LOVE YOUR BODY, LOVE YOUR MIND
Feel good about yourself
Lesson one: HOW TO FALL IN LOVE WITH YOUR BODY
Self-acceptance comes in all shapes and sizes. Haven’t found yours yet ? Then fake it until you make it, says Bryony Gordon.
My name is Bryony, I am a size 16 to 18, and my favourite thing is uploading pictures of myself in my underwear on to the internet. Not sexy ones, you understand. Not posed. Never anything with a filter. In fact, in my book, the less flattering a picture is, the better. I want to show the bumps, the textures, the reality in all its rough glory. Sometimes I shake things up a bit and post an image in a bikini; if I’m feeling shy, I will opt for a not-so daring one piece. Earlier this year, I ran an entire marathon in my underwear, because… well, it was hot. And why not? If the elite women can do it – the ones who are out on the course for half the time and thus likely to get half as hot – then why couldn’t I? And, as I ran that marathon, my argument for getting naked in public and on social media only intensified. Every step of the way, a woman would jog up to me and give me a high five, thanking me for being body positive because she hated her own body so much and would never have the guts to show it off. Her own body, that she was running a marathon with, lest we forget. I wanted to shake each one of them and tell them to love their bodies and be proud of them.
They had carried them this far; they were getting them through a test of endurance that only 1% of the population would ever complete. What’s not to love?
The statement I hear most often when I post a (semi) nude picture on Instagram is this: ‘I wish I had your confidence.’ But here’s the thing: I don’t actually have any confidence. I am a recovering bulimic with more self-doubt than self-esteem. Here are just a few of the body parts I have fretted about during my 38 years on the planet: the large brown birthmark at the top of my right thigh; the one long eyebrow that I would eventually, aged 15, pluck into two; my nose; my chin; the colour of my hair (too mousy); my boobs; the stretch marks on my boobs; the texture of my nipples (odd one that); the
cellulite on my thighs; the scar just above my hip bone from where my appendix was pulled out at the age of nine; the other scar running between both hip bones where my daughter was pulled out at the age of 32; my vagina (is it tight enough? Warm enough? Whatever enough?); my big toes; my heels, covered in thick skin due to two marathons and 12 half-marathons; my bingo wings; my ankles; my brain, for never ever letting me just be. But what I don’t have in confidence I make up for in chutzpah. I’ve got oodles of that. My motto is: fake it until you make it. And why not? I’ve only got one body. Unless there are significant scientific advances in the near future, I ain’t getting another one. This isn’t a dress rehearsal, and I’m not getting out of here alive – so why shouldn’t I be proud of what I have? Why shouldn’t I love my multiple lumps and bumps, my massive belly, boobs and bum? What good does despising any of it do? I’ve spent a lifetime trying not to look like myself, and here’s the thing: it’s never worked. No matter how much weight I lost, or how much money I spent on shape-shifting underwear and face-changing make-up, there I was, unmistakably me. I always looked like myself, because that is who I am.
At what point, in the endless cycle of self-loathing, did I decide that enough was enough? It was probably around the time that I signed up to do my first marathon, in 2016, when I was 16-and-a-half stone and terribly depressed (though the two weren’t necessarily linked). When I was offered a place in the 2017 London Marathon, it did briefly occur to me that I should turn it down. I was 36, no spring chicken, and the only thing I knew about marathons was that they were a very long way. I could barely run for a bus. But I thought, ‘Maybe this is the universe’s way of throwing me a line. Maybe, after years of trying to battle mental health issues through alcohol and antidepressants, this is just what I need.’ So I said yes, and started my journey not just to the finish line, but to self-acceptance.
