Smartphones, selfies and body dysmorphia – why selfies are toxic

why are selfies bad for you
why are selfies bad for you
Why are selfies bad for you?

When I first started struggling with mental health issues (and in particular body image), smartphones didn’t exist – and neither did selfies. Things were incredibly difficult for me – even though I wasn’t exposed to images constantly on social media, or compared myself (sadly) to selfies taken by the people I wished I looked like. Back then I only had magazines and television to trigger the insecurities which were being compounded every day by bullies at school – yet the damage from those things alone caused me to develop many issues (including Anorexia), and has stayed with me to this day.

Now though I see so many things which could have made things even worse for me back then – things which I’m sure help people to struggle and hate themselves when they’re already doing a good job of that on their own. Even for me now I struggle with selfies and that’s why I say they’re toxic – and share this post to show how you might be addicted or harming your self-esteem without even realising (and why it doesn’t matter if you don’t take a picture of yourself every day).

 We use selfies to compare with others

Selfies encourage us to compare ourselves with others. So added to the ‘normal’ photos we use to compare ourselves with, we’re now up against photographs which have been carefully selected from thousands (and cleverly edited). We can see what other people look like even more than ever before – this is down not just to social media, but to selfies too. Nobody in the 1940s would have commissioned a photographer to take a shot of them standing naked in their bathroom mirror.

I started taking selfies obsessively because I was comparing. And now I can’t stop. The only thing I do to help myself with this is not to look at other people’s.

We use selfies to compete with ourselves

If I don’t take a selfie on a day when I feel good, I worry that I may never look that nice again. Then when I’m feeling good I’ll look at previous selfies to help me to feel better – and to know ‘what works’ for next time. I’ll be able to feel better when I’m feeling down, as when I’m feeling bad I flick back through them and think ‘oh no actually, I’m not that bad’. On the face of it this all seems like a helpful coping strategy, but actually it perpetuates an already difficult (and time consuming) issue. It also opens me up to looking through past selfies and panicking that I am fatter, or uglier, or different-looking compared with how I was before. Opening up a world of completely unnecessary pain.

A lot of people use selfies in the same way as a sort of tool for monitoring themselves in some way. This is not good. It causes us to become MORE image obsessed as a result – which can only be a bad thing. If you need proof of how bad this is then use me as an example. I was very poorly when I was younger – much worse than I am now. Image wasn’t as important back then – and there was no way of knowing what other people looked like, at least not publicly. They’d have to get out their photo albums. Yet now when I am more clued up and understand myself better, have coping strategies, I still find that selfies make me feel bad. And I know that if they’d been around back then they’d have made life a lot worse for me. Think about young people who are in the position I was in over ten years ago. Think about how fucked up I was, and then consider the potential issues they could face. It’s sad, and it’s scary.

Selfies are addictive

Once you start it’s hard to stop. I think this is down to a narcisstic human instinct present in all of us. We all want to look and be the best. We all like the thought of admiration and praise – whether it’s from within or from followers on social media. We miss holidays, events, parties and special moments in our lives for the sake of capturing them. Either way, it’s damn hard not to take a selfie when you feel you’re looking good.

Selfies encourage us to obsess over how we look. They add to general anxiety as well as body image related issues

As discussed selfies take up headspace, and cause us to compare and scrutinise ourselves against each other and as individuals. We obsess over image when really in the grand scheme of life how we look means nothing. Then we encourage others to do the same and pass this toxic behaviour on to the next generation.

For me personally selfies add to my generalised anxiety, as they cause massive storage issues on my phones and computers, and make me panicky about ‘losing’ images. So I bury my head in the sand and refuse to face them until my phone tells me it’s full. And then I waste time and energy being anxious again.

Selfies put us in competition with others

I’ve made this point briefly before but naturally when we take a selfie and combine it with social media (or at least exposure to other people’s selfies) competition occurs. We are in competition with ourselves wanting to look better and better, but we’re also in competition with others – feeling we have to ‘out do’ them with a better, more beautiful selfie. Various beautifying products and apps (along with selfie accessories) are testament to this.

Selfies aren’t a true representation of you anyway

In my post The Camera Does Lie I talk about the deception and distortion that goes on when we view ourselves through a lens or on a printed image as opposed to how other people see us with their own eyes. In that post I quote my fab friend and professional photographer Neil, who also takes issue with selfies. He explained to me that selfies obscure our true appearance (often in an unflattering way) because of the quality of the camera, the angle they are taken at and other environmental factors like lighting.

The bottom line here is that selfies are bad for us mentally. But I know from personal experience that stopping taking selfies is easier said than done! I hope that this article has shed some light on how selfies can be harmful, and that helps you to rationalise and understand them (and yourself) a little more. Follow my journey and take a look at further self-esteem and body image blogs and vlogs here.

