There is so much, as a woman, that goes unspoken. From serious crimes – domestic violence, rape, workplace discrimination, gender politics, casual sexism – to everyday grimes – periods, hormones, PMS, the complexity of female friendships. So many things women think, do and feel, which are rarely discussed, in private or public. It’s like we’ve all quietly, at birth, sworn a vow of secrecy, to keep the ‘female’ problems to ourselves; daily challenges that we willingly accept in taciturn, from getting your period when wearing white jeans, whilst at your boyfriend’s parents’ house for the first time and having to borrow his 15-year old sisters flared trousers (happened), to presenting a big pitch with excruciating stomach cramps or trying to act like a ‘girl boss’ whilst quietly rubbing your poor, pinched heel-clad toes. Or wearing tights: why does no-one invent a pair of tights you don’t have to hike up all day long? The struggle is real.

And especially, I have found, in business – where society demands we be human tight-rope walkers, striking the ideal balance between confident and feminine, without falling into the dodgy, catchment area of ‘acting like a man’. Fall off the tight rope, and you’ll be lambasted as the woman who is a little too strong, too self-assured, and, thus, no longer ‘feminine’. It’s all bullshit, obviously, but we all know what happens to the too feisty, self-confident characters in the Great British Bake Off – never the favourites, always torn down for their confidence. Nobody wants a sponge cake made by a bitch, right?

I sympathise, sometimes, with men who say that they cannot ‘work women out’, because, at times, I have felt like a surprise onto myself – how I can suddenly burst into tears at the sight of an act of kindness when I’m hormonal, how I can alternate from crazy, maddeningly happy to deeply despairing in tearful within the space of hours, like a human weather dial, how I can devour *that* much chocolate in one sitting, how I can be surprised, often, by what my body is capable of, both emotionally and physically. We are a wonder unto ourselves, and the ‘feminine mystique’ I think, is rooted in our own sense of unknowing – there are deep levels of the female experience, which peel away with age, revealing to us new experiences, emotions and understanding with each day. Basically, I feel like a human shallot, most days.

But there’s deeper, I think, that we silently accept, as a woman, which peppers our lives. It is, of course, body pressure. Diet culture is a physiological corset, wrapping itself around our every day, affecting our mood, confidence, self-perception, happiness. Body pressure is something that we rarely talk about – with friends, parents, boyfriends, the internet – but allow to build up inside us, a voice that doesn’t want our happiness. Not just any body pressure, but a very decidedly single-line of thought around the female body, which to me seems to say ‘reduction’. Sorry for the dodgy stock image. 

I find that messages around the male body are all about growth, but, for women, they are about reduction – adverts which demand that you shrink your waist, shrink your hips, shrink your thighs, whereas the men’s magazines are full of how to grow your arms, abs, biceps. Since when did we become obsessed with the reduction of women, rather than their growth? I know the ‘strong not skinny’ mantra is around, but I still think we’re a long way from actually internalising that message. And, still, strong not skinny still demands change, of some kind. From cutting to dieting, detox teas to weight loss shakes, the media around female bodies is focused the focus is on being less of ourselves, not more, and I can’t help but think that the pressure to reduce yourself, physically, is tantamount to reducing yourself mentally too.

Diet culture is there to make us feel small – taking up less space, physically, we’re also taking up less socially. Naturally, we see the same body plastered around the world every day – narrow-hipped, flat-stomached, with a thigh gap, taunt abs and a small, but perfectly formed bum. So rarely, do we see women with curves, hips, boobs, cellulite, kissing thighs – what a real, natural woman looks like. Sparrow-like, bony, jaunty, this is the figure of the woman I see everyday on the tube adverts, on the TV, on Instagram. It’s a face that haunts me, so alien to what I’ve come to find beautiful in a woman: vitality, bloom, health. Don’t confuse the definition of your cheekbones with the definition of your self. You are so much more than what you like in good lighting.

Body pressure is a silent killer; there’s a war raging within us, fuelled by the media we consume daily, that demands physical change. Whether it’s counting calories, stepping on scales, working out macros, cutting out food groups or taking up the latest fad diet, women, over time, often develop their own personal set of rules and regulations around food, exercise and diet, which becomes akin to a mental prison. I know this from personal experience, both with myself, girlfriends around me, heck even my own mum. No-one is free from the traps of a world which tells us that the best way to exist is with rules, because we cannot be trusted to be free. It’s ironic – of course – that we must go through months, years, heck every a lifetime sometimes, of diets, obsessive behaviour and rules, to realise that the inner peace we’re looking for, which we think the rules will create, are only fuelling the chaos within our minds. That the only way to be really, truly free, is live without the rules – for they are what’s holding us back, physically and emotionally. Quitting diets is a message, to yourself and to the universal, that you trust in the innate, wonderful beauty of your body and that we cannot constantly search for change – because we are perfect, just as we are. Kissing thighs and all.

I wrote a letter to myself on Twitter, a few months ago, of all the things I wish I could tell my younger self about body image. I think it would be apt to end this letter on reminding both myself and your younger selves of the things that years of dieting and body pressure can do to you – and how little it all matters, in the end.

1. Your self-worth has, & never did, lie in the number on a scale. Throw away the scales. In fact, throw away people who talk about scales.

2. Going to a 7am spin class doesn’t make you inspirational. Don’t mistake those with lots of Instagram followers for a religious deity.

3. Follow beautiful things on social media – bakers, florists, hat makers. Get rid of all preachy fitspo, they will never make you happy.

4. Workout because you love your body, not because you hate it. Curves are fucking sexy.

5. EAT like you love your body. Make yourself soup. There’s no stronger act of self-love than making butternut squash soup from scratch.

6. Avoid women’s magazines that profit in your insecurity. As Cindy Crawford said “even I don’t wake up looking like Cindy Crawford”

7. Always say yes to dessert. Eat it mindfully, with love, knowing you can always have more. Remove the guilt. Eat the darn cheesecake.

8. Surround yourself with people who love to eat, the kind that eat the entire bread basket before their food. They are the best people.

9. Ditch calorie counting apps + “tracking macros”. Learn a language instead. Our ancestors didn’t have My Fitness Pal & they did alright.

10. Don’t confuse the definition of your obliques with the definition of your self. You are so much more than a set of abs.

11. Next time you’re stressing out about  calories in fruit, think of the world’s suffering. How lucky we are to have running water and M&S.

12. Don’t waste your life trying to get a thigh gap when you could be reducing the pay gap. Strive for something more??? #HappyMonday

This week, I want you to breathe – to remember what it feels like to stop caring, to start living and to enjoy your food, rather than see it as a weapon that’s trying to bring you down. We are all living the same battles, and I hope by removing some of the secrecy, you’ll find your freedom.

Jels x