LOVE YOUR BODY, LOVE YOUR MIND

Feel good about your­self

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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’.

MAS­TER MIND­FUL­NESS

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.

CRE­ATE EN­DOR­PHINS

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)

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