Since being back at University this year, I have wanted to try going out for a night out without any makeup on. Why? Mainly to just prove to myself that I could, and also to push myself very far outside of my normal comfort zone with the hope that it would further me along my journey of body positivity. It is almost the end of this semester and I finally brought myself to do it- as it turns out saying you want to face one of your biggest fears and insecurities is a lot easier than actually doing it. But I did it (!) and so I wanted to write about it.

I would like to point out that I am aware that many people go out with minimal or no makeup on every time that they go out, and so for many this would not be seen as a scary concept, and while I think it is amazing that so many people are comfortable enough and confident enough to do that, for me personally, not wearing makeup out in public is still quite a daunting thought. That's why this is a big deal for me. I am also not saying that people who wear makeup are insecure or lack confidence as I admire makeup as an art and think that it is a wonderful tool of self expression and personal enjoyment and also understand that the majority of people who wear makeup wear it for themselves, and that's beautiful.

Makeup has always been a massive confidence tool for me ever since about year 8 when I first discovered "Natural Collection" foundation, which I always wore two shades too dark for my skin tone. Going to an all girl's school I always got asked why I felt the need to wear makeup to school. People seemed to assume that because there were no "boys to impress there" that my wearing makeup was pointless. I didn't see it like that- I didn't wear it to impress boys, I wore it because even from that young age I was comparing myself to all of the beautiful girls that I spent every day with. In year 8 I compared myself to the year 11 girls who had grown out of their acne stage and looked flawless to me, and then in year 11 I couldn't stand that I had not grown out of my acne and so compared myself to an unrealistic image of my own self that I had wished for. Wearing makeup was against the rules at my school, and I was one of the only girls in my friendship group who wore at least foundation every day. This made me feel insecure too as I saw myself as the only person who felt that they "had" to wear it, everyone else seemed so comfortable in their skin and I always longed to feel that. It is now a running joke amongst my group that while everyone at sleepovers would take their makeup off, I would sit and put a full face on before going to sleep. I've never really explained that, I've just laughed it off but the reality is that I was petrified of waking up in the morning last and people seeing me without any makeup on. In hindsight this was an awful idea because not only did I underestimate how much my friends loved me, but I also gave my acne what it wanted- more and more dirty pores.

Makeup became more and more important to me and I began to use it as a mask to hide how I was really feeling. In sixth form when I was going through a difficult time, I felt that having my makeup done nicely showed people that I was doing okay, I believed it gave the impression that I had everything together and that I was happy. I used to think that if I put that extra little bit of highlighter on that my ex would think I was happy and would think that I was over him. Sounds crazy right? But that's what makeup became for me. I was no longer wearing it because I enjoyed it, I was wearing it because I felt like I had to, I felt like it was expected of me in order to prove my happiness to others.

What I'm trying to show is that I let myself be influenced by media, by propaganda, into believing that my natural features were not good enough. I've been taught to believe that I'm not pretty unless I draw my eyebrows on, that my skin makes me look ill if I haven't smothered it with foundation and painted my cheeks pink, I've learnt that my nose looks too big unless I take ages contouring it with different shades of brown and that my eyes don't sparkle unless I colour my lids with glitter. As I said, I admire makeup as an art, but for me personally, somewhere along the years, that art became toxic, it became a cover up of my biggest insecurities, and being able to hide them with makeup meant that I didn't have to address those insecurities or learn to accept my natural face.

