At the start of this year, I vowed this would be the year where I’d learn to love my body. For 31 years, I’ve struggled with my shape and size. I’ve dieted, stressed, cried and at times made myself miserable over it. None of which helped. This is not about the right or wrong of my weight; I’m more concerned with how I look at and feel about my body. And how we, as a society support and nourish this view.
Travelling to and living on farms in remote places for the last year has been the most incredible gift imaginable in so many ways, but my self image has been one of the most powerful and unexpected transformations. Separated from most media and advertising, once you step outside that particular fish bowl, you start to see how manufactured that bubble is. I mean, I’ve always known in some part of my mind that the media portrays that women (just using women as an example here, as that’s my personal experience) should look a certain way, and that it’s bullshit. But after 12 months of living away from that message, I finally stopped believing it. Truly. Deeply. And began to see how far reaching and deeply we’ve been brainwashed down that path.
I want to challenge what we conceive of as a beautiful body. Who tells us what’s beautiful? The makeup companies, advertising industries, clothes manufactures, Hollywood and HBO? All of whom stand to make a profit out of your crisis in confidence.If you don’t see the beauty in your body now, you still won’t find it when you’re 20 pounds lighter. If society says my body isn’t beautiful, then I say 'fuck society'. I refuse to accept your definition of beauty any longer.
Around the start of the year, I was lucky enough to meet a couple of amazing and strong women on Cortes Island, who really helped me to question my existing self image and build a new and better one. I began to separate out the facts and opinions around my body – yes, I am overweight – I’m not denying that. But I, me, and only me, hold the power to change the way I think and feel about that. Overweight does not equate unattractive. Overweight does not equate embarrassing. Overweight does not equate failure. Instead of viewing my curves as horrible things I’m ashamed of, I began to embrace them as part of who I am. I’ve had my ups and downs in life, and my body has the scars and lumps and bumps to show it. They’re part of my story. Part of my beauty.
I began to change the way I spoke about my body. I’d always joked about my size in a self-depricating way, but I realise that when you use negative language about yourself, it’s really easy to start believing it. My friend Nico persuaded me to start telling myself every day that I loved my body. And the mind is a funny thing – because soon enough, I did stop hating it. And soon after that, I began to not mind it. Love might still be a step away, but I’m falling deeply into like now.
Another thing that I’ve found to be surprisingly helpful, and massively liberating is being naked. And no, I don’t mean in a rude sense. I mean in a ‘swimming in a river with your friends’, or ‘going in the sauna’ kind of way. Before I came to Canada, this was never something I’d have considered doing because I was so ashamed of my body. And well, I’m British, and we don’t do that. In fact, it wasn’t something that I encountered before I came to Cortes, and then to the Kootenays (both places slightly infamous for their relaxed nature towards public nudity). I realised that the only person who really cared whether I was naked was me. And so I got over my astoundingly massive fear about it, and just got on with it. I embraced the new year with a naked dip in the lake with some friends and a hot tub. And each time I’ve been naked in front of other people, it’s got easier. Each swim, each sauna, each hot springs causes me less anxiety and gives me more confidence in my body.
Equally, my views on femininity have been challenged and altered this year. I’ve never been a makeup-wearing-spending-ages-on-my-hair kind of girl, and while I truly love wearing dresses, they are more likely paired with chunky boots than some heels. I guess I never felt truly feminine, like I was a bit of a failure as a woman. But I’ve come to wholeheartedly believe that femininity has nothing to do with my skincare routine or how much body hair I remove. It’s about embracing who I am as a woman and finding my strength in that; it’s about discovering MY femininity and living that. I love living in Winlaw because nobody genuinely gives a crap if you shave your legs or wear eyeliner or not. I haven’t worn makeup in over 6 months (excluding glitter of course) and didn’t even notice until I just thought about it. I removed the underwire from my bra because I’ve never found an underwired bra that doesn’t cause me significant discomfort and even bruising (and yes, I’ve even been to bravissimo) and have just decided to let my boobs be the shape they are, not the shape they’re ‘supposed’ to be.
And after all of this, I feel so much stronger as a woman. I feel more feminine rather than less, and so much more confident in MY femininity.
I’m not saying it’s wrong to wear makeup or wear a push up bra. But I do believe it’s wrong to tell people they should be doing that to be feminine, or that you’ll never be attractive if you don’t (down with advertising!). It’s your decision what body hair you remove and whether you have a skin care routine or not. If you’re looking for love, and these are make or break things for a partner, maybe they need to challenge what lenses they look at the world through.
So say hello to the new Steph. She looks a lot like the old Steph, but boy does she feel different.