Editor’s Letter: What I’ve Learnt About Body Image in 26 YearsBy Angelica Malin
I’m listening to a Chilled Reggae playlist on Spotify, because talking about body image makes me feel anything but chilled. When the lovely team at triyoga approached me to write some personal thoughts on body image, to celebrate their special body image workshops and events happening in September, I felt more nervous than the time at primary school when I was forced to sing a solo of ‘Yellow Submarine’, dressed as a small, human-sized ship, to a harsh, snotty-nosed audience of 100 school kids, and I wet myself on stage.
Anyway. Body image. It’s a sensitive topic, and one I feel passionate about discussing more openly – how we feel about our bodies, how we see them, how we treat them. If you’d like to join the conversation, triyoga Camden have very kindly offered a 20% discount on any of the amazing body image events here for our readers, simply use the code ‘Angelica20’ at checkout (code live from 5pm today). In the spirit of self-discovery, I have penned some thoughts on body image I’ve learnt in my humble 26 years. Here’s some Monday life lessons on happiness, bodies and health for you:
1. You are more than your body
The first thing I’d like to share, is that your body isn’t, and never was, the issue. When we put a huge amount of pressure on the physicality of our bodies – how it looks, how toned it is, how it fits into a bikini – we do ourselves a disservice. We reduce ourselves to merely a physical form, forgetting that we are emotional, spiritual, human creatures, who were designed to be more than just sexy in a two-piece on the beach. You will never be happy when you put all your emotional energy, your self-worth, your sense of identity, your feelings of success and achievement, into what your physical body looks like. We’ve all done it; been on a crash diet, lost a few pounds, and still feel as miserable in ourselves. Losing weight, often, doesn’t make you love yourself any more. I have been many different weights in my life, and I can tell you, honestly, that ‘skinnier’ does not make you happier.
Stop comparing yourself, your body, to people on the internet. Shut down that Instagram app, stop looking at Fitspo’s stars’ obliques, or Louise Thompson in a bikini. We cannot all be the same shape. We cannot all be the same size. We weren’t made to be carbon copies of each other, that’s the beauty of life, of the female form. Going beyond the physical, accepting that ultimately having a ‘good body’ by conventional standards, isn’t going to bring a deeper sense of happiness, security or confidence in yourself, is tantamount to finding the things that really do bring you joy. Of course, we can do our best to make ourselves feel good physically – whether that’s a long run, a swim, a yoga class – but so often, I feel, we chase physical goals, hoping they will bring us the love, joy, happiness, we crave in life, but, frankly, abs can’t do that.
Friends can do that, family can do that, laughter can do that, community can do that. But physical perfection cannot bring you the deeper sense of self you want, let go. You are more than your body.
2. You have to free yourself from guilt
This is a big one for me. Sounds random, but I have often struggled with enjoying pastry. We all have one thing, right? Although I always loved them, over time, thanks to women’s magazines comparing breakfast options (swap your pastry for 15 tangerines, they said) and a nasty ex-boyfriend who always made me feel guilty for my passion for pain au chocolat, I came to have negative associations with pastry. I felt bad for eating one. I felt like I ‘shouldn’t’ indulge in something the Mail Online had put up there with ISIS, like a dirty secret, pastries were not allowed for me. I say: eat a pastry in the face of the patriarchy. Freeing ourselves from guilt around food, removing the lexicon of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ items (it’s all just bloody food, OK?), stopping these ridiculous labels around our diets, is key to feeling healthy and happy about your body, your health, your eating choices. I have nothing against vegans, paleo-eaters, dairy-free honeys, but I can’t help but feel that if we really, truly, want to feel free around food, we have to take off the pressure of constantly labelling our diets. Sometimes I’m vegetarian, something I’m not. That’s OK. Need I remind you – there is no such thing as a ‘bad’ food decision if it’s one you actively, mindfully make. Don’t let other people shame your food choices, in person, on the internet, via the media, just do what’s right for you. Eat the fucking pasty.
One way that I’ve really found useless in freeing myself from guilt is to ditch calorie counting, apps that ‘track macros’ or anything else that generally tries to put a label on my eating habits. I used to weigh myself every morning. Every. Morning. Did it make me happy? No. Did it make it healthier? No. Understanding how certain foods make your body feel, what a satisfying portion looks like, what foods comfort you and nuture you, is a much more worthy and long-term strategy for happiness than allowing your every move to be tracked by MyFitnessPal. Reading ingredients lists, doing mental sums to calculate the calories of your lunch, weighing up whether the pleasure of a chocolate croissant will outweigh the slightly dirty feeling you’ll get after eating it – these forms of silent self flagellation must stop. We must end this hostage situation, we must give ourselves back to ourselves. Weighing scales, apps, calorie counting, it’s all a way to make us feel trapped, when all we really want is to be free. Choosing to break that cycle, to eat intuitively and really, truly, listen to your body, will serve you much better in the long term. Trust in yourself, you’re the best friend you’ve got.
3. Self-care is always the answer
Truth is: we often think food is the issue, but it’s actually just masking something else. Whether it’s work stress, emotional upset, family problems, loneliness, there are so many things that can go wrong in our lives, which we mask by attaching emotions to food. Food is, never was, the issue. Whatever it is, deep down, that’s upsetting you, piling your face with chocolate digestive biscuits is only a short-term strategy, and what you really need, and deserve, is to confront your problems head on. I’ve found self-love to be the antidote to lost of my feelings of guilt surrounding food. And helps me to enjoy that bar of chocolate a little bit more.
Give yourself the time you deserve. Make time for self-care, whether that’s a walk in the park, a long Epsom salt bath or a chat with a friend, find out what’s really going inside you, and you’ll find it easier to make happier, healthier decisions in the long. We all have coping mechanisms, whether that’s in the form of chocolate, cheese or wine, but these things are simply a plaster for a bigger issue. Self-love is a like a muscle, you can build it up.
A little Monday fun for you. Here’s a snap of the time I checked into a hotel in Florence and they had printed – printed – photos of me to decorate the room. I was in the bathroom, by the bed, on top of the TV. Happy Monday all. Set yourself free.