Deciding to go out for a night out without any makeup on at all was terrifying for me. I was anxious all of yesterday leading up to it, and I kept wanting to change my mind. Here in Leeds, the dressing up is such a big part of a night out, its almost a competition of who can look the "edgiest" and makeup plays such a role in that- especially glitter, so not wearing makeup felt unnatural- which is ironic right? considering it is the most natural thing you can do. As my house started to get ready for our night out, the normal rituals began, people racing for the showers, speakers blaring music, arguments over borrowing clothes and then out comes all of the makeup bags filled with palettes and brushes and bottles and tubs. I didn't really know what to do with myself, so while everyone else was doing their makeup I went and watched an episode of Peep Show- so I already began to see a perk of not spending time doing makeup! Now in case you hadn't noticed, photographs tend to play a big part of our prees and I couldn't help but feel anxious as I looked at how beautiful all of my housemates looked compared to me. That voice in my head started to tell me that I looked awful, that I couldn't be in any photographs and that this whole no makeup idea was a very bad one. However, the voice inside of me that wants to be truly happy, that is enjoying learning to love myself outweighed the negative thoughts and with the help of my friends I had soon forgotten that my face was bare and I was soon laughing, drinking and taking photos. The hardest part about actually going to the club, was that I was surrounded by people I didn't know, which is completely different to being natural faced with your closest friends. I found myself apologising to people for the way that I looked, and even tried to explain why I was doing it to a few. This slightly upset me and I was slightly disappointed in myself for doing that. Why should I apologise for how I look? Why do I have to justify my decision to wear no makeup? The first few moments in the club were difficult, I felt vulnerable and exposed and in my head everybody was staring at me wondering why I looked so awful, why I had put no effort in to a night out. However, once I accepted that I had every right to be at the club looking how I did, once I realised that nobody cared if I was wearing makeup or not I had just as an amazing night as I would have done had I been wearing a face of makeup.

Six months ago I would not have even dreamt of going to a club without makeup on, let alone take and post photos of me doing so. I am proud of myself for doing it, I really thought that I might bail on it or that I might fill in my eyebrows a little bit and just not mention it to anyone. Six months ago all I would have seen in these photos is a lack of beauty, I would have been too ashamed of my lack of eyebrows to even consider posting these photos, I would have thought that my skin looked too red and patchy, that my eyes looked tiny without mascara and that these photos were something to be ridiculed and hidden away from anybody that knew me. I see them differently now though. I see everything that I have been through this year, all the ups and the downs, the heartbreak, the grief, the hurt, the hospital visits and the chronic illness and I see a strength in myself that I didn't know was there. I see that I do not need makeup to hide my sadness or my flaws, because I am no longer sad, and my flaws? Well, they're growing on me. My smile is genuine, I do not need to paint it on with lipstick.. I am the happiest I have been in so long, and I have worked so hard to reach this point and that confidence, that self dependency and that happiness is what makes these photos beautiful.

I guess it is true what they say- a smile really is the best makeup a girl can wear.

-Aislinn 🌻

(PS- shout out and enormous thanks to all of my stunning housemates who have supported all of my craziness this year and have always made me feel loved and beautiful.)

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When I first posted on this blog, and even before that when I would start to publically pronounce that I was becoming more confident within myself and was starting to discover my own journey to self love, it was received with such warm, friendly and positive feedback. I am so thankful for every kind word, as this is still a terrifying process for me in so many ways. This said, it saddens me that I have also been told many times that I am only able to find this happiness within myself because "you have a boyfriend." I've been told things such as "its easy for you to love yourself because somebody else does", "you don't get it because you have a boyfriend" and "so what if you don't like that about yourself, you've already got a boyfriend." I hated these comments so much, because they almost discredited my own journey to happiness, and suggested that the only reason someone could like the way that they look is if somebody else found them sexually attractive.

When I started this blog, yes I was in a relationship, but like most things in life, plans change and not all relationships last forever. It would of course be foolish of me to try and claim that the person I spent almost three years with had no impact on my self confidence journey- of course he did. His words carried me through some of my darkest moments, and his love for and his confidence in me helped fix parts of myself that I didn't even want to admit were broken. He defied what I thought was possible, and he made me want to care about myself, he encouraged me to like the person that I am and he taught me that even my flaws are loveable, and for this I will always be thankful to him. He will always be one of the most important people in my life, and I know that we will always be there for each other, as we still are now. It is also okay to admit that I will miss his confidence in me, that I will miss having him there like he was before to talk to when I'm having one of those days where I can't even stand to look in the mirror. Missing someone and being thankful for their part in your journey is okay, as long as you can realise within yourself that your happiness is not dependent upon them, that your view of yourself and your love for yourself does not change just because theirs might have done. His love and his belief in me were an amazingly wonderful added bonus to my life and to my journey to self love, but I know now that they were in no means the foundations upon which I built my own confidence and my own love for myself; both physically and mentally.