Unbelievably, I loved every minute of marathon training. I loved that, each week, my body would do ‘WHY NOT BE PROUD OF WHAT I HAVE?’
something it didn’t think it could the week before: 5k, then 10k, then 10 miles, then a half-marathon, and so on and so on until, on a sunny day in April of last year I ran my first ever full marathon without wincing once. I had lost weight, but not masses (I crossed the line weighing just over 14 stone) and, as I trained, I realised that, for the first time, I was doing exercise for the gains rather than the losses: the gains to my head and my heart. I loved running because it made me feel better, not because it made me look better. How I looked, I realised, was really not that important. But what I did? Well, that mattered. That mattered a lot.
It was shortly after that first marathon that I posted my first underwear selfie on Instagram. It was a hit, gaining thousands of likes and appreciative comments. As time went on, I started to do more – a ‘Booberang’, where I wobbled myself about on the Boomerang app; pictures of myself hanging out in a bikini; my larger frame liked again and again and again. Of course, you should never do things for likes, but the more women sent me messages thanking me for my ‘bravery’ (was I fighting ISIS in Syria?), the more I knew I had to carry on faking it, so that others could try to make it, too. So that others realised that their bodies were nothing to be ashamed of; that, actually, they were something to be proud of.
My second marathon, which I ran with my friend, the plus-size model Jada Sezer, was the ultimate example of that. We ran in our underwear because we wanted to show people that the bodies of runners come in all shapes and sizes. That we are all different, but all worthy. I don’t have confidence, but here’s the thing: nobody does, not really. We are all a seething mass of insecurities, all just a bunch of cells held together by doubts and fears. But we are alive, and that in itself is a miracle. So the next time you look at your body, think not of what it can’t do, but what it can do. You might just be surprised.
Eat, Drink, Run: How I Got Fit Without Going
Too Mad by Bryony Gordon (Headline).
Research shows there are ways to manage your mind, it just takes practice, says author and mental health activist Natasha Devon.
If you are reading this, it means you have a brain and therefore a mental health status, although we tend to wait until symptoms of a mental illness present themselves before we give ours any thought.
All the evidence shows that the earlier a mental health difficulty, like stress, is caught, the easier it is to address and maintain and the less likely it is to develop into a more serious condition, like anxiety. Furthermore, expert organisations such as Mental Health First Aid England recommend that absolutely everyone – regardless of where they are on the mental health spectrum – takes an entire hour every day to ‘empty their stress container’ by practising self-care. In that spirit, below are my favourite activities for maintaining psychological wellbeing:
DANCE IN YOUR PANTS
Physical activity has been shown to be as effective for treating mild to moderate depression as therapy or medication. It doesn’t have to be the obvious choices, such as going to the gym – dancing around the sitting room to a Beyoncé track in your pants totally counts. I find walking the most convenient and enjoyable – I have a lot of nervous energy and feel a physical compulsion to ‘walk it off’.
Most of us live at a relentless pace, chasing our to-do list and overstimulating ourselves with huge amounts of information. This can, in turn, interfere with sleep, which has been shown to have a dramatic negative impact on mental wellbeing. Taking time to wind down before bed can help. If, like me, you’re rubbish at traditional forms of meditation, try a short guided mindfulness app.
Singing, particularly when done in groups, fires up the right temporal lobe, increasing feelings of happiness and contentment. Playing an instrument involves both hemispheres of your brain working together, keeping you mentally fit. Drawing, painting, poetry, dance and creative writing can all be effective ways to express and exorcise difficult emotions. All creative endeavours release endorphins, which help to reduce stress. One of my favourite creative activities is make-up application – I sometimes combine it with giving myself a mini-facial to double the self-care value.
TALK IT OUT
You wouldn’t wait until you were falling to build a safety net, so ideally you should identify who your go-to person for emotional support might be when you’re feeling well. Make sure you communicate regularly with them. Connection – the feeling of being unconditionally accepted – controls our levels of dopamine and therefore improves our brain chemistry. Just by chatting to a friend, you can give yourself the gift of increased mental clarity. A Beginner’s Guide To Being Mental by Natasha Devon is out now (Bluebird)