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Why being ‘beautiful’ means nothing

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better body image

I talk in my book Tough Love about why beautiful means nothing. But in this post the title takes a different meaning. 

It’s taboo to say you hate who you are or how you look – especially when other people think you are beautiful and even envy you. But so many people who are admired by others feel bad about themselves.

 

People often don’t believe me when I say that I struggle with how I look

I don’t believe that I am beautiful. I struggle to accept myself just as I am. This doesn’t change no matter how many compliments I get, or how many selfies I take. Maybe my self-confidence will improve (I’ve become better and better at living with myself now I have the tools to do so), maybe it won’t. But as a campaigner for better body image (and before that when I really struggled with Body Dysmorphia) I do find myself questioned by people who think I should be ‘fat’ or ‘ugly’ to be able to talk about the issues I discuss. Some don’t believe I even have any issues with how I look – how can I when in their opinion there is ‘nothing wrong with me’? Surely I could say the same thing about them.

I used to model part time, and lots of people have an issue with this. ‘How can you hate yourself when you have stood in front of a camera in your underwear?’ Well, it’s complicated, but I had my reasons for modelling. Sometimes I’d feel fairly confident, I’d have had my make-up and hair done. Most of the time though I felt ugly and insecure. I feigned confidence because that’s what I was paid to do. I hated the photos and cringed when they were constantly shared on social media. So why didn’t I stop? I also carried on torturing myself with modelling because I hoped that one day I’d look like the people I wished to emulated (even though I never looked at the images through objective eyes – more on that below and in this post and this post).

‘You’re exceptionally beautiful, you get stared at, you get lots of compliments, you were a model.’ It sounds conceited and selfish to say I feel bad when plenty of people don’t have those things. But my opinions of myself were formed when I had none of that. When people treated me badly because I was overweight and didn’t look how they thought I should. Whether you’re admired or not, body image can be an equally difficult issue, especially when your perspective has been formed through the negative comments and treatment by others.

Yes, I’m very lucky not to have disfigurement or be hated by other people for the way I look like I was when I was younger. But whilst I recognise this and I’m grateful for it, deep down I still have issues with the way I look.

 

Being beautiful doesn’t make you immune to criticism (internally or externally)

As someone who was bullied for a long time but is now lucky enough not to struggle with bullies (at least outside of my own head), I understand what it’s like to be criticised constantly, and I know too well the lasting effect that has on a person. However I also know that whether you’re perceived as ‘beautiful’ or not (I’ve been both), you’re always going to be criticised by someone about something. It’s an inevitable part of life. You won’t be everyone’s cup of tea – and even if you are, some people like to make you feel bad about yourself because they feel bad about themselves.

 

Being ‘beautiful’ isn’t the most important thing in life – whatever you read, see or watch

In fact, being beautiful is one of the least important things in the world. It’s insignificant compared with parenthood, feeling the sun on your face, being free to live life the way you want to live it, having an amazing family, your health. But our society has moved beauty up in the rankings – and now a ‘successful life’ involves money and aesthetic acceptance.

There’s this idea that once you are ‘beautiful’ and ‘acceptable’ your life will be great and things will be easy for you. You’ll get the guy, have the amazing job, finally have the confidence to do the things you want to do.

Lots of ‘beautiful’ celebrities have drug problems. They take their own lives. They abuse themselves. If ‘beautiful’ was the measure of an easy life, wouldn’t that be different? It’s proof that we don’t see ourselves as we really are. It’s also proof that beauty means nothing. In the scheme of things and as whole human beings – of us as individuals it’s very small. What about our personalities? Our achievements? Our families?

 

‘Beautiful’ is subjective

The reason lots of ‘beautiful’ people don’t feel that way is because we all have a different perception of what ‘beautiful’ is. I cover this in Tough Love but also in this post, (link to someone wants what you’ve got) because often we find ourselves wanting what other people have, hating what we were blessed with and craving their ‘positives’ instead. But what if they’re feeling exactly the same way? Everyone’s idea of ‘beauty’ is different, so aside from it being pointless to try and be someone we’re not, it’s also misguided to believe that people who are conventionally ‘beautiful’ or universally admired think the same thing about themselves.

 

Need help with body image? Struggling with low self-esteem? Always on a diet or buying make-up? Take a look at the Body Image archive here.

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My love/hate relationship with photos

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Last week I was asked to send some recent photos of myself for the press to use. They felt my professional photos were too polished – they wanted something real. I totally understood and I obliged, setting off into my iPhone archives to dig for images.

