‘Real women’ come in all shapes and sizes

body image

body image

Since I had Anorexia, my lovely mum has developed a habit of pointing out very thin people and saying they look ‘ill’, and pointing out fuller-figured women and saying they look ‘great.’ In her defence this has become a habit which I think was originally designed to help me to feel better about myself, but as I’ve grown up it’s become something which I don’t feel is helpful for anybody – her included.  

The idea that a thin person is ‘ill’ or ‘Anorexic’ purely judging visually alone is incredibly unfair. ‘Anorexic’ should never be used as an adjective in my opinion, let alone an insult. Meanwhile, ‘curvy’ women (who may be a size 16-18, yet have killer curves) have come to represent the ‘alternative’.

My mum isn’t alone in this perception. Since the ‘size zero’ debate and public backlash against the ‘skinny model’, ‘curvy’ women are ‘in’. It’s a trend which certainly helped me to feel better about myself, as I’m naturally not built straight up and down. Now Kim Kardashian, Amber Rose and Nicki Minaj are hailed for their tiny waists, rounded behinds and fuller thighs. Whilst I’m all for celebrating all body types, this trend has actually started to exclude women who aren’t typically ‘curvy’, and throws a whole host of new insecurities at those who aren’t ‘perfectly shaped’ into an hourglass – all of which is equally damaging compared with the ‘size zero’ and ‘ultra fit’ trend promoted by high fashion outlets and lingerie brands like Victoria’s Secret.

Harmful new phenomenons like the waist trainer (which has been known to hospitalise users due to the undesirable side-effect of organ rearrangement) and bum implants (many a dodgy implant has landed a hapless girl in surgery) are emerging to help us all to achieve this ‘perfectly curvy’ body shape. These have even been known to cause death – so aren’t they just as bad as slimming pills, laxatives and diets promoting self-starvation?

I’m looking at this from both sides of the table – so I wrote this post from my perspective to encourage others to do so too. Next time you hear someone say ‘oh she’s got a ‘proper figure’’, remember that if you don’t fit that bill, that’s okay. Because everyone’s body is a ‘proper body.’ Every woman is a ‘real woman’ – curves or no curves, size 2 or size 20. 

Saying someone has  ‘proper figure’ is just as bad as saying ‘skinny is the only way to be.’ Everyone is acceptable, as they are. Coveting the ‘hourglass’ and praising ‘curvy’ girls is unfair to women who are born naturally slim. Lots of body image campaigners forget about this.

Although I’m all for plus size, I’m more concerned with acceptance – of others and of ourselves. And that starts with scrapping ideals – and stopping senseless judgement of a person based on their body shape.

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Responsible reporting

news anorexia

news anorexia

Why I never share pictures of myself or my lowest weight

One thing I publicly discuss quite often is my positive perspective on eating disorders, body image, self-esteem and mental health in general. That means a lot of things, but where eating disorders are concerned in particular it means being responsible.

We don’t need to sensationalise eating disorders to raise awareness

I campaign for responsible reporting because most press coverage of Anorexia we are exposed to is negative in some way. Headlines screaming ‘I was left to die’ or ‘I ate an apple a day’ or ‘I was 4 stone’ are not designed to help people – they’re designed to sell newspapers. The worst thing about this (other than fuelling the fire of confusion surrounding eating disorders) is that many vulnerable people find inspiration in these articles. I did when I was developing an eating disorder. I saw the numbers and the competitive Anorexic mind within me latched on to them – ‘you’re not thin enough.’ I saw the pictures and thought ‘your bones don’t show enough’. I saw the ‘shocking’ ‘one apple a day’ headlines as tips.

They’re unhelpful for a number of reasons aside from this – including their omission of any tangible useful information for sufferers to use to inspire hope, and the negative reviews of EDUs and the NHS with no alternative offered – which seemingly gives people no option but not to bother with recovery. Whilst they think these ‘recovery’ stories featuring people who now live ‘wonderful lives’ are inspiring and positive, in fact they’re never a true representation with a wholesome message behind them. People with Anorexia already understand what’s contained within these articles – it’s nothing new. It’s time some were written with them in mind.

