I’m in my 30’s yet I’m still as mean to my body as I was in my teens

Time to banish that inner critic…

Last night I tuned into Channel 4’s First Dates – the Teens edition. The series follows 16 to 19-year olds going on a date, and for many, it’s their very first. The new take on the series struck me in two ways. One, these kids know how to dress. I remember my teen outfits and they were far from stylish or individual in any way. Second, I was blown away by how self-aware, observant and wise these teens appeared to be. Don’t get me wrong, several naive moments spoke of their untarnished youth, but I don’t remember in my younger years being so in-touch with my own self-worth or aware of my standing in society.

I mainly want to focus on a young pair that reflected back on the time at school and the impact their physical appearance and weight had on their lives. Both suffered depression, tried their best to avoid school and yet they managed to acknowledge their struggles and did something to make themselves feel better. That level of ownership, maturity and responsibility to oneself made me somehow feel less worried about Lola growing up in this filtered digital age where you can find videos on TikTok serving up diet advice to 10-year-olds – yep, it’s shocking.

There is a balance to be struck. Self conciseness, naivety, bullying, and search of your identity are all part of growing up and I can’t even begin to imagine the weight of that when you’re constantly faced with numerous sources of information and filtered worlds. On the other hand, you have numerous outlets to find your tribe, a community of people to connect with, and find answers that you can’t obtain at school or at home.

Body worries at school

When I was a teen I hated my flat chest. I cried about it constantly, detested swimming classes, and generally didn’t want anyone near my body. I invested in gel bras and padded cups to feel what I understood was “womanly”. Not once did I learn anything about body dysmorphia or nutrition, nor did I think it was a subject people openly talked up. You were either fat or fit and I hope there has been a shift in that basic and ridiculous level of categorising a human being.

Obsession to remain skinny

I have always been petite and secretly loved anytime I had to ask the Topshop floor staff to help me find a dress in a size 6. It felt like a personal achievement that I was “small” and in my head I was horrified to be a size 10 or bigger. Why? My mum is a very confident and proud size 14 but I was growing up in the era when “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” and binged on The Biggest Loser series.

This desire to remain small remained throughout my twenties. I remember trying on wedding dresses and being so chuffed that the shop assistant was delighted that finally, they had someone who could fit a sample size. I counted calories and avoided certain foods though I never remember refusing a croissant or a moreish pasta dish – I guess I knew that I had a PT three times a week and walked everywhere and made good use of the escalators on the tube.

How pregnancy changed my body and mind

When we got pregnant with Lola all this underlying obsession with my body finally came to the surface. My figure was about to dramatically change and when I first saw my bump I burst into tears, and they were not of joy. I knew I had to deal with it and over time I actually adored being pregnant and having a bump. However, I have to admit that even during pregnancy I liked people commenting on how small I looked for a pregnant person and how tiny my bump was. What the hell was going on in my head?

The shock to the system came when our scheduled C-section had to be brought forward by a couple of days because Lola run out of room and I had a depleted placenta. She was perfectly safe to stay there for the two days but we decided to get her out early just for the peace of mind. I had an overwhelming sense of guilt that I restricted myself during pregnancy to avoid getting big, and at what cost? The heart-wrenching panic that she suddenly stopped moving one night and we had to rush to the hospital.

A new outlook

From that day I knew I had to be kinder to my body and praise the amazing things it can do. I don’t want Lola growing up with hang-ups, yet I know that’s unavoidable. I’m in my 30s and do I completely love my body? No. My boobs are still small, I don’t have abs and my bum is chunky, but I appreciate my body more than I’ve ever done.

I’m no longer obsessed with calories and I make sure we all have a balanced diet. I workout when I feel like it which can be three times a week or once a month. I’ve let go a little but I can still catch myself judging what I look like.

Life is just too short for that inner critic. She needs to fuck off so I can enjoy living without the added pressure of looks on top of an already stressful existence – especially after the year we’ve all had. I’m still learning, but my body and I are in the best place of our relationship that we have ever been. Instead of judging it, I look after it, inside and out, and it gives back in making me feel healthy and happy. Is that what a great relationship should be like?

If you’re seeking a boost of confidence and celebration of all the gorgeous wiggles, I strongly recommend following @danaemercer. I worked with Danae in Dubai and she is a burst of positivity who also had to go through a difficult process of loving her body.

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