But that was when the panic set in. I almost had a full-on panic attack – I had to take myself off and have a couple of hours breathing space before I finally revisited the task and made a shortlist with the help of my friends and family. This is because photos are a bit of an issue for me – and have been ever since the birth of the selfie and my part-time modelling career.

I became obsessed with having ‘perfect’ photos taken of myself. This became more of an issue as the fire was fuelled by social media – which is full of ‘perfect’ images of unattainability.

I found myself constantly constructing scenarios in order to have photographs taken, missing (or not enjoying) great life events because I was worried about how photos would turn out, then comparing my photos to those of others and feeling inadequate. This unhelpful, harmful cycle made me incredibly miserable. So I cut down on modelling and banned myself from social media.

I still take photos of course, just not so many. The real problem comes with the many obsessive selfies I take. And the fact that I am shit with technology, so I have three devices filled with pictures that I’m terrified of losing (for obsessive reasons).

Because of this, going back through old photos stresses me out. I’m reminded that I need to store these precious memories. I’m also reminded that really they should be plastered all over social media (until my brain reminds me that they don’t). It also stresses me out because I start to compare myself back then to myself now – and (even though at the time I felt critical about myself even more than I do now) the contemporary me comes off worse. On top of that

So I was in a world of stress picking these images. I don’t have a solution for this one yet guys – I’m stll trying to figure it out myself. But I wanted to share the story to give a little insight into my journey. My post ‘why I never say I’m better’ is coming up in a couple of weeks, but before that I just wanted to demonstrate that few people ‘lose’ or ‘shed’ their demons completely. And recovery isn’t always about being ‘better’ or ‘free of mental illness’ (as I mention in this post for Blue With A Clue here) – it’s actually often about learning to live with yourself in a way that allows you to breathe and enjoy, and doesn’t hold you back from your life.

There are lots of things I’ve managed to improve, but my relationship with photos unfortunately isn’t one of them. In time however I’m confident that’ll change. Continue to follow my journey and let’s see together!

Do you feel the same about photos? Share your stories (anonymously) here.

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When’s it due?

This weekend I was asked if in pregnant (I’m not!) – here’s how I stopped it from destroying me.

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‘When’s it due?’

It’s probably the worst thing you can inadvertently say to a woman who feels self-conscious about her weight – or any woman for that matter. Whilst on the surface it’s well-meaning and harmless, it horrendously backfires when it transpires that the woman in question is actually not pregnant at all. Then immediately your kind, caring curiosity is transformed into an ugly insult which can cause instant damage to the recipients self esteem.

I discuss briefly in Nutrition in a Nutshell and Tough Love that I struggle with constant IBS. Anyone who has or has had IBS will understand that dealing with chronic stomach pain and bloating day in, day out is no fun (especially when people think you’re making it up, are over-exaggerating or are being awkward). Over the past 4 years I’ve come to terms with the fact that I rarely have that much-coveted ‘flat stomach’. I’m pretty much always bloated.

This used to be a REAL problem for me. My stomach (along with my thighs) was a focus point whilst I had anorexia, and ever since I longed for the VS body (until I started to change my perspective and finally learnt how to love my body the way it is). Now I just accept it and make the best of it – and I get better at managing my IBS all the time (although it’s still difficult due to anxiety). The only time I feel self-conscious at all is on occasion in a bikini and on nights out – and clubbing is something I rarely do anymore.

My best friend’s hen do this weekend involved such an occasion – and as I’d tried the dress I’d bought especially for it on a week before with no issue I didn’t expect to get into it and feel like a whale. But unfortunately I did. My stomach was inexplicably round and hard – even though is been careful as usual with what I ate. The problem with anxiety linked IBS is that it strikes when it wants without your say – so I put the bloating down to some subconscious apprehension about the weekend as is normal for me.

We went out and I forgot about the bloat (as I’ve become used to dealing very well with my insecurities and no longer let them bother me too much). I put it to the back of my mind and we set off to the club.

Yet halfway through the night I was paid the ultimate backhanded compliment. As I stood washing my hands at the sinks the toilet attendant smiled, pointed at my stomach said to me: ‘Pregnant?’

In fact the tone of her voice was less ‘posing a question’ and more ‘Aww!’ Shocked I smiled back (as you do) and replied ‘oh,..no, actually…’ before scuttling out in disbelief feeling embarrassed as the queue of women waiting looked on.

Of course I went to tell the hen party crew who were all just as shocked as I was. None of them could understand why she’d said what she’d said – but in reality I could. When I’m particularly bloated I can look a couple of months pregnant – I’m just not use to people other than my inner voice pointing that out.

