August 4, 2017

How Hating our Bodies Ruins our Best Experiences.

As far back as I can remember I have hated my body.

In primary school I was much taller than everyone, even the boys. I was chubby with bushy hair, and to me, all the other girls were perfect little dolls who I could play with, but never ever look like.

In the fourth grade we conducted a class exercise that involved everyone being weighed and the number listed on some sort of “graph of shame.” I was eight kilograms heavier than the next heaviest person in my class. That’s a large percentage of body weight when you’re still in single digits. My eight-year-old self knew that—and it hurt. The teacher, bless her, did the “Oh, it’s just because you’re tall.” And it partly was—but it was also because I was chubby.

Even when I got taller and lost the weight, my bone structure and body type were totally different to all those petite girls with the pretty hair.

When I started high school, I built my entire self-worth around one girl in particular, who I so desperately wanted to be like.

She was the most popular girl in our year and I would pull myself apart in all the ways I wasn’t like her. I would write list upon list of all the things that were wrong with me based on this standard of beauty and what I could do or buy to rectify them.

It really didn’t help that teenage girls are such dicks. We were awful to each other.

One day, in English class, a friend and I were convinced that a note this girl and her pals were passing back and forth was about us. We hung back after class to fish the offending article from the waste paper bin. We should’ve left it there. They had systematically worked through every single one of our physical flaws and made jokes about all of them.

High school was no better: it was a series of dents to my self confidence glued together with poetry anthologies and quadratic equations.

Cue the buying of makeup, skipping lunches, spending pocket money on frying my young skin with UV radiation. Cue compulsive hair straightening and fake tanning, caking on foundation and mascara, and plucking my eyebrows into oblivion. But there weren’t enough layers of badly applied terracotta-coloured bronzing powder to mask the gaping, gnawing lack of self-confidence I had.

I was so consumed with trying to be like everyone—anyone else‚ that I totally forgot to find the things that I loved or was interested in or wanted to pursue beyond the confines of school. I didn’t have anything—no sport I played, music I liked, a passion for anything—other than looking a certain way. My heart breaks for teenage me.

At 16 I had my first boyfriend. He was emotionally and sometimes physically abusive. Cue disordered eating and my first bout of depression. I would go days without food, starving myself down to an orange skeleton—but it still wasn’t enough. Of course, it wasn’t. My relationship with my mum suffered, I alienated friends, I believed every horrible word this guy said to me. Summer of 2006 can suck a dick.

College brought a new boyfriend and new social groups, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief because they could now be their true selves—no more school uniforms and systems of rules designed to make us all one homogenous mass of blue-blazered obedience. We were suddenly actively encouraged in the opposite direction—express yourself! Quirky clothes and Indie music and illicit nights out with all our new “equally individual” pals.

I floundered.

I had no personal style or hobbies of my own—my only ways to express myself were in my replication of people I thought were better than me.

There’s an interesting evolutionary quirk in the animal kingdom that I learned about in my later zoological studies—Batesian mimicry. A harmless, edible species will evolve over time to physically resemble a completely different poisonous or foul-tasting one in order to avoid consumption by predators.

This is basically what my formative years consisted of. I am the Common Mormon butterfly. But, the predator was as much myself as anyone around me.

I had “boyfriended” my way into a new group of friends, my high school bestie moved away, and suddenly I was alone with myself with nothing to contribute to these people. I gained back all the weight I had lost and then some, my grades slipped, and I had no idea what direction my life was supposed to take.

My two years in college ended with me alone, grades way below what I was capable of, deferring my place on a Marine Biology course for a year, and absolutely no f*cking clue what I wanted to do.

The next few years were a blur of drunken nights and bad decisions. Boys I didn’t really have an interest in, but pushed on with anyway, because I was seeking some kind of confirmation that I was attractive. I was a super sh*tty friend to those people I did have during this time.

I was 21 when I eventually started university, a university that both me and my family knew wasn’t really at the level I was capable of. But, finally I had a direction I felt good about pursuing. I found a personal style I liked, I worked out, and I had a figure that I felt alright (even sometimes good) about. I ended university with a first class degree in Zoology and toned abs. Guess which one I put more emphasis on?

After university was when I definitely decided on the direction my life was supposed to take. I was going to travel.

The August of that year is when I met George. Suddenly, I wasn’t travelling solo. I had this incredible human being who was putting his dream on hold to come and travel with me. For the next year I worked a desk job in the city and saved as hard as I could.

I also started to eat more, and even though my job had me sitting down all day, I was still too tired to go to the gym. My weight crept up, my abs disappeared and my old issues flared up. Clothes I had felt good in the year before no longer fit so well and I didn’t have the spare money to spend on anything that wasn’t going in my backpack, I started to lose myself again.

But, all my energy was directed in front of me, toward the 26th of November, 2015.

Travel was going to be this big life-changing thing. I would have some sort of Eat, Pray, Love-esque transformative experience.

I would find passions I knew nothing about, I would take up yoga and meditate every morning on the beach. I’d make hundreds of friends from far-flung places and frolic in a bikini with a body built by sunrise hikes and acai bowls. It would be exactly like all the YouTube videos I had binge-watched and all the Instagram accounts I had stalked for months. A “new me.” So, it didn’t matter how I felt now—travel would fix it all.