Everybody feels alone at times, and it is so easy to shape your image of your own self worth upon such loneliness and to second guess yourself when things don't work out the way you planned. It is also okay to accept your own fault, I'm not suggesting that you will always love the things you've done or the words that you say, it is okay to make mistakes, I certainly have, but allowing such mistakes to determine who you are as a person is not okay. You may not like yourself temporarily, but reflect, build bridges and try to move on and learn from things, and always remember that you are still worthy of your own love and admiration. Don't let yourself wallow.

This is not to say at all that by being in a relationship you cannot find true happiness! I loved every moment of being in a relationship, and won't let any experience turn my views on relationships, love or anything that you want to include in that kind of bracket, bitter or remorseful. As long as you are happy and have the knowledge that you are you regardless of your relationship status, then you should be so proud of yourself.

I don't like the idea that any of my friends would feel that they have to be in a relationship, or have somebody else's attention to justify loving themselves and to be able to say that they are happy in life. This time last year I thought that my happiness was dependent on such things, and it left me shattered, to the point that I pulled myself apart and almost drove myself crazy wandering what was wrong with me but so right with her ("almost" being a subjective term depending on if you were me or those watching me fall apart😳...) It was from my lowest point due to so many things in my life at the time, where I felt my loneliest and for the sake of "word to word satisfaction"; where I did not have a boyfriend, that I decided to find my own happiness and to love myself unconditionally, so that I could always rely on myself. Its hard, of course it is, and there are still days where all I want to hear is that certain someone tell me that I'm doing well, that they're proud of me and that the love is still there somehow, but on those days I can now look in the mirror and tell myself that I'm doing well, that I am proud of myself and that some loves are better as unconditional friendships, and that I love myself, and that that love is never going to change.

Perhaps its a cliché, but you cannot find happiness with someone else unless you first discover who you are, give yourself time to be yourself and learn to find happiness within yourself with just being you. Do not let your happiness depend on other people, or one other person; you may never find it. For me, I think this reflects in the picture I have chosen to pair with this piece, as its a photo of me at dinner with a friend, not a boyfriend, and although my hair is crooked, my eyebrows are not how I necessarily like them to look, my hands look incredibly awkward on my fork, and my grin is beyond goofy; I not only look happy, but I remember how happy I felt that night, just being me with a friend; and this for me is important as I am smiling here and have had my photo taken while I am eating- something that would usually freak me out and panic me more than I can explain. For me this photo is progress, and its happiness within myself on a journey that I started for myself, and that I will continue to follow for nobody but myself.

We can be our own source of happiness and love, so go out and find yourself, and be your own everything.

Aislinn🌻

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I grew up thinking that these new lines on my body were something to be ashamed of. I thought that it automatically meant that I was fat, and that I was abnormal and different to other people my age. I just always assumed that they were something that I should hide from other people, something that I had to cover up in public.

The first time I remember noticing stretch marks on the back of my legs I was just starting year 7, and looking back it was a natural occurrence as at that age I had grown taller suddenly and then as my hips began to widen stretch marks appeared there too. My weight was constantly changing, and so of course signs of this began to show on my skin. I absolutely hated it! Then when my boobs suddenly decided to fill out, they too came with these white lines. I thought I was the only person who had these, I thought that they were only something that pregnant women got, and I was so embarrassed by them. I wish that someone back then had told me how normal stretch marks were, I wish that they had been something that were considered a normal conversation topic, and I wish that I had spoken to my friends back then about them, as I am now aware, we all have them in some form or other.

The thing with stretch marks is that they are so different on each person, and some people of course just don't have any. Mine are white and appear on my hips, boobs, lower back, bum, inner thighs and down the back of my legs behind my knees. For some people they are more silver, some are red, some are purple, some black, some thick, some thin, some are deep into the skin and some just touch the surface. They can be caused by so many different things, growth spells, weight gain, weight loss, pregnancy or any sudden change in the body. They are a natural sign of growth and changes and they are absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

I used to dislike mine so much that I would refuse to have my legs out on boiling summer days, and I remember one summer even trying to cover them up on my legs with makeup before I went swimming with friends. I also used to put plasters over them and pretend that they were shaving cuts when asked about them. I was taught that these marks on my body made me ugly, that they made me disgusting, dirty and that they somehow made me less of a woman. I thought that they would make me less desirable than I already felt. I was so caught up in what other people, especially boys, would think of these marks on my body that I gave myself no chance of seeing them for what they are; natural. I gave myself no chance of loving myself, and I never could have imagined that I could be allowed to love such a part of my body. I hated them and they made me so ashamed of myself. I kept thinking that if I hadn't eaten that packet of crisps or if I hadn't put off going on that run that one morning, I would have stayed one size and that would have meant I wouldn't have had these marks all over my body. I thought that they were a sign of my weakness.