I could have done two things at this point. I could have gone home crying and feeling fat and ashamed, or I could shrug it off. The new me shrugged it off. The old me would have laughed it off, only to punish myself continually afterwards and embark on some harsh diets or IBS treatments to ensure it never happened again.

Yet it’s not just what we do in the immediate aftermath that matters. Comments can cut deep and still effect us even if we managed to stick a plaster on them at the time. And I soon found myself feeling a little more self conscious than usual about my middle area – both the bloating, and the fact that my rear has been slowly expanding for a few months now.

Now I’m nowhere near as bad as I have been in the past – feeling nauseous when I look at myself, kneading my stomach critically wishing it was slimmer. But I do generally opt for baggy clothes, only wear leggings and sometimes. But even then I felt a little fatter. I looked at the photos from the night with more critical eyes. I realised I was letting my anxieties and insecurities over how I looked rule me again – and I haven’t allowed that in a long time.

So how did I make sure I felt better and didn’t let the comments bother me further? And how can you do the same after a similar blow to your self-esteem?

The criticism could be one of two things. It could be that you already recognised the ‘flaw’, so now you feel a lot fucking worse about it. Or it could be something you’d never considered before, and now you’re thinking ‘Oh my god it’s worse than I thought. Now I have to sort that out too.” Either way, you’re left feeling bad. Here’s how you can stop.

I realised when I was feeling bad that I was allowing clever psychological tricks my brain used to play on me to slide into my life again. For example, when I used to weigh myself and I discovered I was a lb over my ‘perfect weight’, I’d feel fat for the rest of the day. I’d actually feel it – my clothes seemed tight, my face looked puffy in the mirror. This would carry on usually until the next day, by which time I’d forgotten. The tight clothes, the mystery bulges of fat and the puffy face were all in my imagination.

And so too were these ideas I was having about having ‘gained weight’. Since I don’t weigh myself anymore I panicked because I decided I must have got fat without realising it – but when I sat down with myself and rationalised it I realised I looked exactly the same. Just on that night I was bloated, my dress accentuated it and that lady made a misguided comment. That’s all there is to it.

Often how we feel is 100% in our mind – it’s not actually the product of anything factual or tangible. Don’t throw away all the good things about yourself for one perceived ‘bad thing’ – especially when someone else points it out to you. More often than not they have their own motives behind saying something thoughtless or unkind – so don’t forget that often it’s them, not you.

 

I would have literally fallen apart if someone had said that to me a few years ago. But now I’m able to live with myself better – and I can handle curveballs because I’ve developed tools to help me to deal with my poor body image and insecurities. Fancy taking your first steps to living your life to the full without body image issues? Take a look at Tough Love and my Golden Rules here.

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Someone somewhere wants what you’ve got

whitening skin 

Recently I had a wobble over my skin tone, as I have many times in the past. My issue is that I’m never dark enough – even though I’m not pale and naturally have sallow, olive-y skin. If I get some sun I can go very dark, but I hate fake tan and never use it, and with the UK suffering from less and less sunshine (especially through the winter months) I’ve been starting to feel ‘pasty’.

Let me define ‘pasty’ for those who are looking at me thinking ‘you’re not pale?!’ My version of pasty isn’t actually pale at all. Because when I’m in that zone of perfectionism, nothing less than the ‘ideal colour’ I have in my head will do – therefore anything that doesn’t constitute that is ‘pasty’. It’s just like everything else – lips, boobs, arse, stomach tone. It’s very easy for anyone with body image issues to warp reality in their head to minimise their own positives and amplify the perceived ‘good things’ other people have.

Whilst reading an article on a beauty blog one day I noticed an advert. I constantly had a ‘golden caramel’ target in my head to banish the ‘pink and pasty’ image I (wrongfully) used to describe myself, but this banner actually advertised a pink and pasty skin tone. The lady in the advert had porcelain skin with a slight pink blush on either cheek. This cream was of course targeted at an Asian market – the writing was in Chinese underneath and the model was oriental looking.

Seeing the advert really made me stop and think about a point I raise both in Tough Love and here on the blog quite frequently – the fact that however bad you feel about yourself, someone somewhere wants something you’ve got that they feel they haven’t. So whilst I was sitting feeling bad (needlessly) about my ‘pasty’ skin, a girl in China was probably looking at me wishing she was even just a little bit lighter.

I discuss the lightening/darkening argument a lot – as it’s something I became very aware of when I worked as a make-up artist. Asian girls invariably wanted to be lighter, whilst European girls wanted to be darker. No-one was happy in their own skin, literally. This was a nightmare from a cosmetic perspective, because if your foundation’s lighter than your skin it looks chalky, and if it’s darker it looks patchy – so I’d always try and encourage them to stick close to their natural skin tone. When I worked for Estee Lauder in Duty Free customers from overseas bought the ‘brightening’ white-effect moisturisers, whilst those heading out on holiday stocked up on fake tanning creams.

