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Body Image: Taking My Own Advice

May 18, 2011

It’s getting towards summertime, although you wouldn’t know it with all the gloomy, cool and rainy weather up North. Nevertheless, the prospect of exposing a bit more flesh has got me reflecting on my body image and how it’s changed over the years.

When I was a teenager I was really self-conscious about the fact that I am really pale. My skin is so pale that in places it can look blue, especially under my eyes and on my hands. When I’m tired or hungry I’ve been told I go “see-through”. I also have freckles that multiply when I’m exposed to the sun. I didn’t think any of this was cool when I was 15. I remember going on holiday with my parents to Cyprus and I got comments all the time, mainly from the local Cypriots that I looked ill or just general comments on my paleness. I became really really self-conscious and upset about it.

It’s in my genes – my Mum is a redhead with pale, freckled skin and a family party is a bit like a redheads convention. Although my hair is brown, I’ve definitely inherited the skin tone. There’s nothing I can do to change it – I don’t tan at all and it wouldn’t be safe for me to try, and fake tan just seems like such a hassle. The thing is, now I wouldn’t want to change my skin colour and my freckles, it’s part of what makes me. I’ve been really lucky that my parents have always reassured me that being a traditional “English rose” type is attractive and I eventually believed them. Yes, I occasionally look at a tanned beauty with admiration, but I don’t want to be them. The other plus side is that I’m super conscientious about sun care because I burn so easily, so hopefully I’ve reduced my chances of skin cancer in the future.

I’ve managed to accept something that I was previously self-conscious and unhappy about, so why have I still got other body image hang-ups? I’m not saying that if there’s something you’re unhappy with you shouldn’t do something about it. Three years ago I was nearly four stones heavier – I was unhappy about my weight and I set about losing it. However, I also believe that you shouldn’t waste time worrying about your body when you could appreciate what you’ve got at the moment, even if you are taking steps to change at the same time. Easier said than done …

Even though I’ve lost weight I can’t change the way I’m fundamentally built – I have a broad back with sturdy limbs. When I was bigger, my arms and legs were flabby, as soon as I started working out they got smaller, but I also quickly built muscle. Honestly, I look on with envy at women with lithe limbs that look great in little summer dresses.

So, while I was reflecting on my changing attitude to my skin I begun to realise that it’s possible to accept the way I am and try and get rid of the feeling of not being good enough. Sometimes I get so self-critical – “if I did more push-ups and ate less chocolate I’d have thinner arms”, but I actually do quite a lot of arm toning already and eat healthily, so my arms are what they are and they’re unlikely to change much without a lot of effort. Yes, I’ll always workout to keep my arms and legs toned, but I know that they’ll never be skinny … and that’s OK. I might want to work on a flatter tummy, but I’m not going to let that stop me from appreciating what I’ve got already.

How has your attitude to your body changed over the years?

What is the best bit about your body? For me it’s my shoulders, they are broad and toned and look great in a halter-neck.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. May 18, 2011 7:26 pm

    Totally agree with you on this one. I too am built a little chunky / stocky- (me and my friend used to be obsessed with measuring our wrists, and then pulling on the skin so we could see the size of the bones- mine looked the same pretty much but her arm bones were very thin indeed- but I like to think that I have healthy bones etc)- I know I am never going to be a tiny petite person, and so over the years I have accepted that too. Which is why I like to focus on being strong because I also know that it is what is inside that counts.
    I like my legs, because they are strong.
    PS losing 4 stone is a pretty big life change- I must have missed that before- so well done on that.

  2. May 18, 2011 8:16 pm

    My attitude to my body has changed since I’ve got older and I’m more accepting of the flabby bits.

    I have a love-hate relationship with my shoulders – they’re broad but also that means they’re toned with well-defined collarbones so look great in strappy tops etc. My cheekbones are pretty awesome too. I’m tall so although my legs are chunky I’m never going to look dumpy.

    My problem isn’t as much my issues with my body, it’s other people’s (not you people, you’re all lovely) problems with women not being tiny, or not being waifish. As one female colleague who is very short and slender said to another female colleague who’s taller and has lost weight, “You’re still a big girl, though, aren’t you?”

  3. May 18, 2011 9:44 pm

    This is a great post. For a long time I would look on in envy at petite women. I’m like you (from your description): broad, tall, and sturdy! If my body fat is low, I can look pretty slim (something approaching “the ideal”, BS that it is), but it’s been rare that I’m that lean. If I eat a normal diet, drink occasionally, have cake at weekends, etc, then no matter how much I work out, I’m always going to be “athletic” (that’s a nice way of saying sturdy btw — I’ve just decided!). I can’t remember what did it, but reading something recently changed my perception though. I realised that there was no point in envying more smaller women (I don’t mean “skinnier”, I literally just me smaller! Less height, less muscle, less breadth!), because that ain’t me. And in fact soon after that I went on a date where he complimented me on my broad shoulders and my sticky-outy butt. So that helped 😉

    And FWIW there are certain colours that look really great on pale skinned people that I could just never get away with — teals and greens I think.. Hmm, fashion never was my strong point though!

  4. May 19, 2011 8:03 am

    This is so interesting, at the moment I’m in a weird place with my body image. I always thought of myself as big boned, curvy and voluputous etc – all the nice words for someone who is a bit bigger, and thats fine! However now that I have lost weight I’m the complete opposite, I’m a lot more athletic and boy shaped and I’m not sure how I feel about it. We had a conversation at work the other day which basically resulted in people pretty much saying I looked too skinny and sometimes I wonder if I have gone too far, but at the same time I actually feel my healthiest! Its difficult to come to terms with having a new body shape to the one you’ve grown up with I think.
    I think that pale skin can be so beautiful, I really believe that you should completely embrace the things that you can’t change about yourself and see them as the unique things that make you who you are. 🙂

  5. May 19, 2011 10:35 am

    I have been bathing suit shopping for days for my upcoming beach trip and so far have come up with nothing that looks good. Enough said!

  6. May 19, 2011 6:17 pm

    I have a really up and down relationship with my body image- lately it hasn’t been so great :/

  7. May 19, 2011 8:38 pm

    I like this post – I could learn from your positive attitude. I think I need to spend some time focusing on the bits I like!
    I also empathise with your pale thing – I remember a similar experience as a teenager in France – I’m not freckly but I really don’t tan well – that English complexion – but these days I am kind of OK with that, and the SPF I always wear definitely helps protect the skin from signs of ageing so there are plus points to slathering on the factor 30 too 🙂

  8. May 19, 2011 10:08 pm

    Brilliant post 🙂

    I’ve inherited the redhead-type skin and freckles too and had the same thing with paleness – I remember my “best friend” at school laughing at me because my legs were so white! And, like you say, you’d rather be pale and healthy than risk burning and getting skin cancer… I’ve never thought you look pale in your pictures anyway; you look great, and healthy.

    I love your last paragraph too, brilliant 🙂

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