Body acceptance is a mental muscle best exercised daily.
I truly don’t think you can flick a switch and suddenly undo the deep layers of societal expectation that we and others have put on how our bodies are supposed to look but it’s something we should constantly work on … for ourselves, our children and grandchildren.
Our role right now, should we accept it, is to break or start to dismantle the generations of diet culture that have been embedded in our collective psyche.
My now 24-year-old daughter told me recently that she could never remember me talking about my weight or dieting when she was a teenager. I teared up. I’d hoped that my body acceptance issues had not been consciously or sub consciously passed on but hearing that from her perspective as a young adult made me so incredibly proud of myself.
With my own children, I wanted to break the pattern. I wanted to be the one who changed things. I knew I couldn’t control what my kids were and are exposed to through the media/social media and their peers but I could control what they were exposed to at home.
My upbringing was a safe and happy one (albeit a little loose at times) but, like so many others at the time, my parents were full card-carrying members of whatever diet was popular at the time. Not only did they embrace each diet, they talked about it a lot. I knew their weights at every stage of their life and how many calories and/or points was contained in each bit of food served. I don’t blame them. They were victims of the times.
I just don’t want to be a victim of these times because I was a victim for a very long time.
In my book, I wrote that I was seven years old the first time I consciously remembered inwardly chastising my body for not being the same as the girl’s sitting next to me.
Here’s what I wrote (it still breaks my heart):
We were sitting crossed-legged on the cool, polished floor of the Year Two classroom having just downed the free lukewarm bottle of milk handed out at morning tea. I looked down at my legs and saw sausage-shaped lumps on my bent thighs; the same area on my friend’s legs was flat. My body was different from my friend’s and I didn’t like that difference.
I was SEVEN.
I’ve never been skinny. I’ve never fitted society’s ideal for how a woman should look. For too many years, I fought with my body because of what I thought my body should look like, something that was sadly reinforced by “jokes” or snide remarks from well-meaning family, “friends” and ex-partners.
Here’s just a sample:
- Being told I looked five months pregnant when I was 17.
- Being given the nickname Dugie – short for dugong – at the same age.
- Being told I’d look prettier … if I just lost weight.
- Being told during the 2000 Olympics that was a fat-arse wombat, just like comedic commentators’ Roy and HG’s mascot.
Let’s call it for what each of these comments – and the hundreds like them – are: fat phobia.
Every fat phobic comment just served to confirm what was already in my head, that I was less than the next person, simply for how I looked.
My obsession with clothes and fashion came despite the industry never talking to me. Even as a teenager and young adult, I didn’t have the luxury of going into a store and finding clothes that would fit. Most stopped at a size 14. Thankfully I could sew a little and if it was for something special, I could get it made. Most people did this in the 1980s so I didn’t feel too different.
My size in my adult life has ranged at any time from size 12-18. I don’t ever claim to truly know what it feels like for someone above a size 18 to not have the same clothing choices as someone like me but for a very long time there were not many choices for my size and shape.
I look back on my uni graduation photos at the end of 1987. I was 20 and I wore a size 16 dress from Rockmans. It wasn’t my style but I remember not having much to choose from in the country town I was working in.
Things really changed for me in my late 30s. I not only married someone who has never ever commented on my weight, I found the confidence to start a business that at the core of everything, celebrates all women.
I threw out my scales. (I can honestly tell you I have no idea what I weight)
I started exercising – not to achieve a weight-loss goal but to feel good mentally.
I’d always (mostly) eaten whole, healthy food but instead of counting the calories or points, I concentrated on the nutritional value of what went in my mouth. I have an auto-immune condition so that became paramount for my health. If I want something non-nutritional, I have it.
And I started playing with my style. Instead of trying to fit into something that might work for a girlfriend or a model in a magazine, I explored new ways of putting outfits together, choosing pieces that made ME feel good. Oh and I started my own label that’s cut for curves and celebrates diversity.
I most certainly don’t feel tickety boo every day about my body but I’m here, trying to crack the body acceptance code, one day at a time.
I hope you can too.
Watch the IGTV video
Body acceptance tips from the Styling You community
I don’t weigh myself regularly – Bec
I have a granddaughter which has made me very aware of self degradation talk – Janine
I look at myself through my kids’ eyes. They don’t see any “flaws” – just pure adoration. – Rebecca
My body is the least interesting thing about me – Deb
I listen to my husband who sees none of the negatives. Bless him. – Sharon
Every stretch mark, lump and bump reminds me that I was blessed to birth three babies. – Sue
I gently correct my friends every time they make a negative comment. – LJ
Exercise always makes me feel better.
I’m grateful for what my body CAN do – Anu
I do mirror work with a positive word meditation – it’s a very powerful and simple technique – Sue
I curate an Instagram feed of marginalised under-represented bodies looking smokin’ – Jo
I tell myself I’m strong and healthy – Jackie
I remember what my body has done for me – four beautiful children – Liz
The most important people love me just the way I am – Jane
I’m thankful my body hasn’t broken down on me – Sue
I remind myself that my reconstructed, scar-ridden legs have carried two, going on three babies into the world – Francis
Listen to my interview on this topic on the Don’t Give a Fifty podcast
Who I love to follow on social media for smart body acceptance messages