Isn’t this all a bit crazy? Clearly this isn’t something which is going to change – at least not from the efforts of one person. But applying it to you personally can you see how ‘beauty’ is subjective? How the person you admire could hate themselves (more on this here)? Next time you’re fretting over some part of yourself you dislike, try and remember that many of us want what we can’t have. And that someone, somewhere envies 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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Know your triggers

better body image

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Whilst I talk a lot about my Golden Rules for better self-esteem, the one thing I couldn’t use them without is a knowledge of what starts me off thinking bad thoughts (and indulging in negative behaviours as a result). Without this, I wouldn’t even have been able to create the rules, let alone put them into practice and make things better for myself.

The Golden Rules are general and I feel they’ll work for most people, but the root triggers behind the things we do are of course unique. Some may be the same, some may be slightly different, some may be the complete opposite. So I wrote this post to discuss why knowing your triggers is so important, and how you can identify them so that you can use the Golden Rules more effectively and start your journey to better self-esteem and body confidence today. 

What are my triggers?

As you can see, I know most of my triggers now – and that allows me to know what to avoid. But sometimes I don’t realise and I either have to remind myself, or I have to come up with a new coping strategy or put other things in place so that I can live with myself day-to-day much better without bad thoughts or harmful behaviours getting in the way.

Social media is a trigger for me – along with photoshopped images and selfies. When I talk to other people I find they struggle with the same things, or perhaps a blend of others. For example they may have one friend in particular that they envy, or have people who are nasty and no good for them in their lives (including partners, friends and family) who fuel their insecurities.

How can you identify your triggers? 

To identify your triggers, you need to realise firstly when you’re thinking or doing things which are harming your self-esteem. For example, beating yourself up over the advert on the television. Considering a new diet. Feeling bad because you’re not the ‘ideal weight’ you want to be. Sometimes these can be individual situations, but sometimes they can actually be a chain of events all leading from the same source – for example, you could see the advert then feel as though you don’t measure up, so you go on a diet.

Once you see this happening, stop for a second and ask why. Why am I doing this? Why am I feeling like that? Was it a comment someone made? Was it a habit of weighing yourself (more about this here, here and here). Was it an image on social media that made you feel inadequate? Sometimes it’s surprisingly easy to see the root cause behind what you do and say and feel – at other times you might have to dig a little bit deeper. Then you can set appropriate boundaries to protect yourself from the things that harm your self-esteem – and that’s what the Golden Rules are all about.

Adapting the Golden Rules to fit your triggers

I made the Golden Rules using my own triggers, selecting the ones which most people identify with and tell me they also struggle with. So using the examples above, here’s how you’d apply my Golden Rules:

 

“Someone made a comment about me”

Golden RuleDon’t give a shit about what other people think

How to deal with it: If the comment was purposefully malicious then you have to ask why that person wants to make you feel bad. Usually it’s because there’s something they’re dissatisfied with about themselves, so they feel the need to point out ‘flaws’ in other people (rightly or wrongly) to help them to feel better. This is just one reason why listening to comments other people make (and worrying about what they think) is futile – because not everyone is going to think you are amazing (and that’s okay). Remember also that often when we have low self-esteem we can even take compliments the wrong way if they don’t fit in with our ideal self – or simply feel that someone has said something negative about us when in fact they haven’t because our insecurities fill in the blanks.

 

“I weigh myself regularly and today I’m a lb over. Now I feel fat.”

Golden Rule – Stop weighing yourself

How to deal with it: I’ve been here. The solution? I stopped weighing myself (you can read more about that here). That’s probably not what you wanted to hear, but it’s one of the best things I ever did and I’m sure it’ll help you, too. Remember right now that weight means nothing – more on that and why you shouldn’t worry about that 1lb here.

 

“An image on social media made me feel bad”

Golden Rule: Avoid Social Media

How to deal with it: Again, a simple solution here. Cut it out! More here.

 

“I’m self-conscious about the size of my legs and I see girls everywhere who have slim, long legs. I wish I had legs like them.”

 Golden Rules: Stop comparing and Find something you like

How to deal with it: Clearly this one thing about your legs consumes you. Perhaps you have body dysmorphia, or maybe you’ve become obsessed with looking like someone else. I had the same thing with various parts of myself (all of which I’ve come to accept), including my hair, my stomach, my legs, my boobs. At the end of the day we can’t change who we are, and we shouldn’t (link), but also we need to recognise that comparison achieves nothing (other than making us feel bad). It’s been proven that we rarely come off better when we compare, so it’s best to try and squash that habit. I also talk about self-acceptance in my books and in the Golden Rules – and to do this you can find one thing you like. So you don’t like your legs, but do you like your eyes? Your nails? There will be something.

