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
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Knowing the side effects of hormonal birth control could save your life

The birth control pill has been in widespread use since the 1960s and has been incredibly beneficial for both women and men. The ability to choose when to have children (for the most part), and avoid unwanted pregnancies is extremely valuable. So by no means is this post “anti-pill”.

However, two stories in the news recently have brought the side effects of birth control pills to the forefront. The first was a Danish study that showed a clear link between hormonal contraceptives and depression. While “mood changes” have been listed as a side effect of the pill for many years, this was the first large-scale study to investigate just how much the pill could affect women’s moods.

At the same time, a recent study into the side effects of a male birth control injection was cut short “due to side effects, particularly depression and other mood disorders“. So this may be oversimplifying things a bit, but it seems that it was simply unacceptable for male test subjects to experience the sort of mood effects from hormonal contraception that women have been experiencing for years.

My personal experience of hormonal contraceptives

My personal experience with hormonal contraception has been unpleasant at times. When I was 18, I started taking the injectable contraceptive, Depo Provera. It was sold to me as an excellent choice because I just needed a jab in my rear end once every 3 months. It was 99% effective and I wouldn’t have to remember to take it every day like a pill.

Although I’m sure I would have seen a leaflet listing the side effects, no one pointed them out to me. But I experienced just about all of them. Before starting the Depo shots, I was effortlessly thin. After starting it, I gained about 20 pounds which I have never been able to lose. I had headaches, extreme mood swings and completely lost my sex drive. No wonder it’s 99% effective … I didn’t feel like having sex!

Later, I switched to the combined pill. I was able to cope with this much better and mostly felt normal on it. However, when I stopped taking it years later in order to try for my first baby, I experienced a massive improvement in my general wellbeing. The sporadic feelings of dissatisfaction and insecurity that had plagued me for years suddenly disappeared, and I found it easier to lose weight.

After my second son, my GP encouraged me to take the mini-pill because I could be on it while breastfeeding. During the time I was on this pill, I had to seek treatment for postnatal depression, and when I forgot to refill my mini-pill prescription, my depression lifted.

Over the years, I have never been taken seriously by health professionals when I’ve mentioned how profoundly various types of hormonal birth control had been affecting me. The attitude has always been that all of these things were worth coping with in order to prevent pregnancy.

The side effects are not as rare as they say

I decided to ask some other female bloggers whether they had experienced bad side effects from the pill, and was surprised how many of them had, within a relatively small sample group (the Facebook group I asked contains just over 1000 people, not all of them women). Here are some of the comments I received:

I had increasingly bad side effects from the combined pill, which culminated in me being admitted as an emergency as I was suffering with a hemiplegic migraine. It was a very frightening experience as my whole left side went numb, my left cheek drooped and I had very bad light sensitivity. After undergoing extensive tests, including an MRI, CT contrast, etc., they determined it was the combined pill that was the cause, and immediately stopped me from taking it. I’ve since been told that hemiplegic migraines are a precursor to stroke, so I was incredibly lucky!

– Nathalie from The Intolerant Gourmand

I went on the pill; it gave me horrific mood swings – I mean like I could be laughing like it was the funniest thing going, and within 30 seconds be bawling my eyes out. It was genuinely a bit scary, like verbal diarrhoea, but rather than being that excited positive spewing, it was like horrible, hateful stuff that most of the time wasn’t even true, but just my brain having a freak out.

– Hannah from Han Plans

I had one which made me want to kill myself – right out of the blue. They put me on anti-depressants and then worked out it was the pill. Even though they knew it was the pill, it still flags up on my file: “depression”.

– Alice from Seaside Housewife

I haven’t been able to take the pill since I was 18 due to it making my depression worse.

– Lisa from Hollybobbs

I had to come off the combined pill because I had such a bad migraine one day I couldn’t feel my left side, and they suspected it was actually a TIA/mini stroke or if not, I was actually very close to having one. At that point I had been taking it for 5 years. I switched immediately to Cerazette (progesterone only) and was told that I must never take oestrogen again. I came off the pill altogether after I got married and it was a revelation – suddenly I felt “normal” – I hadn’t realised how different it had made me feel being on the pill because I’d taken it for such a long time. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was, and what had changed, but I knew I felt better in myself, like a fog had lifted. I will never ever go back on it, or any other hormonal contraceptives.

– Sarah from Arthurwears

I had to come off the combined contraceptive pill (Microgynon) because of the side effects. I had zero sex drive (making it pointless for me to take the pill anyway!) and put on weight, but worst of all was it gave me severe suicidal thoughts. Within days of coming off it I was back to normal again, but it was a horrendous experience.

– Maddy from The Speed Bump

So are you saying I shouldn’t take the pill?

Absolutely not. As I mentioned earlier, the pill has improved people’s lives massively, and if you are not experiencing any health problems while on the pill, then keep on taking it!

However, I do not think there is enough awareness of the side effects of hormonal birth control, so I am writing this to urge you to read that leaflet and talk to your doctor if you think your contraceptive is causing problems for you. Different forms of birth control can have different side effects, but here are a few things to look out for:

  • If you are having migraines or any severe headaches, particularly if you are using the combined pill, be sure to remind your doctor that you are on the pill. The combined pill can cause strokes.
  • If you are feeling continual low mood or depression, it could be worth trying to go off the pill for a short time. You should also talk to your doctor, but I’ve found that doctors won’t be quick to consider the pill as a cause of depression.
  • Hormonal contraception can also contribute to weight gain and changes in your sex drive.

Please note that I am not a medical professional and you should always speak to your doctor, and always use alternative contraception, such as condoms, if you’re not on the pill.

Here are some links to NHS information about different types of hormonal birth control:

Have you had issues with the side effects of contraception? Leave your story in the comments.

Petite Pudding
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