Tired eyes, high BMI and loving every inch

Someone quite close to me sent me a rather rude email the other day, stating their disapproval of a photograph of me that I’ve posted on social media. This one: Me

When asked what was wrong with it, I was told that I “look tired” in it. My initial response, understandably, was to feel hurt. My next response was to send a snarky email back with an equally rude comment about that person’s appearance in a recent photograph. Not very mature of me.

I wrote again to apologise for responding so rudely, and pointed out that this person hasn’t seen me in the flesh for a while, and that I now “look tired” all the time. You see, the thing is, I have these things called kids, and they like to wake me up several times in the night before waking for good at the crack of dawn.

Then I often have to carry on and go to work the next day because, you know, I have a mortgage. Or I spend the whole day looking after my sweet sleep-stealers and catering to their every need. If I have any time to spare between work and childcare, I try and do a bit of exercise, or clean my house, or have a social life, or I blog a bit because it makes me feel happier when I’m sad or stressed.

If this person had seen a full-length picture of me, they no doubt would have commented upon the size of my arse as well. I’m well aware that my youngest is two-and-a-half and I haven’t “lost the baby weight”. I have some clothes in my wardrobe that I’m still hoping will fit me again some day.

So we’ve established that I’m tired and overweight. And when I look in the mirror, or hear/read someone’s cruel comment, I’m reminded that by society’s standards, I’m not the hottest thing going. Perhaps my milkshake wouldn’t bring all the boys to the yard.

But then again … maybe it would. Because I think I look better than I ever have in my whole life. Wrinkles, grey hairs, stretch marks, cellulite thighs and all. And that’s saying a lot because I fit the society bill when I was 21:

Nicole in Seattle 2001

I was young once and effortlessly thin. But when I look at old pictures of myself I think “what a waste” because I was beautiful but I didn’t appreciate it. I see a girl who was desperately insecure. Who didn’t appreciate her flat stomach because the skin still bunched into folds when I sat down (now I know the only way to stop that is to have no skin, or Photoshop). Who didn’t appreciate her cellulite-free thighs because she was all stressed out about how to remove every trace of hair from them. Who despaired of a head of hair that stubbornly refused to emulate that of a Disney princess.

I also see a young woman who was actually pretty selfish a lot of the time. Who was astoundingly ignorant of the world around her. Who would call in sick to work at the drop of a hat. Hey, former self … there is no such thing as a sick day when you have kids around. Prepare yourself!

But this post is not about bashing my former self. Except to point out that youth is utterly wasted on the young. I can’t necessarily be blamed for my former insecurities, but I can learn a lesson from them.

Because when I look in the mirror now, I really, truly like the way I look. I love my tired eyes.

There are little lines around my eyes from selfless nights of caring for my little ones when they were sick. There are lines from mourning for lost loved ones. There are lines from stress and worry.

But there are other little lines around my eyes from fun nights out with my friends. There are lines from laughing with my husband and kids. Those tired eyes have watched my babies grow up. When I look at them, I see someone who I am proud to be and who knows her worth.

I still don’t have Disney princess hair, but I have hair that is easy to style and that makes me feel confident and professional. I chose this hair after years of being too insecure to have it cut shorter than shoulder length, and now I’ve finally done what I want, I love it.

My stomach sports a healthy shelf of fat hanging over my c-section scar, liberally decorated with silvery stretch marks. Above, my breasts don’t quite point skywards like they once did. But they still look pretty darn good to me. I used those breasts to feed my babies. That stomach carried them for 9 months.

And when I put my hands on my own body, it feels like a woman’s body. It’s the body of someone who loves to eat and drink and have fun and I wouldn’t trade a single moment of that enjoyment for a flat stomach. It’s part of who I am today and I like that person.

So the next time someone makes you feel small for the way you look, remember the journey that took you there. And if you love the life you live and the person you are, then whatever body you have is part of that.

So next time you look in the mirror, find the love lines, the laugh lines, the great night down the pub folds, the cuddling my baby while eating biscuits wobbles. And just love every inch of yourself.

The Pramshed
Tammymum

Being a body confident parent and the #PledgeToBeReal campaign

I was bullied a lot growing up and it was usually by other girls, and it was usually related to looks. One experience that’s stayed with me was when I was about 13 years old and I started to sprout some breasts. I probably did go from a relatively flat chest to an attractive B-cup at quite a fast rate. Some of my peers took exception to this.