 

If you’re struggling with any of these and haven’t already, take a look through my Golden Rules for better self-esteem here.

 

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My Golden Rules for better self-esteem

better self-esteem

 better self-esteem

I set up Tough Cookie because I spent well over 10 years hating myself. For some reading this that might not sound like a long time, but when you consider that I’m only 24 and I started when I was 11 you can see why in relation to my life as a whole this is significant – it’s pretty much 50%!

A few years ago I started changing things for myself. I realised that I was never going to love my life (or myself) if I continued, and without at least a little appreciation for who I was, I wouldn’t be happy and achieve the things I wanted to achieve. So slowly but surely I started to make small changes – changes which eventually snowballed until I reached a point of what I like to call ‘semi-self-acceptance.’

Now this doesn’t mean I’m ‘better’. It doesn’t mean that everything is great inside my head now. It doesn’t mean I don’t still have body dysmorphia or struggle with how I look. But it does mean that I am no longer imprisoned by my own self-hatred. It means I can live my life day to day and manage the negative thoughts I sometimes have about myself. And it means that if I can, you can too!

 From those small changes I developed my ‘Golden Rules’ to help people in similar positions to me to develop better self-esteem. I talk about these in Tough Love (in fact, the book is filled with tips like this) but for the purpose of this blog I wanted to condense the things I’ve learnt and use every day down into a few simple steps you can follow to help you on your way to semi-self-acceptance.

Stop comparing

Comparison is single-handedly one of the WORST things you can do to yourself. It’s a great way to destroy your self-esteem, as generally when we compare we do so to find some sort of fault in ourselves and a positive thing in other people.

It’s likely you’re making comparisons with others without even knowing it. Staring longingly at a celebrity’s abs in a magazine, feeling jealous of your friend’s hair, looking at other people’s skin because you feel as though yours is bad.

 Firstly, you’ve got to be aware of what you’re doing before you can combat it, so try to pay attention to yourself when you’re feeling bad and see whether that’s because you’re feeling negative about what you have because of something ‘positive’ somebody else has. Then when you find yourself doing this remember one thing you like about yourself (more on this in a second). You might feel as though there isn’t anything – but there will be one thing, however small. If you’re struggling to do this, then removing the trigger that causes you to compare may be a positive step to take – and this could be reading trashy papers, trawling diet sites or social media.

 

Avoid social media

Social media is toxic for a number of reasons. Generally I have come to hate the concept of it and the behaviour it encourages – from a mental health perspective and in a personal capacity. It’s  exacerbates insecurities and   . But where self-esteem is concerned it can be especially harmful.

I understand that for some people, cutting out social media is like chopping off a limb. And by ‘avoid’ I don’t necessarily mean you have to cut it out completely – not if you don’t feel you need to. But you really need to be honest with yourself here. Does social media add something to your life, or does it take something away from you? Does it make you feel inadequate? Does it encourage you to focus on everything you don’t have and forget about the qualities and good things you possess?

Social media is filled with images of ‘perfection’. It’s designed to help people boast about themselves and their lives. You’ll rarely see things shared and loved which are ‘ugly’ – i.e, less than perfect. Where does that leave those of us who aren’t ‘perfect’ then? Don’t forget that what you see online isn’t reality. It’s a carefully-constructed version of reality which is 100% going to make you feel bad by comparison.

I found myself constantly comparing without even realising it, feeling as though I couldn’t stop. I was almost addicted to scrolling through Instagram and twitter, following models and ‘hot girls’ accounts, hoping that through looking at the images and links I could better myself, I could look and be like them. Obsessively

 More on why I quit social media for better self-esteem here.

 

Assess potentially damaging situations

I know when I am going to be in a position which may trigger my insecurities. But we can’t go through life avoiding everything – even if we want to. Some situations I will actively avoid if they serve no purpose other than to make me feel bad (I stopped attending modelling castings for example), but for those which are unavoidable (or things I should definitely be present for) I have to put protective measures in place to help me to cope in case I feel bad (thinking about a positive thing I like to counteract comparison when I’m going to be in a situation which causes me to compare, reminding myself that beauty is subjective, remembering that often what we see is fake and manufactured if I’m watching a movie or a television programme I would normally avoid). If you suffer social anxiety because of body dysmorphia also remember that it’s never as bad as you think it is – and you may even end up feeling better after you take a leap of faith.

