If all of us ladies accepted ourselves, as we are, and we were happy and confident in our bodies on holiday, can you IMAGINE what would happen?
To start with, billion-dollar companies would go out of business straight away.
Make up, hair, cosmetic surgery, magazines, suck in underwear, weight loss tablets, bikini body associated bullshit… a long, long list of companies whose best interests lie in our own self-resentment.
Can you imagine if the hours spent worrying what you looked like in a bathing suit, or how you were perceived, were reclaimed and used for actual good? Something that benefits society, or even, at least, you?
I know I’m not talking for every woman here, but I’m certain I’m talking for most. And I’m definitely talking for me.
The looks, money and body of someone else, someone who usually doesn’t even exist as they’re portrayed, are used to instil destructive and painful thoughts designed to keep women’s self-esteem and confidence low.
Especially when summer comes around.
How to get a bikini body?
Have body. Wear bikini.
(or starve yourself & be miserable)
I’ve fallen for the beach body propaganda for years. Years and years. My belief has diminished as time has gone on, especially after working in the magazine industry, and then the blogging world, but still, sometimes I find myself trusting the lies again.
I’ll find myself looking at that Instagram model on the beach, all long legs, toned, every little thing just perfect and telling me I should love my body how it is #beyourself. Or the advertising campaigns now proudly using ‘real women’ who look like models +maybe 5 pounds telling me to just moisturise and I’ll automagically feel confident playing volleyball on the beach.
That kinda shit doesn’t work on me anymore.
It’s in real life women that I find my confidence.
Women are changing. I see what teenage girls wear and I read the conversations and trends on social media, and how open they are, and know neither me, nor my best friends were anything like that when we were younger.
I choose to follow women online who are inspirational in their thought and achievements, rather than those who peaked in the gene pool.
Not that I’m slating them, I’m slating the way they’re used to shame the rest of us.
In this patriarchal society, designed to keep us women down, for a woman to be able to stand up, with confidence and proudly say, this is me, when they don’t conform to the media’s idea of beauty is an achievement.
Finding my beach confidence
Simplybeach.com – a website for all things beachy – let me choose a few things from their website in return for showing you what I got on my blog. Obviously, the clue’s in the name – it’s beachwear, but, I also found some yoga wear on there too.
I was excited to get my new purchases and try them on, but I definitely wasn’t excited about showing off the photos on my blog. Severe bathing suit anxiety. Me, swimwear and a camera don’t really go together.
But when the clothes arrived, I loved them. And, seeing as I didn’t have any sunny trips on the horizon, I decided to take the accompanying photos in the warmth of my room.
I didn’t hate how I looked in them.
In fact, I surprised myself and thought I looked alright. Strong, shapely, pretty good.
Am I allowed to feel like this? I feel like I need to pick on something – heat magazine’s Circle of Shame style.
I’ve spent many, many years being negative about and towards my body. The hours I’ve wasted wishing to be and look different. Make this bit fatter, this bit thinner…
Stupid. So stupid.
“In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act.
Loving yourself is anything but naive. If you don’t become your best friend, who else will? If you don’t convey confidence in what you do, don’t expect others to trust you. We are what we believe we are. When you embrace your true identity, there’s no room for self-doubt. The shadow of self-doubt might show up unexpected. It’s up to you to move from darkness to light.”
– Caroline Caldwell
Teenage body confidence
As a young teenager I wrote out a list of what I hated about my body. I could’ve made it easier with one word – everything. Apart from my eyes. Seriously.
At this time I was obviously very impressionable and watched all the soaps on TV, loved music and pop stars and read any magazine I could get my hands on. I knew how I was meant to look, and I was definitely not that. I did not have a body I could be confident with, especially not within the vicinity of any beach.
My friends and I first started going out into town when we around 15. I’d had a good few years of hating the way I looked by then. I ate too much chocolate, didn’t exercise and never drank water. I was wearing size 14/16 clothes and felt like shit. We’d go shopping on a Saturday and my friends would pick up their size 8s, while I selected from the back of the rail and hoped for the best.
I am SO thankful we didn’t have social media when I was a teenager. I’m not entirely sure I would’ve coped.
First year of uni and things escalated thanks to the catered halls and discovering KFC. I’d never had one before. I was soon way bigger than I wanted to be, I don’t think the exact weight is important to mention. Second year of uni and I decided something had to change. I became obsessed with losing weight, ready for going to summer camp in New York. I did not want to be the fat one there.
It was hard. But I lost three stone that year through diet and exercise. And felt good.
Other people’s perceptions
The reason I’m including that little tale here is because of the shift in other people’s perceptions when I lost weight. At that time my school friends and I would go home on uni breaks and out in town near my parents, where we’d grown up.
The reactions from people I’d known in school absolutely enforced the feeling that now that I was thinner, I was better – in their eyes.