A group of 3 girls started teasing me, saying I was stuffing my bra and that what was in there couldn’t possibly be for real. They forced me to go to the toilets and take off my bra to prove I hadn’t stuffed it. Then they threw toilet roll on the floor themselves and pretended that they found it in my bra, so I couldn’t win, despite my innocence.

When I reflect on that hurtful day now, I realise how ridiculous it was that such young girls were obsessed about the size of each others’ breasts. This sort of awareness could only have been propagated by the media to which we’d been exposed. We were girls about to be women, and we worried about living up to certain standards of supposed femininity from a very early age.

Looking back on pictures of my young self now, I think about how I wasted so much of that time worrying about how I looked. I sometimes come across old pictures of myself and think that I looked pretty good, but I didn’t realise it at the time. I loved teen magazines, and they – along with my peers who’d also been looking at those magazines and comparing themselves and others to the hotties on music video television – led me to believe the following about myself:

  • I had too much hair. I was obsessed with perfect depilation, particularly on my legs, and worried endlessly about the shape of my eyebrows.
  • My hair never fell perfectly across my shoulders like the cartoon princess hair I craved.
  • My skin was not smooth and flawless enough. Why didn’t it look silky like the skin of the girl on the cover of the magazine?
  • My skin was too pale. Cue endless tanning and no doubt sun damage today as a result.
  • My lips were too fat. My friends thought their lips were too thin. Who cares about lip shape really?
  • My stomach was not flat enough. I was perfectly thin when I was young but I didn’t think my skin should fold at all when I sat down.

Get real!

I realise now that my worry was created by the false expectations about beauty that surrounded me. That is why I’m writing this post in support of the Be Real Body Image Pledge. It’s a national movement, supported by Dove UK, which is campaigning for the advertising, fashion, music and media industries to show more reality and diversity.

Current technology and the propagation of sharing selfies on social media is putting more pressure than ever on people to look a certain way. A recent study commissioned by Dove showed that when this leads to low body-esteem, it can also lead to opting out of important life activities such as seeing family or leaving the house. The study also showed that 80% of UK females wish the media did a better job of realistically portraying women in all their authentic beauty and diversity.

The pledge asks organisations that sign up to attempt to reflect diversity and reality in their advertising, and focus on promoting health and well-being.

Making a difference as a body confident parent

Being a mum of two boys who is (ahem) approaching middle age, remaining body confident is still a challenge at times. Having children changes your body forever, and I am still learning to accept aspects of it that are new to me. I still have to ignore messages in the media telling me that I need to be a certain shape which may not be a realistic goal for me. As I age, I’m also trying to ignore messages telling me I should worry about gray hairs and fine lines. Someday the wrinkles will be everywhere and I’ll wish I’d appreciated my only fine-lined face while I still had it.

And I know my sons will be getting messages too about how both women and men should look. It is my job to try and show them how to interpret these. So here is what I think I can do as a parent to support the Be Real Body Image Pledge:

  • I will let my sons see me feeling happy and confident in my own skin. I will not point out my physical flaws (as I perceive them) aloud.
  • I will not comment negatively on the way other people look. If you don’t have anything nice to say…
  • I will support brands and media outlets that portray realistic body images.
  • When they are old enough to understand, I will talk with them about how what they see in the media is not always a full portrayal of reality.
  • I will teach them to respect their own bodies and the bodies of others.

I’m not saying it’s easy or straightforward, but as with many things, awareness of what needs to change is the first step towards changing things.

Standards of beauty have changed throughout history, and we can choose to see the beauty in the everyday, rather than getting increasingly obsessed with fantastic, technology-enhanced images. We can learn to focus on health, activity, kindness and community, rather than a pleasing angle that would be more attractive in a piece of architecture than on a human being. If our children are presented with true beauty to which they can realistically aspire, we can have greater hopes for them to have a healthier future.

I created this post as a competition entry in support of Dove and the Be Real Body Image Pledge. You can show support for this campaign by using the hashtag #PledgeToBeReal on social media. 

Petite Pudding
Tammymum
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