 

Don’t give a shit about what other people think

 This one’s hard – I know that. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that happiness is never achieved through trying to please others. You life and worth should be based on doing the things you love with people you don’t fear judgment from – but unfortunately social media and other modern-day social conventions often make us feel as though our lives are lived for the approval of others. Whether you’re being bullied or constantly worry about how you come across to others, remember that their opinions really don’t matter. Enjoy being you and work on being comfortable in your own skin without compliments and approval from other people.

 

Find something you like

This has been really helpful for me on my own journey to better self-esteem – and although you might at first think (just like I did) ‘what the hell is there to like?’ actually you’ll find something. And once you find one thing, you open the door to others. 

I started aged 17 with my nails. I always got compliments on them – they were long and strong and square – they looked artificial but they were all mine. At the time I thought that was all I had going for me, so when a friend asked me: ‘tell me one thing you like about yourself.’ I thought long and hard and came up with my nails.

Aged 21 I (finally) felt able to change my mind over my thighs and my arse – parts of me which had been a big problem for me for ten years. Aged 23 I felt able to stop weighing myself. Now aged 24 I don’t feel as anxious about how I look. Starting with something so small as my fingernails actually helped me on my journey to self-acceptance – or at least semi-self-acceptance – so choosing one thing you like as a starting point can be really valuable.

You can see that my journey wasn’t an overnight change of heart. It took me a while to accept myself (mostly) as I am. But starting with one thing allowed me to consider others – and over time this snowballed until I came to love parts of myself I never thought I would.

 

Stop monitoring and weighing yourself

Throw away the tape measure, the weighing scales, the calipers. Stop scrutinising yourself and basing your worth on a set of numbers. When I had Anorexia I spent a long time in the mirror or just staring at myself to see whether I was ‘thin enough’ yet. Weighing myself had become a way to obsessively monitor myself but also to feel better or worse depending on whether I achieved my goals. This started with the diets I went on aged 12 and finished only a few years ago when I realised that my obsession with weight did nothing to benefit me mentally or physically. I always looked the same, even when my weight fluctuated dramatically. The only thing that made me feel different (usually bad) was the number on the scale, so I ditched them. You can read more about why I stopped weighing myself and why here.  

Ready to get better self-esteem? Need help implementing the Golden Rules? Take a look at Tough Love here.

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Why do you weigh yourself?

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Weight is an increasingly prevalent issue in society, not just for anyone with an eating disorder. As we become more anxious about the image we project to others, we naturally wish to be slim as the celebrities and advertisers tell us we should be. As a result so many people weigh themselves every week or even every few days – but what benefit does this bring (if any), and most importantly what harm can it cause?

I did a radio interview and phone-in last year in Ireland and one of the ladies spoke openly about her lifelong obsession with her weight. She didn’t believe it was a problem – although as she described the way she’d starve herself if she found she’d gained a couple of pounds I listened horrified and waited for my opportunity to speak. I told her what I’m about to explain in this post – that although stepping on the scales may appear to be an innocent and healthy habit, sometimes it can become a controlling obsessive compulsion which results in harmful behaviour.

Regularly weighing yourself doesn’t necessarily indicate that you have a problem with eating or with your appearance. It’s often suggested it is a healthy thing to do – and for people who are overweight, it certainly is one of the only ways to monitor progress. I talk about weighing ourselves in Tough Cookie and Tough Love – and I discuss how I feel it’s a harmful thing for ‘healthy’ people to do for all sorts of reasons. It’s not the action but the motive that concerns me. That’s because lots of women and men now weigh themselves constantly.

I know that January is the ‘height’ of the diet season – and that’s partly the reason behind me putting out this post. As an important part of dieting, we are encouraged to weigh ourselves to ‘monitor progress’. But most people who embark on these fad diets (mentioning no names) aren’t morbidly obese. They’re just dissatisfied with themselves and are influenced by advertisements filled with ‘bikini bodies’ and encouragement to diet. They feel ‘fat’ because they’ve eaten more over the festive period and are inactive because it’s so bloody cold. In fact, diets have ruined our relationship with food and our own bodies systematically for years – you can read more about my view on that if you don’t know already here.

Part of the reason I’m passionate about sharing my viewpoint on weight is that it is something which shackled me for a long while. It meant such a lot to me to weigh myself – but now I never do it anymore. Originally out of fear, but now because I have realised how unhealthy it is for me. I don’t need to weigh myself. I was always within a bracket of half a stone, and whatever end of the spectrum I was at, I looked the same and felt the same – that is until I stepped on the scales and realised I’d put on a pound. Then I’d spend a day (or even a week) panicking and stressing until I weighed myself again and surprise surprise, discovered it was just a fluctuation. After all, a pound is a miniscule amount of weight to gain or lose.