Part of my body positive journey is facing the parts of my body that I dislike the most, and for me that really means my stretch marks. After realising that almost everybody has some sort of stretch mark on their body, and realising that they are not something to be ashamed of I have grown to not only like my stretch marks but honestly love them. They are reminders of how far I've come in terms of my mental health surrounding my body, they are signs that I too, like my body, have grown over the years and have been through ups and downs and that I am still standing. My stretch marks show that I have changed, both physically and mentally and they are a physical representation of my own personal story; a story that I am learning to be proud of and excited to continue.

I have learnt to absolutely love my stretch marks and that is such an achievement for me. I think it is so important that the taboo surrounding stretch marks is lifted, as they are nothing but a beautiful addition to our already beautiful bodies and we deserve to love and embrace them, not hate and hide them. I wasted so many summer days and spent so many nights upset and stressing because of my stretch marks, and it is so important that we start making sure that no one else feels that sense of embarrassment or shame over such a normal part of the human body. I am finally at a point where my stretch marks do not bother me anymore, and I cannot imagine my body without them; they are now just part of me and I think they are beautiful, regardless of what others might say or think. Everybody deserves to love the things about themselves that make them unique, and to me stretch marks, along with any birth marks, scars or body colour shading, deserve to be celebrated as part of our unique differences, just like art, they are something to be admired not shunned.

These photos are still hard for me to post as they show my insecurities and they leave me vulnerable and at times still embarrassed. I'm posting them to join the many other people who are showing off their stretch marks, in the hopes that someone who is going through the same feelings of shame and embarrassment that I went through in regards to stretch marks, sees that they are normal and that there is no reason to hate such a natural and perfect part of their bodies.

There is nothing to be ashamed of, they are not ugly, they do not make you unlovable, they do not ruin your body and they do not change the person that you are. They are not a sign of weakness. These stripes, these lines, these marks that trace our bodies show our humanity, show our nature, show our stories and show our strengths. I am so proud of mine and you deserve to be proud of yours too.

Aislinn 🌻

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Over Easter I struggled with my self image. I was told by someone who is supposed to care for me, that everybody in my life would be better of without me. I was told that I was evil, unlovable, useless, pathetic and that I would never amount to anything. I was told that I only bring unhappiness to people's lives and that something inside of me just wasn't right. I was told that if I died everything would be easier for the people that I care about in my life. More was said to me, but that doesn't really matter. What matters is that I let these views and these words get to me. I have heard such things from this same person since I was little, constantly being told that I am not worthy of love, that I don't deserve to be here and that all I do is make life harder for the people around me. This Easter, he laughed at my plans for the future, he told me that my grief over lost friends is pathetic and immature, he screamed and shouted at me, he mocked me, he told me that I didn't deserve and therefore would never find happiness. I was told to die. I was told to just give up, because I have nothing to give to this world, that I have nothing to offer, and that I am a burden to people around me. I was told that everything would be better if I wasn't here.

I have of course been told by the people in my life who do care about me that I shouldn't pay attention to his words. The funny thing is though, that despite knowing deep down that these words were said out of spite and sadness with the aim of being destructive, sometimes the negative things are easier to believe than the positive. I found, and still sometimes find, it easier to believe his words over everybody else's because his are easier to believe; to believe him is easy as it does not require self confidence or self love, two things that I continually struggle with. On days where I struggle with everything and just want to give up, his words run through my mind and I let myself not only believe what he thinks of me, but I also disregard anyone who tries to tell me that I shouldn't, and I let, as I always have done, his opinions of me shape my own view of myself.

