Content warning: references to bullying, mental illness and body issues.
Mind over body for me is about learning that how you perceive yourself is more important than how anyone else perceives you.
Developing positive body image isn’t about changing the way that you look in order to feel more confident. Positive body image comes from accepting yourself exactly as you are, and acknowledging that you deserve to feel content within your own skin, without subjecting yourself to shame and criticism.
This is a big part of the mission of Mind Over Body, and the reason why I’m so passionate about it. My name is Emma, and I’m a first year psychology student at Bangor University, with a passion for mental health awareness and advocacy. In my spare time I love to write, read, play video games and go hiking with my dog!
I joined this project because accepting that I deserve to feel positively about my own body has always been an uphill battle. Loving yourself is a complex process, and at only 19 I’m definitely not quite there yet, because as much as I’d love to be unchained from negativity and to appreciate the body that I was given I do still struggle to wear certain outfits and to leave the house without makeup; it’s a continuous journey.
However, as a result of looking inward at the factors that impact my self esteem, I’ve gained a good understanding of what has negatively impacted my perception of myself, allowing me to slowly deconstruct some of my own toxic thought processes. For me, one of the main factors I’ve identified is my childhood and teenage experiences.
Growing up, I was always a tiny kid, and continued to be very thin throughout my life. I have a very fast metabolism, requiring me to consume more calories than the average person of my height if I want to gain or maintain weight, but this has always been made difficult by my anxiety disorder, which can cause me to feel nauseous and have a small appetite.
Because this contributed to me being so slim, I was bullied throughout primary school and high school for being ‘skinny,’ which only worsened my anxiety and caused my weight to drop more. I distinctly remember several of these bullying incidents, from being shoved into a wire fence, to changing for PE and having a girl feel entitled to start grabbing at my bare legs and arms without my consent to show how small they were to her laughing friends.
This made me very consciously aware of my size and shape, and despite the fact that I had never been mindful of calories or wanted to be any thinner, I was branded as ‘anorexic’ by students and teachers alike who had little understanding of the clinical implications of that word. To them it was a descriptor of my appearance, and it started to make me feel like there was something very wrong with my body, despite only being moderately underweight most of the time. The only time my weight ever dropped to a worrisome level was following GCSEs, when I lost a significant amount due to stress, and was reprimanded, scolded and once again accused of doing it on purpose rather than shown compassion for my situation.
Because it felt like the only thing I could control, I started to change myself to better fit the mould of the people tormenting me. I tried to hide how thin I was by changing up my wardrobe, mostly by covering my chest and concealing the thigh gap that the girls in high school had so often commented on in the changing rooms. I wore lots of makeup partly because my skin has always been a separate insecurity of mine, but also to try and detract from the body I saw as unattractive and off-putting. I obsessively went to dieticians and drank protein shakes and frankly nothing was working, until I eventually got treatment for my anxiety and had a revelation.
With all the background noise of my disorder draining away, it hit me that when I looked in the mirror I wasn’t sickly, I wasn’t dying, I wasn’t even unhealthy. I’d been made my whole life to feel small and weak, and it hit me suddenly that I wasn’t trying so hard to gain weight for my own health, but to prove something to other people. I had always been slim since I was very young, and that was just the natural state of my body; but I’d come to feel that there was something wrong with that and that I needed to alter myself to visually appeal to others.
Like the girl who’d wrapped her hand around my leg in the changing rooms and had everyone look at me and laugh, people had always felt that they had the right to judge my body and voice that, like I couldn’t just exist in the world as I was without doing something different to please them.
It’s important for me to acknowledge that I do recognise ‘thin privilege’ in my story, as truthfully thin bodies were idolised in the media as the ideal for a long time, and plus sized people have faced rampant abuse because of that, as well as an often unspoken societal expectation to change their shape. However, in my personal experience, I have also experienced that expectation, which leads me to believe one thing; there is no ideal body shape. From talking to others, I’ve seen that nobody – regardless of their shape – has escaped bodily criticism. Be they big or small, or somewhere in between, we’ve all experienced critiques which can impact and shape our own self image.
For some reason, we’ve all bought into the idea that we have to alter ourselves to be more palatable for other people, but in reality not everyone is going to find us visually appealing no matter what we do or change, and that’s okay. So long as you are healthy, happy and kind, the body that you show to the world is inconsequential. I’ve come to accept my body, and appreciate all the incredible things that it can do, instead of critiquing it and causing myself grief.
I now build my confidence by trying to find positive things about myself every day, and by surrounding myself with people who don’t put other people down, but rather lift them up.
If you have been affected by any of the issues mentioned in this post, please see our resources page for support.