to work for me, but I went through the motions anyway, with the hope that it would make me happy – And you guessed it – I was NOT happy!  I actually did a blog post on this a while ago; it’s called “Orthorexia and Extreme Leanness – Healthy Becomes Unhealthy“.

As you can all see, I have not reached my shallow goal of 15% bodyfat and a full six-pack. In actual fact I have finally begun to be happy in my body even with its so-called flaws.  I now realise that there is more to me than my outer shell. There is a person inside who is dying to shine through and show others what she can achieve ! It’s not just how you look  that attracts people to you, it’s what you radiate; inner strength verses inner hatred??

This is how my strength training has helped me the most.  I have realised that training is about so much more than making you look a certain way. Yes, it has helped me achieve a look I am happy with, but this is not the body of my goal 2 years ago! Looks can only get you so far in life, and believe me I am grateful for my appearance, but I am now very aware that you need to break past that mind-set if you ever want to reach your full potential. Whether it is in training goals or life goals, having an inner strength and confidence is key. You cannot get this confidence from the outside, it has be be found within!

So am happy with how I look now?

About 80% of the time I am happy with how my body looks.  During these times I can look at myself in the mirror and think I look stronger and better than I ever have. Inside I feel more confident and have been told many times lately that I seem much happier or more at peace with myself. I put a lot of this peacefulness down to my mind-set changing from “you could look better” to “you do look better and you have overcome so much”. The remaining 20% of the time, I waiver between mild Time of the Month “fat” days to feeling a little guilty when I pig out at the weekend, or I go on holiday to the USA and everything you eat has 6g of salt in it, blowing me up like a balloon which freaks me out a bit! In comparison to how I used to think and feel, I know I am no longer dangerously vain or dangerously body dysmorphic.  There are things I am still not thrilled about (like my fat Irish knees LOL) but all in all I think I have done alright.

My appearance no longer rules my life 😀

Thanks for taking the time to read my story. Feel free to share your feedback or indeed your own story below or in the forum. Do you love the skin you are in?

Cheers

Marianne

Final picture (I love this one) of me aged 5 years – I had no idea that one day I would indeed end up a nurse!

  • October 6, 2011

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