To me, being body positive doesn't just include learning to love my rolls and my stretch marks, but also taking the first steps on a journey to actually liking the person that I am becoming. I grew up believing this man's words, believing that something was fundamentally wrong with me, that I was evil, toxic and unworthy of love. I know that I have my faults and as a result I have lost some of the most important people in my life, but I am and I will always continue to work on this to become a person that I can finally be proud of. Over recent years I have already started to like who I am a little more, and I have finally made the decision to cut such a negative influence on my life, out of my life. Family and loyalty is so important, but sometimes it is more important to put yourself and your mental health first and that is okay. Cutting negativity out of your life does not make you selfish or immature, and for me doing such a thing is finally the first step for me in accepting who I am, and continuing to grow into a person that I can actually like.

It can be so hard to ignore negative comments on both your physical and mental person, but it is so important not to let words that are nothing more than mean, change the way that you view yourself. Surround yourself with people who love you, and love every part of yourself. You are worthy of love, and you are worthy of happiness, and you can provide yourself with both of those things despite what others might say. Although it is always important to respect others and to be kind, someone else's opinion does not define you and they should never make you question your own self worth.

Everybody is beautiful, everybody has their own gifts to offer to this world, and everybody deserves to find their happiness doing what they love. Be proud of who you are, and continue being you. You cannot always please everybody.

-Aislinn 🌻

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"Before and After" photos are a recent phenomenon in social media posting especially, including transformation pictures showing people's weight loss journeys, body building achievements or even just someone's journey through puberty. When I first began losing weight, I wanted to one day have my own shocking transformation photo, I wanted to be able to see how far I had come in my weight loss through photographs. There were times where I achieved such photos, but I never felt that my transformation was ever drastic enough, that the weight I had lost was ever noticeable to others, and so I felt that my story and my transformation was never valuable or valid.

This time last year I hit a low point in my life, I felt like I was no good to anybody and despite being surrounded by continuously loving and supportive friends and family, I had never felt so alone as I did in this time. I could list the things that had made me sad, that had made me angry and that had made me feel the way that I did, but those things are not the important thing here. What is important is how I let such events in my life make me feel like I had no place to go, made me feel like I was not worthy of love or help. I spent the whole of the Easter holidays last year in bed. I had no energy both physically or mentally to even get dressed in the mornings. I would sleep for the majority of my days, with the only times I would leave the house being if my mum had taken me to the hospital or to the doctors out of fear of the state that I was slipping into. Feelings of self hate and a disgust with myself started to creep back into my life and soon I lost all respect for myself, I no longer cared what happened to me. I stopped eating. This time was different to the other times though, this time it was less of a choice, my body just seemed to not want food, it was as if I was too tired to even think about trying to eat something. I lost roughly 30lbs in three weeks. I didn't eat a meal for two weeks straight, and only occasionally managed to eat a piece of toast or a slice of pizza for my mum a couple of times in that time. My body didn't know what to do for itself and it began to throw up any of what little food I was giving it. I don't remember much from that month or so, but I do remember phone calls with doctors because I was too tired to even go to the hospitals, I remember noticing that I was losing weight and feeling myself fall back into old habits, but being too drained to pull myself back out of it, I remember my mum and my grandparents crying because they didn't know how to help me or what was going on in my mind and I remember just wanting everything to stop, I didn't want to feel anything anymore, I didn't want to be me anymore, I just wanted everything to stop. I'm not sharing this for pity, and I am not naive in thinking that other people don't go through worse times, because I know that they do. I know that I am lucky, I have an amazing support system of friends and family and I am safe and loved. I'm sharing this so that I can try and emphasise the importance of talking to people about how you are feeling and what you are going through. I let years of self hate and insecurities build up because I was too ashamed to tackle them front on, I was too embarrassed to ask for the help that I so clearly had needed, and all those feelings of shame and hatred hit me all at once and I felt like I was drowning and that I would be constantly lost from everything that I had once been and known. When I went back to school, I was skipping classes, I was avoiding lunch times with my friends again, I was still avoiding food and I started working out more as a way of dealing with the things that I was going through. The weight continued to fall and everybody began commenting on it. At first this weight loss made me feel good. I felt a slight rise is my self confidence, I felt like I could finally be happy with my body as it was starting to look like how I had always wanted it to look like. I loved how my body was looking and how thin I was starting to feel, and I confused this feeling with actual happiness. I may have started to love my body, but I still did not love myself as a person. I had given up dinners with my family, I had given up cocktails and meals out with my closest friends. I missed my last few months of school lunches and so missed out on creating final memories with the friends I went through sixth form with. The constant and engrossing need to lose just one more pound had come back again and even a little food began to feel like too much again. I was not happy. Having the body I had always wanted had not made me happy. So I knew that I had to change.

