As a sex educator and therapist, it’s often surprising to people that I was once deathly afraid of someone seeing me naked.
But it’s true.
I spent decades of my life feeling like there was something wrong with my body. I actively detested it, in fact.
I have a skin disease, called vitiligo, that leaves big white patches on my skin. It causes me no physical harm, except that I go from pale (think Scandinavian in winter) skin to lobster pink when sunburnt and then straight back to white, instead of having a glowing tan.
But like most women struggling with healthy body image, it’s not actually our body that’s the problem – it’s how we view it and how we feel about it.
The incredible supermodel Winnie Harlow now has vitiligo too, but when I was growing up in a Victorian country town, there weren’t any supermodels with the same skin condition as me and I just felt plain old different.
I’d dread summer, because while all the other girls were wearing short dresses, I just wanted to cover up. I even once had quite a disastrous episode with a bottle of fake tan as my best friend and I tried our best to remedy it ourselves. I went from having two different tones of skin to a more patchwork look for a couple of weeks. Like the 8 wash hair dyes I tried in my teen years, I was also to discover that fake tan lasts a lot longer than you want it to when you don’t get it evenly distributed!
Essentially, I thought I’d always feel unhappy with my body and that no one would ever possibly be attracted to me.
I know that I’m not the only woman to have felt this way.
Over and over again in my therapy room, women share their experiences of doubting their bodies, lacking confidence and just never feeling ‘enough’ about how they look.
I hear the same feelings from women of all ages, shapes and sizes. I’ve even heard these doubts and insecurities from women who were models.
Again, it doesn’t surprise me. It’s not how we look – it’s how we feel about ourselves and how we look.
We are constantly bombarded by messages about how women ‘should’ look by the media – and industries that make billions by having women feel insecure about their bodies.
As intelligent, progressive, (even feminist) as we might be, we can’t help but be impacted by the images we see and the cultural judgments that surround us.
But for me, and many of the women I work with, learning to love our bodies – exactly as they are brings:
– Confidence – in all areas of our lives
– More satisfying, healthy relationships – including with other women
– Greater sexual satisfaction (and it’s proven by research!)
– Increased joy and happiness
Body confidence isn’t something some people have – and others don’t. It’s something that can be cultivated.
Sure, some people had great role models and confidence instilled in them, but many of us didn’t. It’s doesn’t mean we can find it.
I deeply believe that we can all learn to love our bodies exactly as they are. I did it. And I’ve seen my clients do it too.
Here’s what I’ve found most helpful in cultivating body confidence:
Start with ONE thing
We might not love all of our body to begin with, but we can start by finding just one thing that we do love or appreciate. By looking for one thing each day that you LOVE about your body, you retrain your brain from body-criticism to body appreciation.
Choose the messages you consume
Media images matter. Study after study shows it. We’re even seeing girls as young as four wanting to go on diets in an attempt to fit the ‘ideal’.
Choose to consume media that makes you feel good about yourself – which includes blogs, Instagram accounts and online magazines. Choose to share realistic images when you need photos of women too.
I love the work Canva has done with collecting realistic images of women – it’s such an important step in helping to change the way women feel about themselves.
Focus on feeling
When we focus on feeling, we bypass the judgement centre of the brain. Turn your attention to how you feel (instead of how you look) and allow your body to experience more pleasure. As you do, you’ll find you appreciate your body for how it can make you feel, instead of listening to judgements.
Be gentle with yourself, please, my love. We all have a mean girl voice inside of us that wants to keep us safe tear us down. You don’t need to listen to her anymore. Practice self compassion, being gentle on yourself in all areas of your life.
We’re often harder on ourselves that we are on others. Ask yourself – if this was my bestie right now, how would I speak to her?
It’s not how we look – it’s how we feel about how we look.
We’re constantly surrounded by images designed to make us feel bad – so that companies can sell us things.
Confidence – including body confidence – isn’t something we just inherently have or don’t have – but it’s something that can be cultivated.
Cultivating that confidence in ourselves – and nurturing it in other women – is well worth the time and effort.