The reality of my first few weeks in Australia was wildly different to the picture I had drawn for myself. I cried after the first time I got into a bikini at our hostel pool because I was pale and chubby and had shaving rash from the ridiculously cold AC on the plane. Everyone else was tanned and spent their whole time laughing and playing and not f*cking thinking about it.

I was feeling my lack of interests and hobbies so, so hard when everyone around me was playing guitar and swapping hallucinogenic stories and hula-hooping and doing acro yoga at sunrise. They were making friends with each other and having a laugh, and I was so achingly aware of my lack of any of that, that I totally shut up. I didn’t even want to try make friends with these people—they were all too fun and interesting and beautiful.

This feeling followed me around for the whole 15 months we spent in Australia.

In every picture taken of me I only saw how fat I looked or how asymmetrical my face was, not the incredible place I was in and the memory that should be attached to that photo. I was out in the world living this dream life and I was probably as miserable as I had ever been.

By the end of our time in Australia, I decided I needed to make some serious changes if I was going to have any memories at all of what was meant to be the best time in life that weren’t tarnished by this feeling of “not good enough.” Whoever said comparison is the thief of all joy knew exactly what he was talking about. I wonder if he also got chub rub.

Over time and through many tears I’ve worked hard and found a few practices that really help me. They are as follows:


Writing down one thing I like about myself every day. Some days all I can muster is something as small as, “I am sometimes quite kind.” Some days I feel better and I can go as far as, “I love my long legs.” Just finding that one thing each day, whatever it is, is a small but powerful practice of self-love.

Celebrating the beauty in other people. The things I notice about other people that would usually turn into comparison and emotional self-harm, I try to switch into a “f*ck yeah, look at her beautiful boobies! What a gorgeous body. You go girl!”  I leave Instagram comments or just compliment strangers on the street. If you can turn that energy outward before you can internalize it, it cuts off a downward spiral.

No matter how perfect you think a person is— they are wrestling their own sh*t demons. Remember that popular girl from high school? Toward the end of high school we became pretty good friends and it turned out she had plenty of issues of her own. Everyone is going through their own stuff. From that busty girl in your hostel to those perfect Instagram models. Some days they wake up and feel sh*tty about themselves. They have hang ups and insecurities. They are human.

Finding a different focus for my energies. For me, it’s veganism and animal activism. I have found a cause I am passionate about and when I’m having a down day I focus on that. There are bigger, more important things than me being a member of the itty bitty titty committee, and I find that turning my energies outward, especially on something that’s so big an issue, gives me perspective on what is actually important.

Self care rituals. Taking a few minutes each day to do little things like brush my hair or dry body brush sends a signal to my brain that I’m worth this investment in myself, as small as it seems. It’s almost like a meditation—just me with myself and a methodical process entirely directed at my own body. Yes, my hair might look sh*t at the end of it, and sometimes I might shudder when I feel the squishiness of my thighs under my hands, but spending that time on myself is a positive investment in me. Plus, I love smelling like coconuts.

Celebrating my body as a body. I have two arms and two legs, hands and feet. I can run and jump and swim and hold hands and pet dogs. I can think and see and feel. This is amazing. Bodies are amazing. I swallow my food and, without me having any involvement at all, my body turns it into energy and even new body parts. I go to sleep and travel to different worlds. Yeah, I have wonky teeth, but I have a tongue that can taste a million different foods that those teeth allow me to eat. Yeah, I have wrinkly knees, but they let me move around and explore incredible new places. There are millions of people in this world who would do anything for a functioning body. A body like mine.

Catching myself when those feelings start. Practicing mindfulness and being aware of my thought patterns is one of the most empowering things I’ve learned. It’s so easy to feel trapped by your own emotions, but you do have a say in what goes on in your brain. When I feel that panic rising or that old familiar voice with its old familiar commentary, I take a mental step back and ask myself, “Is this feeling rational? Does the person I’m speaking to give an actual sh*t about what I’m wearing? Do I agree with this or am I saying yes because I want this person to like me? Is everyone staring at me?” Calmly and rationally answering these internal questions goes a long way to quelling emotional hysteria.

It’s really hard for me to accept a compliment—surely I’m not alone in that?

Shifting my focus to my partner and his love for me has been a great source of strength and happiness, I am blessed to have him by my side, cheering me on. One thing I do feel guilty about is that my issues with self-confidence have gotten in the way of things while we’ve been travelling, and I can’t give him back the experiences we’ve missed out on because I couldn’t see past my hang-ups at the time.

The fundamental thing that needs to change is all the energy and tears and worry and emphasis put on the ways I think I’m not good enough.

But, there is no magic way to suddenly love yourself, I’m sorry. But, if you take the time to practice and be mindful of your thought patterns, find the ways that work for you, and don’t do yourself an injustice in prioritising your issues above your experiences, you’ll get to a good place.

Take each day as it comes, because there will be some bad days when all you want to do is stay inside and cover up and pick yourself apart.

No one can give this to you, it has to come from you.

It’s a tough road, but you can get there. Get off Instagram and go for a walk. Practice self-care rituals. Be brave in your everyday choices. Above all, be kind to yourself. You get this ride once, and you get one vessel to do it in.

Love yourself. You’re the only one who truly can.



Author: Eleanor Healy
Image: Allen Skyy/Flickr
Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Copy Editor:
Social Editor: Travis May

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Eleanor Healy