Why are these articles so unhelpful?

I find it so upsetting and frustrating to constantly see articles in prominent publications featuring ‘before and after’ images. They’re sensationalistic and even though they and their subjects often claim to be sharing the story to help people, they’re doing anything but. In fact it shows ignorance and an absolute disregard for anyone vulnerable or currently suffering with an eating disorder who may see that and feel ‘inspired’ or ‘driven’ – and not in a positive way.

This is exactly what happened to me – and many people currently battling an eating disorder agree with me and message me to tell me they find these articles frustrating too as they exacerbate the thoughts they’re trying to get rid of. These articles make a battle which is already difficult worse – and they’re certainly not helpful.

I do what I do to help people – and sharing photos and certain details of my illness isn’t helpful

Everybody who has or has had Anorexia understands all too well how horrendous it is. How emaciated and horrific you look, how empty you feel. How shocking your appearance is to others. Most know that their weight has plummeted far below what is healthy or acceptable – to a figure which lots of people will find equally shocking. So sharing photographs and weights only serves one purpose at best – to satisfy the sick curiosity of people who’ve never had an eating disorder, and to sell more papers. At worst it encourages vulnerable people in the early stages of an eating disorder to continue when the right sort of publicity could deter and strengthen them, improving their mental wellbeing rather than continuing to destroy it and encouraging the types of thoughts which harmful and negative behaviour feeds off. Often Anorexia and Bulimia become an internal competition – constantly feeling as though you’re not ‘thin’ enough or your weight isn’t low enough.

Aside from that they’re not a helpful representation of eating disorders or recovery.   (‘everything’s better now’ don’t often go into detail about how the person recovered , or consistently negative about the NHS ‘I was left to die’ . The message this gives to people struggling right now is that they might as well not bother – give up now, because there’s nothing out there to help you – without offering the tools or an alternative they can take hope and inspiration from. That’s why I’m careful about how I share my story – because often ignorant publicity can be so harmful.

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Telling your eating disorder where to go

Taken in Townsville Qld 2010.© I retain copyright.

If you’re reading this, you’re taking a really positive step. The very first important thing in recovery is admitting that you think you have a problem, but then when you want support and need support how do you find it – what do you do? I’ve been there, feeling so helpless and desperately wanting to change, but at the same being unable to stop listening to the voice that compelled me to continue.

I often say that the most encouraging and important step in a person’s recovery is the point at which they say ‘I think I need help’ or ‘I don’t want to live like this anymore.’ If your experience is anything like mine, this happens in small bits to begin with, where the ‘real you’ inside voices concern over your health, dares to think for a moment about the future you could have, or feels a pang of guilt over something you said or did to a loved one whilst you were caught up in the stress of having to eat something, or being interrupted when you rushed off to make yourself sick.

But ‘I don’t want to be like this anymore’ or ‘I want to fight this’ isn’t necessarily the same thing as ‘I’m ready to fight this’. You’re able – you’re strong enough, but you might not be fully equipped – perhaps you don’t feel you have the right support or don’t know where to start. Eating disorders are persuasive, secretive, obsessive and compelling. They don’t slide away into submission. You need some support to fight them.

When I was at the point where I felt I might want to live and didn’t want to be poorly anymore, I found myself without the support I needed. I desperately wanted to speak to someone who had recovered from Anorexia, but I had no real example of somebody who had been through what I was currently going through and who could offer guidance, advise and above all empathy.

That’s why Tough Cookie exists – because I want anybody who is in that place feeling so in despair, without hope or struggling to know that it is possible to get better and that there is support out there for them. That’s why I run the blog and wrote the books. Here are a few things I learned during my journey – by sharing these I hope you won’t feel so alone and will know for sure that how you feel is just a natural part of the recovery process.

