It’s that time of year again. The Beautiful People start to tell us that if only we ate healthier food and followed their simple daily routine we could look as toned and fabulous as them. And then the Voices of Reason retaliate, reminding us that if you have a bikini and a body, you have a bikini body.
Now in theory I’m in the latter camp. I do genuinely believe that nobody has the right to tell you how you ought to look. I know that magazines and Instagram are full of photo-shopped, filtered images portraying bodies that most of us have a cat in hell’s chance of emulating. And I believe wholeheartedly that it’s essential for your mental health to learn to love your body, just as it is.
And yet… I’m off on a summer holiday this week, and the reality of going out in public with nothing but a tiny slip of fabric between me and the outside world plays to every insecurity I’ve ever had. Oh yes, I know I should rejoice in every wrinkle and blemish. I know it’s what’s on the inside that counts. But I also know that when I step out on the beach it will instantly bring back memories of my chubby schoolgirl self sitting miserably on the bench in swimming whilst the skinny girls squealed about how fat they were. Just this week I stood in the fitting room of a shop, trying on a bikini and casting a critical eye over my body … yet knowing I should know better.
Because here’s the thing. The one thing nobody tells you is HOW you learn to love your body. It’s all very well to believe you should love your body as it is – right now, today, just after you’ve eaten lunch, stretch-marks, scars, cellulite and all – but HOW do you start? Because the truth is that for most of us, learning to love your body takes time and effort and concentration.
The good news is it it can be done. I’ll freely admit it’s still a work in progress for me, but here are five things that I’ve found really do help.
1. CHOOSE YOUR SPORT CAREFULLY
If your chosen form of exercise is all about achieving a look, it’s bound to heighten your feelings of self-consciousness. Find a sport where nobody cares how you look in lycra and you’ll be much, much happier.
2. CHOOSE YOUR FRIENDS CAREFULLY
Equally, if you surround yourself with people who are body-obsessed, it’s likely to rub off on you. If you follow people on social media who post endless pictures of their so-called perfect bodies, it’ll make you insecure. So don’t. Stick to friends who have a laugh with you and don’t go around sucking in their stomachs. And unfollow the narcissists on Instagram. It’s your choice who you hang out with.
3. CELEBRATE WHAT YOUR BODY CAN DO
Consciously think about what your body achieves and what an amazing thing it is. Whether you brought a baby into the world or can squat your own body weight or solve a crossword puzzle or run for a bus, it’s a pretty miraculous thing. Even cracking a smile uses a minimum of 10 muscles all working together on cue. The more you think about the scientific marvel you’re walking around in, the less you’ll obsess about how much of it there is.
4. GET A LIFE
Seriously. Think about the refugees, the persecuted, the poor. Really, really think about them. Get involved. Give time or money or both. Suddenly your muffin top doesn’t seem so important, does it?
5. FAKE IT ‘TILL YOU MAKE IT
However much you turn your mind in the right direction, it can take a while to shift your mindset. In the meantime, just fake it. Walk tall. Pretend you’re confident. There, you look better already.