I began eating small meals again, I began to say yes to the cakes being offered around classes towards the end of term, and I began agreeing to meet my friends for meals again. It was hard. Every part of me wanted to stop what I was doing, my mind wanted me to put the food down, but my body needed it; I needed it. Soon the weight started to creep back on, and at first this terrified me, but I knew that it was okay. It was finally okay. So this is my "before and after" photograph, its my "backwards before and after" photograph and I could not be prouder of it. My stomach in the left picture is flatter, even edging on toned, my waistline is smaller and you can't see in this photo, but my legs were thinner, my arms were too, my collar bone was visible and my back was thin and my shoulder blades were defined. I don't look like that anymore, and that is okay. The right picture is me now, almost back at the weight that I started at before I lost the weight. My stomach bulges out, my thighs are stuck together, I barely have a waist line anymore, my collar bone is once again hidden and my arms and back have filled back out. A few years ago, a few months ago even, this photo of me now would have repulsed me. I would have been so ashamed that I had let myself get back to this way. Things are different now though. Through body positivity and my want to be happy with myself, I now see the picture on the right differently. Instead of stomach rolls, I see sitting with my best friend's celebrating my group's first 19th birthday over delicious food. Instead of seeing that my thighs are touching I see Christmas with my family piling my plate with all the trimmings. Instead of disappointment that I can't find my collar bone anymore, I see myself drinking and laughing with amazing new friends in my university halls and see myself cooking meals with my flatmates all together. I see everything that this change in my body represents, and I am proud of myself. Everybody should be proud of their bodies, whether you've worked hard to lose weight, or you've managed to finally build the muscle you always wanted, but also if you've put on weight, or your body has changed through puberty, or pregnancy or literally anything else. Posting this photo is one of the scariest things I have ever done, but I think it is important to do so, and to hopefully remind people that it is natural for our bodies to change, it is natural to feel low, and that it is also so important to ask for help and to try and accept that all bodies are natural and are beautiful. I am proud of this weight gain because I am proud of the person that I am becoming and I am proud that I am facing my fears. This is my backwards before and after photo, and I am beautiful in both.

Aislinn 🌻

(If you are feeling alone or scared or you feel like you just need someone to talk to, please know that I am here to talk to- don't go through anything alone, we are all in this together🌸)

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Its taken me a long time to not only discover but to also accept body positivity into my life and into my way of thinking. Like most people, I have always battled with both physical and mental insecurities regarding myself and I cannot remember a time that I was not judging myself, especially in terms of my weight and physical appearance. From ages as early as ten, I can remember making my mum buy me extra large "boy t-shirts" as a way to cover up my boobs, as I was embarrassed that I was the only girl in my class whose body had started to change in this way. Even back then I felt a sense of shame towards my growing and expanding body, even though such changes were, in hindsight, completely natural. I have always been bigger in body size and shape to my cousins, and so growing up with them, I always assumed that being "the bigger cousin" was just part of who I was, and so I adopted the physicality of being "fat" into my personality, and began to believe that I couldn't dance as well as my cousins and I couldn't run as fast as the other girls in my class because I was "fat", and that this hypothetical physical limitation therefore must extend to limitations on what I could achieve in terms of my studies, my piano playing abilities and my interpersonal skills in building relationships with other people. I began to believe that I was "fat" simply because I did not look like what I thought the majority of girls my age "should" look like. I began to use this physical aspect of my body as a subconscious excuse as to why I didn't want to go to ballet lessons anymore, why I didn't want to go to my friend's swimming party and why I suddenly felt too grown up to play dress up with my cousins, and I let normal physical features such as "baby fat" and "training bra boobs" shape 10 year old me's mental image of what the word "fat" meant, and I let that become a negative idea, allowing fear, insecurities and warped personal body images to set in my mind at such an early age. Such fears and insecurities therefore, were of course only going to increase and deepen inside of me as I grew up and that is exactly what happened.