Try not to feel guilty and don’t beat yourself up

The problem with eating disorders is they get away with none of the pain, whilst you feel all the hurt and the guilt. Family members and friends often mistakenly think that they can ‘guilt’ you into eating, because they don’t see that it isn’t you behind your actions. Even without their input, you might feel naturally guilty anyway because you know that people around you are concerned and if you are in the first stages of overcoming your eating disorder, might feel as though you ‘aren’t doing it quickly enough.’

I can’t describe the guilt I experienced when I was at a point where I felt I wanted to ‘get better’. I could suddenly see the hurt I appeared to have caused and the difficulty, stress and strain I was putting my parents through. I didn’t care about myself – but I did care about them – that’s why I decided I wanted to try in the first place.

If you do find yourself feeling guilty, try to remember that none of this is your ‘fault’. Just like a physical illness, you aren’t responsible for the things you did or said, just like somebody with cancer isn’t responsible for upsetting people around them with their emaciated appearance, or somebody with a stomach bug isn’t responsible for throwing up everywhere. Guilt is a natural feeling and it actually shows that you give a shit – you care about things and that is a powerful and important thing. Try not to let guilt eat you up inside and hamper your progress – instead try to distract from it and focus on building your future.

Relapses happen

It isn’t a smooth ride for everybody. In fact most people find that recovery is a journey full of ups and downs. Some days you’ll feel good and do well – other days you’ll find yourself in the clutches of your eating disorder again unable to drown out the cruel voice which is angry because you haven’t been doing what it has been telling you to. But please know that gradually the bad days lessen and you find yourself with more and more good days. You start to fill the void created by the lack of noise your eating disorder makes with all the things you love – doing the things you want to do and enjoy again. You begin to dream about the future and take positive steps towards it – a future that an eating disorder doesn’t and cannot have a role in. All of these things ultimately help you to become the person you really are again.

Ask for (and take advantage of) as much support as possible

It’s difficult to go through this alone – and you don’t have to be alone, even if your family don’t seem to understand or you have no friends or professional help. I know that there are few resources online – but if you’re reading this you’ve found what I hope is a helpful and valuable resource. You can find details of charities I have personally heard are helpful here, and read more blogs and take a look at my books on this site. Sometimes you’ll find conventional healthcare services can’t (or are unable to) help you – but that’s okay – they didn’t help me either. With or without them, you can do it with other types of support by your side.

If you need further help and support on fighting Anorexia from a positive personal perspective,  you might find these articles helpful:

Coming out of an EDU – what now?

5 things Anorexia won’t tell you

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The struggle of choosing to be natural

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I think increasingly in today’s society it’s difficult to make a conscious choice to stay natural. By ‘staying natural’ I don’t mean letting your pit hair grow past your waist or never wearing make-up – of course not! I mean staying away from surgery, fillers, hair extensions and weaves and other fairly invasive enhancements which Instagram models and celebrities display in abundance on constant streams of ‘perfect’ photographs which tell us how we should be – and which often cause us to feel inadequate as a result.

I’m still natural – but only just

Over the course of my journey to semi-self-acceptance I’ve considered most of the above countless times. I even went all the way to the surgeon’s office for a boob job before he (rightly) turned me away because he could see that my motive wasn’t right and my perception of myself was skewed because of my body image issues. although in my opinion surely anyone without medical need who considers potentially risky surgery which involves a foreign body being implanted into you and general anaesthetic has some sort of body image issue?)

Let me define what ‘natural’ means for me, though. Natural is no permanent hair extensions or weaves (I have clip ins for special occasions but rarely wear them, as I spent a lot of time battling hair loss and getting my hair thick and long again). Natural is no false lashes (I look after my own to keep them long). Natural is no surgery (boob jobs, lipo, bum implants). Natural is not feeling bad with no make-up on.

Why is staying natural difficult?