‘Oh I’d bang yer now’, said Kieran. Name not changed. An opinion totally uninvited, given to me at the bar of the local Wetherspooons.
‘Oh would you? Just what I’ve always wanted’.
‘Nahhh,’ and I chucked my drink in his face.
Another boy in the year above alluded to the same, that same night. Although I didn’t waste my drink that time.
People kept telling me how amazing I looked, now I’d ‘lost the weight’.
It was further messaging that I didn’t really internalise well. I was fat before, and so even though I was the same person, it was only now I was worthy of their attention.
My self worth was totally wrapped up in how I looked.
And still, it continues…
Last summer I was sat in the park with friends and they started talking about their thread veins in their legs. I looked down, turns out quel surprise, I had veins too, like ALL HUMANS. I learned that day that I was meant to be worried about how pronounced these thread veins were. This was a new one for me.
I decided that day I did not have the space in my mind to worry about the fucking veins that were keeping the blood rushing round my body.
When I catch sight of a vein, I think back to that day, and how ridiculous most of these worries are. I mean what is your nose / boobs / thighs / brows / face / boobs supposed to look like? Wouldn’t we all just look the same if there was some golden ratio we did all we could to achieve?
“So many years of education yet nobody ever taught us how to love ourselves and why it’s so important”
Body confidence and the media
It doesn’t surprise me that the levels of depression, anxiety and eating disorders in teenagers and young people is higher than ever, but the same goes for older people too.
When I was that angsty, insecure teenager I guess I hoped I’d be over it all in my 30s.
I have two friends – beautiful friends – who’ve had nose jobs. Two friends – gorgeous friends – who’ve had boob jobs. Another friend, obsessed with exercise. Every time I see her she’s talking about what she’s eaten, or what she hasn’t. What exercise she’s done that week.
Programmes like that absolute monstrosity Love Island, and the women you see in the press, can only heighten feelings of inadequacy, and threaten any sort of body confidence. People don’t look like that – just look on the High Street.
Except, as we spend less time in the real world, and more time watching Netflix, Prime, YouTube, and scrolling through Instagram, reality is skewed and all of a sudden our grip on what’s normal is entirely twisted. We’ve forgotten what women are even like IRL.
Even those most beautiful women in the ads, on the social media – they’re digitally enhanced. Beautiful people are given filters and digital touching to look even better.
But you know that. I know that. And still, with the constant bombardment of images of skinny women in bikinis on beaches, which is what Instagram loves to show me on the Explore tab, it affects you mentally.
The yearly scramble to be beach ready saddens me every time. But even though I hate it, and I want to walk a beach without a care, I still fall for it and worry about my thunder thighs (as that Keiran would call them at school). If I look at those women with the beach body confidence who play volleyball on the beach I know my jiggly body will never be ready for the impact, so the only way I could join in is if my mind was.
“The world is increasingly designed to depress us. Happiness isn’t very good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more?”
– Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive
The online ‘reality’ of body confidence
Even the #midsizestyle hashtag that I had declared on Instagram was one of the best is all beautiful, stunning size 14s – with absolute killer wardrobes. I stopped following.
Look around in every day life and people just don’t look like that. But in the online world, the world where we’re all spending so much more time they do.
It’s all part of the bigger machine keeping you down, feel bad, telling yourself that if only you had that dress / holiday / face, life would be better and you would be happier. Just click through and use their affiliate link to buy and you could be that happy too.
It’s absolute bullshit.
Making women hate themselves and obsess over trivialities is just another way to control their time, their progress and their minds. The more time women spend worrying about what they’re eating, when they’re eating, what they’re eating with – the less time they spend challenging the status quo.
And so, we must fight back. And the best way to do that is to free up our minds for better thoughts.
Body confidence and mind control
Of course, there are things that can help you control your mind, for a more productive and positive mindset.
1. Exercise is a big thing for me
Specifically yoga and cycling. I wrote about the yoga retreat I went on in Antigua, and since then I’ve been taking weekly Bikram, Power and Forrest yoga classes at LANO Yoga in Southsea. Just having the 90 minutes away from the laptop, and the images and the blogs, and the instagram – well two hours with the cycling – just works for me mentally.
2. Positive thinking
I’ve written before about being kinder to yourself, and about feeling left behind. Having a positive mental attitude is what we’re trying to achieve here – to get to a stage where it just comes naturally. To learn to turn off the negative background noise that affects every decision, every time you could let go and enjoy your body for everything it does for you.
Nobody gets to tell you you’re not good enough, including you.
Imagine if every moment you’d ever spent on being negative about yourself, could be reclaimed. What could you do with all that time?
Jeez, I could probably learn a language or two, build a business empire, volunteer or become president of the moon. I assume.
Don’t waste another minute.