It consumed a fair amount of energy as I panicked about which number would pop up this week, orchestrating my eating and toilet habits around this 1 or 2 minute ritual. It was one of the things which stayed with me since my eating disorder – a (pretty bad) habit. When I was poorly, I’d weigh myself once or twice a day. Then I went to once a week eventually and stayed that way throughout recovery because it was essential for me to monitor my weight gain. After a few years however I was still weighing myself once a week on a Friday morning every single week, but now I got panicked as I stripped off to step on the scales and felt sick and fat all day if I’d gained even a tiny bit of weight.

The reason I’m discussing weighing habits is that I know that I wasn’t alone in this and that so many people still weigh themselves even though it’s fruitless and makes them feel unhappy. Monitoring weight gives us control – something which Anorexia craves. Therefore it’s very easy for all of us to change our habits to fit in around the number on the scale because we become addicted to the feeling of control it gives us – whether we have an eating disorder or not.

I speak to lots of women and men who constantly weigh themselves – something which makes them miserable and dictates the way they live their lives. It also distorts how they see themselves based on the weight – so putting on a pound or two suddenly reveals every inch of ‘extra fat’ on their bodies and their clothes feel tight. Lose a couple and you feel like a supermodel. Or (worse) you feel so good that you’re compelled to continue – even though you’re fine as you are.

Many people also have a fixation with their ‘ideal weight’. This isn’t something a doctor has calculated for them – it’s not even based on how they look and feel. It’s based on how they think they look and feel. I used to have an ideal weight, too. But now I’m probably half a stone over that and I look and feel the same – I’m happy with my body and I don’t need to know how much I weigh. At the time you could have told me that and I’d have been horrified. Occasionally of course I’m hit with the urge to get the scales out – but I never do because I know that it’s the wrong thing to do. I’m sure there are plenty of you reading this who are similarly feeling frightened as I was at the thought of going over your ‘perfect’ benchmark weight.

It’s difficult for people who haven’t been there to understand obsessive weighing – but I have. That’s the reason I’m asking you today to try letting go. Try to remember that your body is constantly working for you to keep you alive. This means that things change from day to day – levels of water, hormones, chemicals. Your weight also changes. The way you see yourself and your body in relation to your weight has been cleverly implanted into your mind by diet companies who don’t care about you or your physical or mental health – they want your money. By treating your body as a wonderful thing which deserves to be looked after, and realising that you are often a static, steady and healthy weight with fluctuations as part of that process, you can begin to enjoy life without having to worry about stepping on those scales every morning.

For more about diets and weight, take a look at my books Tough Love and Nutrition in a Nutshell here.

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The mirror doesn’t lie – but your brain does

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body image

We all know the well-known phrase ‘the camera doesn’t lie.’ But as I discuss in this post, the camera doesn’t always give us a true representation of how we look – especially not in the eyes of others. Mirrors however are an altogether different matter.

What we see in the mirror is real, right? Not necessarily. Far from simply being a ‘reverse’ version of us, mirrors can distort our perception of ourselves beyond belief. Mirrors become a pretty big issue for anyone with body image problems or body dysmorphia. I’ve spent a lot of time over the years ignoring mirrors, or spending time in them scrutinising my faults, or simply staring in disgust feeling bad about what I see staring back at me. It’s safe to say that my relationship with mirrors isn’t the best.

Since I’ve been living with myself in a better way a mirror has become more of a tool (for putting on make-up) and decorative item than an aggressor for my mental health problems. But even then, I often wonder why I still look ‘different’ in mirrors from one day to the next. One minute I feel positive about how I look, the next I feel shit. Does the mirror lie, then? No. This is down to what’s going on in my brain.

The tricky thing about our eyes is that the information they send back to us is interpreted by our brains. That’s how magic and ‘trick of the mind’ shows work – they distract us or exploit loopholes in our brains which make us see reality in a different way. However this also has consequences for the way we see ourselves. The information our eyes take from the mirror goes through our mental filter first. Naturally those of us with body image issues have some pretty negative shit lurking in our mental filter – shit that’s built up over time after we were bullied, or criticised by others, not to mention years spent loathing ourselves on top of that.

It’s important to bear this in mind the next time you’re looking in a mirror. It might appear as though this reflective piece of glass couldn’t lie – how could it? Unless you’re in a circus you’re looking at a factual representation of your own reflection. But most of us forget that what we see is influenced by our inner beliefs, it’s instantly warped negatively by that thing we hate, or that worry we have,  the comparison we’re making with that model on television, or the nasty thing somebody said.

No, we can’t tackle this overnight. But just recognising how your brain distorts your self-image is a first step. And it can go a long way towards helping you to feel better about yourself, as you start to appreciate that you might not be ‘that bad’ after all.

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