When I started secondary school I remember telling my mum that I had met a girl who was a similar size to me, and that maybe now, I hoped, I would have friends who I could share clothes with, and maybe, I would no longer feel out of place because of my body. I thought that I would be happy because I was similarly built to other girls my age finally, but after a year or so I realised that founding my happiness with my body on comparisons to other girls was inevitably a bad idea, as as our young bodies began changing differently and at different rates to each other, I once again found myself feeling different and less worthy compared to my friends. I thought that being different was wrong, and once again, this led me to believing that I was "fat", a word which back then, I had only ever been taught to associate with ugliness, ignorance, bad health and laziness. By the age of 12/13 I had started dieting, and healthier lunches and smaller dinners soon spiraled into skipping meals completely, and by 14 I was starving myself deliberately. Once I had missed one meal I found it easy to not eat for the whole day, and the day after that, and the day after that. Even after 4-5 days with no food when I had to eventually give in and eat something, I felt like I had failed, I felt like I had eaten more than I was supposed to. Losing weight soon became my whole life, all I wanted to do was lose weight, and all I wanted to be was thin. My mind was completely engrossed in losing just one more pound. Looking back, the ease with which I was able to access "Pro-Anna" websites, social media accounts promoting self starvation with sayings such as "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels" and forums with hundreds of young people discussing "tips" on how to skip meals without people noticing and how to lose weight even faster, is truly terrifying. That is what I found though, and pretty soon I was stuck in an online presence of weight loss that I couldn't escape. I would like to point out that I have never been diagnosed with an eating disorder, because I have never had an eating disorder. However, in my mind I was stuck in a cycle of disorderly eating, and even today I struggle with how much I altered my relationship with food back then. Sure- I lost weight, but not eating was so unstable that my weight constantly fluctuated and the affects that such drastic "dieting" had on my mental health were, retrospectively, not worth a single pound that I lost. I almost lost the best group of friends that I have ever known through all of this, as once they started picking up on my skipping meals and my weight loss, and my unhappiness, I tried my hardest to push them away, convincing myself that I knew what I was doing, and that my friends just didn't understand that continuing to lose weight would be what would make me happy...eventually. It is solely down to these friends that I was finally able to pull myself out of a downward spiral, before it was all too late for me.

Although by 17, I had realised that starving myself was both harmful and pointless, I had messed up my relationship with food so drastically by this point that when I moved schools for sixth form, I avoided eating lunch for almost my first two months there (eating in front of strangers is still something that I struggle with). I was convinced that all these new people saw when they looked at me was "fat" and "ugly" and it took me a while to let myself be comfortable with a new group of people. It was new friends here that made me realise that I was not the only one who struggled with self confidence and mental health, and soon I had to watch one of the most important people in my life battle her own fight with food and self image. This group of friends made me see that not only do many people struggle with different degrees of mental health, but that too many people do. It is their strength and determination to find happiness within themselves that has inspired me to slowly let go of my insecurities and to start to love myself. I deserve to love myself as much as I want my friends to love themselves (and that is a lot trust me).

So, that is why I have chosen to embrace a life of body positivity, and for me that journey had to start with being honest about how and why I want it to start. I have watched too many people I care about struggle with their own self images, and how can I tell them to love themselves if I don't love myself? Yes- I may be spotty, I may be "fat", my hair cannot decide if it is straight or curly, if I want my eyebrows to be "on fleek" then I have to dedicate a whole morning to plucking, shaping, tinting and colouring, I wobble when I run, I have stretch marks down the length of my legs and all over my butt, I can't find my belly button under my rolls once I've sat down and God knows I will never fit into a Victoria Secret's bra- but I am still beautiful, and it's okay to say that. Some bodies are fat, some are thin, some tall, some short, some wobble, some stretch, some are muscly, some are lean, some have penises, some have vaginas, some have none, some are dark, some are light, some have no legs, some have one arm and some are old and some are young. All these words are different, but they all have one thing in common; they are words in their own right and are irrelevant when it comes to the word "beauty". Being one or more of these other words does not diminish the fact that all bodies should also be described as beautiful. I do not look like you, and you do not look like me yet this would not lead me to the conclusion that you are less worthy than me, so why do I let it conclude that I am less worthy than you? We all deserve to love ourselves, and this is my way of finally trying to see a little bit of the beauty that I so eagerly find in others, in myself.

Here's to body positivity.

Aislinn 🌻

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