3. Eating healthily
Just buy healthy food, and then you only have one option. I’m trying to eat more soups, vegetables and eggs in my life. It’s working. It’s also quick, easy and cheap. I know this is different for everyone but I’m usually cooking for just me, and my absolute favourite all time dinner is chicken, peppers, onion and fajita mix, with rice. So it’s easy and I genuinely don’t mind eating it all week.
Don’t eat healthily to lose weight, do it to be healthy!
4. Clothes you feel confident in
Eugh, when people talk about something being ‘flattering’ as if we were trying to look like someone else.
I am me. You are you.
Wear whatever it is that makes you feel confident.
A big part of my work is meeting people, and being in photos and videos. The three things that the part of me that’s still that insecure teenager hates. Having the right clothes is important to me, ones I feel good in, but still relaxed. I actually shot these pictures for Simply Beach months ago and the trousers are now my uniform for yoga, and for lounging around the house. I wear them all the time.
Keep the amount of clothes you have to a minimum too. Just a few pieces you actually enjoy wearing – fashion is expensive and will probably not make you feel good.
If you have to expose an area of your body you’re not yet fully accepting of, wear clothes that make you feel good about it, but don’t hide it.
These swimsuits are perfect for me for the inevitable beach and pool photos – all part of my job.
5. Surround yourself with positive people
You are the sum of the people you hang out with most, so make sure those people are spread positive vibes too. Of course people are allowed a moan but if it’s non stop pity parties all round it’s not going to have a positive effect on your mental health either.
Spend more time with people who raise you up rather than bring you down.
6. Don’t be so hard on yourself
Being down on yourself, your looks and abilities is pointless. If you find your mind drifting to negativity, give it a time limit. Sometimes I like to feel sorry for myself too, but not for long. Accept you feel that way, and move on.
I’m healthy and happy. I eat healthily most of the time, as soon as I go to a restaurant calories don’t count, I cycle everywhere, I do yoga, I walk – I’m ok. Most of the time.
7. Stop buying your feelings
If you’re not happy on the inside you’re never gonna buy enough shit to make you feel better. Better off saving your money and working on that instead.
And if you do want to spend, remember that annoying travel quote: “Travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer”. Spend your money on a beach holiday and get out there and own that beach.
My advice is limited and totally not qualified, so if you’ve got a bit of a spending problem to mask your dissatisfaction with yourself then I’d recommend you speak to a professional. Just sayin.
8. Let yourself go
Imagine what we could do if we let ourselves go once in a while and allowed ourselves to be free to enjoy and indulge?
I know it’s all about balance but just once in a while, try not to give a shit what anyone thinks or says about you, or what that delicious treat will do to your figure, or what you’ll look like going for a run – and just fucking do it.
The more you practice this, the better you’ll be at it.
The most rebellious thing you can do to society as a woman is to love and accept yourself. To not give a shit what anyone else thinks. Don’t feel the pressure to dress up, to look a certain way, to be a certain weight, to apologise for who you are.
Our low self esteem is used against us. It’s ignited, encouraged, thrown back at us and provoked until we cave and buy those restrictive Spanx, stress about the thread veins, whiten our teeth and buy all the crap that we absolutely do not need.
The amount of insecurities companies and people can tap into to make more money, make women feel worse about themselves and so make even more money and keep them worrying about things that don’t matter so they can screw up the world together, is endless.
Just look at a beauticians menu to see the amount of things you can have done to your body. I mean, when did eyebrows become such a big deal?
Our bodies are the scrapbooks of our lives that will be with us till the end.
The scars, the cuts, the stretch marks. I even feel slightly sad that where I sliced my leg in the sea in Samos, the day before my brother’s wedding, is starting to fade. It was like a free tattoo. My cuts from swimming in Belize, in Cuba, cutting my finger on a knife when I was a child, scars on my neck from having a lump removed, the most recent slash across my thumb from aggressively washing up – they’re all me.
I look at these photos throughout this post and I’m surprised I look ok. I’m more accepting and less critical.
Even as recently as my brother’s wedding I was having panics about what I was going to look like on the photos that would come back. Turns out… I just looked like me, not the best version of me, but the me I’ve spent a lifetime judging.
Having body confidence in life and on your travels is a work in progress, but you’ll feel all the better for working on it.
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
You only have one life
Are you going to spend it worrying about your nose / thighs / calories in the pies? Regretting? Obsessing? Dieting? Limiting?
Or are you going to get out of your mind and away from the images and tales of perfection and spend it wisely and confidently, living, loving and experiencing?
Up to you.
All the clothes pictured in this post are from SimplyBeach.com, apart from the purple top, and the black hoody. Reeeally like everything I was gifted from the website, in return for this post. Definitely would shop again, especially when the sale is on!
How has your level of body positivity affected your life?
Are you learning to love yourself? Or at least, like?
Let me know in the comments below, or on Facebook.
If you’re going on a beach holiday, check out my packing video on YouTube.