Life is a precious gift. The odds are stacked against us from conception, yet somehow a little miracle resulted in each and every one of us existing. Each day various systems in our body work together through networks of electrical impulses, hormones and gaseous exchange to keep us alive but sometimes we can choose to hate this body of ours.
When I started secondary school my battle with body image truly started. I wanted to be thinner, wished my boobs were bigger and hated my muscular legs. I consumed magazines that bombarded me with unrealistic images of women and articles that pushed an agenda of pleasing men and being small. I would harm myself and call myself horrible names. I was convinced I was very overweight even at my thinnest and was shocked to be told by a school nurse that I was underweight.
When I became pregnant with my first child Jack, I remember touching my tummy and being overwhelmed by the fact there was life inside me. I was suddenly aware of how much more my body was than a shell. I thought I would never be so shallow as to hate a body that could do such amazing things.
When the pregnancy ended in stillbirth at 35 weeks my self image reached an all time low. I blamed myself as a Mum for not keeping my baby alive. Thankfully I found a physical outlet in cycling that I truly believe helped in my time of grief to take me outside of myself and give me the strength to continue. That and the unwavering love of my partner Stevo, our family and friends meant so much.
My subsequent pregnancy with Ethan and breastfeeding relationship went some way to healing my sense of self. I spent the first year busily being a Mum and enjoying my precious boy before I felt like I needed to get fitness back in my life again and this time I found running.
After each pregnancy, the importance of getting exercise back in my life in order to give me some time to focus on feeling healthy, strong and happy was great and Stevo recognised that. We need to have an identity outside that of being a parent or whatever day job we do.
My desire to exercise, eat well and carve out some me time always comes from a place of self love now.
When I feel stressed out, when my life is out of balance, I am not articulating my feelings or I feel out of control, unhealthy coping mechanisms start such as trying to eat away my feelings or not getting out and doing the things I love. Sometimes I am unaware of what is happening until the feeling lifts and suddenly it feels easy to do the things to keep myself healthy.
There are some who believe that loving ourselves means neglecting ourselves. They think that people should be shamed into losing weight. They think working out only counts if you throw up or hate every second of it. They think that people should buy clothes that don’t fit them for motivation and replace meals with powder and water. All of this works on the assumption that in order to be better we must hate ourselves as we are right now. This leads to overtraining, injury, illness and poor nutrition. The life changes are unhealthy and unsustainable.
So I would ask you, next time you are struggling with self doubt to look at what you are capable of, recognise your strengths and abilities and appreciate all that you are right this moment. Don’t deem yourself only worthy if you lose that Mum tum, if you gained a bit more muscle or if you have a thigh gap. Why direct so much negative energy towards yourself?
Feel the sun on your skin, swim without fear of who may judge your body and realise you are as beautiful and powerful as the trees, the skies and the sea. We only get one life, so live it fully, with purpose and without apology.