I took this photo yesterday and looking at it made me smile. Yes, I like photos of myself. More than that, I like liking it. I've been criticised by two people in the space of a week for 'loving myself' too much. Well, if that's a crime, then get out the goddamn handcuffs and take me away. I will not let anyone dictate to me how I feel about how I look, after 30+ years of searching for 'beautiful'. We get told to love ourselves every damn day by internet memes and health gurus, but you'd better not actively voice any kind of affirmation of self confidence, lest you be labelled a narcissist. This photo is not of a model, it is of me. It may not be beautiful to you, but it is still me. My top is wonky and I'm not smiling, but it's me. My arms used to be more defined, but it's me.
My teens could best be described as awkward, and through my twenties I was mainly sad. I was depressed, at times, dangerously; medicated, devastated, dissatisfied, bereft. I fixated on my appearance as the root of my sadness, haunted by feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy and a complete lack of self esteem. I avoided mirrors, photographs, social situations. I tortured myself with accusations, negative thought patterns, talked endless shit about myself. But, the most dangerous thing about all of it, was that I truly believed all of it.
I believed I would never be successful because I was so ugly. I believed I would never be loved because of how I looked. I knew for a fact I could never have anything I dreamed of because my face and my body were so unacceptably disgusting to the rest of society. I was sure I didn't deserve happiness, comfort or kindness because everything I was, was worthless and abhorrent. I felt I had no place in this world of beauty. This isn't a rant about the media or celebrity culture. This is about us, the way we feel, and how to move past these feelings.
All my friends are beautiful. I always used to wonder why I was surrounded by stunning women. My eventual conclusion was that they needed a fat or ugly friend. Every relationship I had, I'd convince myself that they were just lonely, or bored, or maybe just too lazy to go find anyone else.
My thirties have been spent trying, not always successfully, but always trying, to find what it is inside myself that would make me stop hurting, stop fighting, stop wanting to scrape off my own face and slice up my belly. I wanted to end this cycle of fear and self loathing before I wasted my entire life in this perpetual emptiness.
I get asked sometimes how long it took to change my mindset, and nobody really wants to hear the honest answer. They want to hear that I read an article or I took a pill or I paid someone... and that 'what happened next will amaze you'. The truth is, this is an ongoing project and it has been for the best part of a decade. I've got to the point now where most of the time, I feel positive about myself and my body image. There's the occasional hiccup where it doesn't feel that way. No road is entirely smooth.
This is how I changed my mind from self hating to 'loving myself a bit much' 😂
1. Accept that this is not something that will happen overnight. It is a process that will take work. Thought patterns don't just appear from nowhere. Your whole life was spent getting to this way of thinking, now you need a bit of time to untangle it.
2. If you need help, get it. If you're depressed, see a doctor (and make sure it's the right one for you - never be afraid to change doctors). If you struggle with self harm, take the counselling or the therapy. If you don't know where to start with something, find a professional. One of the most beneficial things for me was finding a wonderful nutritionist and life coach. I'm now working with a business coach. You don't have to be great at everything to start with. I'm a personal trainer because people need help with their fitness - there is an expert for absolutely anything you need help with; never ever be afraid or ashamed of asking for help.
3. Stop judging yourself. You aren't achieving anything at all. If the thought is 'I'm shit', follow it with 'I'm not'. You might not believe it at first, but you need to follow this step if anything's going to change. Do it enough, and you will begin to believe it over time. It's ok to have a negative thought, if you:
4. Accept that your brain is sometimes (or even often) wrong. Just because it's your brain telling you those things, it doesn't make it true. Question every hurtful thought you have about yourself. Remember: how you look is probably not even the problem. It's how you perceive your appearance is affecting your life. You are defined by a lot more than just your physical form.
5. If you wouldn't give, or accept, the insult from someone else, try not to give or accept it from yourself. This is a great way to qualify whether or not you are full of shit.
6. Do what scares you. If that's looking in a mirror, practice. If it's exercising in a group, just try. Keep trying. It will never be as hard as you think. One day, you will look back and wonder why you were ever frightened.
7. Accept that changing will mean exactly that: CHANGE. Usually, one change will lead into another. If you become afraid, ask yourself why, and try not to fear your own momentum.
8. Be content with each stage. Loving yourself takes time and might even feel uncomfortable. You might start off just hating yourself a bit less. Or maybe you'll move onto a phase where you kind of like yourself a bit, some of the time. Or maybe a combination of the two. It's ok.
9. Be kind to yourself. Don't get judgy with yourself about any of this. This isn't something you're going to fail at. This is something you're going to try at. There is no failure. There is no failure. There is no failure.
10. Dare: it might take a leap of faith. I guarantee you are capable of so much more than you think.