Whilst my journey started with me wanting to change myself ‘for the better’ into the person I felt I should be in order to be liked, now when I have rare episodes of self-loathing they tend to be because I’ve inadvertently been exposed to n image of someone who I can never look like, or someone who I can look like, if I have some sort of work done. the first one is heartbreaking, because i can’t change how I look (and shouldn’t – there’s more on that in this post here) but the second is plain dangerous. Because suddenly, that look that for some reason I desire (and is coveted by many others) becomes attainable. It’s also difficult because these two groups aren’t easily defined – for example some girls have weaves which look incredibly natural yet enviably perfect, or subtle facial enhancements such as Botox or lip fillers which give them a ‘perfectly natural’ appearance when in fact the opposite is true. What we see as ‘natural’ online is actually fake – and if that’s confusing for those of us who know, how must it feel for those who don’t (especially young people and children)? And with social media and an increasingly image-obsessed media, we’re constantly exposed to images of these ‘naturally perfect’ people – it’s the world we live in.

I call surgical procedures and sen-invasive beauty treatments like peels and fillers ‘enhancements’ because that’s exactly what they do. So you almost feel like when you choose to be natural, you choose to be sub-standard. Less than perfect. And that’s the biggest draw to opting for fakeness over liking who you really are and the beauty you were born with- and the most potent reason behind why staying natural is difficult.

Why do I choose to stay natural?

Only one thing has stopped me from giving in to my self-enhancement cravings. And that’s my desire to stay natural. For starters I really dislike having things stuck on my face or on my body – fake tan, fake hair, fake lashes – even fake nails. This is one of the reasons I choose to grow my hair long, to grow my nails long and take care of myself on the outside and on the inside nutritionally to make sure they’re well nourished. But more importantly I just feel as though being fake is cheating a little. I know in my heart of hearts that however much I crave that surgery, if I take it, I’ll be letting myself down. I’ll be conscious that every compliment I receive isn’t mine – it’s for a surgeon, or a product, or a weft of hair. I always say that although nowadays I do receive a lot of nice feedback about how I look that it doesn’t change how I feel inside – deep down, I’m still that girl who is being bullied and I tear myself to shreds feeling ugly. But one thing that feedback does do is remind me that if I change who I am externally, the perception of who I am internally those around me have may also change – and nothing’s worth risking my relationships for.

So how do i ensure I can live with myself with out giving in to these cravings? Aside from my golden rules (you can read about these here) I do invest in myself with a number of key products and routines. For example, instead of wearing fake lashes (even on nights out) I use an oil-based growth serum on my lashes which works really well. I only use natural shampoos and fresh aloe vera to wash my hair with. I moisturise my skin with natural oils.

Compared to someone who doesn’t do any of these things, I might seem unnatural or overly obsessed with how I look. But actually these things simply nourish my natural body and whilst they go some way to ‘improving’ it they don’t change my appearance drastically. They’re just part of the method I use to help me to live with myself. Nobody can be expected to walk around with no make-up and no clothes on carelessly in a world so image obsessed – and Tough cookie isn’t about that. It’s about encouraging and praising small changes.

Why should you choose natural?

The bottom line is, it’s easier to go fake than to stay natural. It’s easier to quickly ‘fix’ the part of yourself you don’t like or obtain something you feel you lack and be showered with appreciation than it is to try to love what you have and risk fading into a background of ‘perfection’ when you do.

When you choose to go natural and ignore aesthetic pressure, you start this process of self-acceptance. It won’t happen overnight – especially if you have self-esteem issues, but gradually you will start to feel better about yourself. You’ll have more time for the things you really love in life, because you only be so hung up on how you look (and you won’t be spending hours in the salon or in front of the mirror) Before you can ‘go natural’ completely, you have to not give a shit about other people – about what others are doing, and about what others are thinking. And that’s easier said than done (I’m not at that stage yet!). But as I said before, small steps add up and eventually you realise you’ve come a long way. So start with the golden rules and work your way towards not self-love, but self-acceptance. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself – and for your children and the next generations to come.

Need help? You can read all about getting to a point of self-acceptance here –

 

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