Some of my earliest childhood memories are snapshots of the profound loathing I had for my body. I can vividly recall my formative summer holidays, and how terribly self-conscious I felt about my ‘enormous’ thighs, which were reluctantly exposed to the world in my cut off denim shorts.
Many years later as an adult, casually flicking through holiday snaps, I was shocked by the image of a petite and freckled girl whose frame jarred with the image imprinted on my memory. I wondered how and where had I learnt this self-loathing?
I have struggled with self-esteem issues my whole life. In hindsight, my inability to love myself in mind, body, and spirit has underpinned all aspects of my life. It has been the primary causative factor in many unhealthy choices and behaviours, from toxic relationships to addictions.
In the immortal words of the wonderful Whitney Houston ‘learning to love yourself is the greatest gift of all’, so why do so many of us struggle with this simple act?
It is hugely telling that describing a person as ‘loving themselves’ is widely regarded as an insult. In fact, as children, it is one of the first insults we hurl across the playground, to those we perceive as ‘show offs’. For women, disliking our physical appearance has become a societal norm. As teenagers, we fawn over fashion magazines, in awe at the long and lithe bodies of supermodels, and just like that the first seed of doubt that we may not actually be enough is sown.
As grown women, we bond over our self-loathing, describing the parts of our bodies we hate most. Critiquing ourselves over a cappuccino, we discuss how much weight we need to lose until we are ‘bikini ready’. Dieting tips are shared just as our grandmothers once shared their favourite recipes.
Dieting, and focusing on the need to ‘lose weight’ completely contradicts the quest for self-love. It also reinforces the belief there is something ‘wrong’ with you that needs to be fixed. Many women feel that they will be happy once they reach their physical ideal or goal weight. But this creates the belief that happiness is conditional on another factor, rather than being a state that you can access all of the time.
Personally, having suffered from body dysmorphia and disordered eating, I know that ironically, at my thinnest I was actually my most unhappy.
As well as the diet industry, the cosmetic business is booming, which is no surprise during this the era of social media where appearance is everything. A discretionary nip and tuck was once reserved for the mature woman, seeking a confidence boost. Now lip fillers, breast implants, and lipo are almost as common for the selfie generation as having a blow dry or manicure. Cosmetic surgery is no longer taboo. Reality TV starlets brazenly document their ‘surgery journey’ in their Instagram stories.
The real impact of social media on the self-esteem of the millennial generation is catastrophic. Social media, at its core, encourages the constant comparison of yourself to others, which is psychologists say is one of the main causes of unhappiness. The truth is that social media is an enhanced version of reality, where people curate their best lives and present their best selves courtesy of photoshop and filters.
After years of self-loathing, I finally began my journey to self-love in my thirties. I couldn’t bear the thought that I would waste my life hating how I looked. I also wanted to ensure my daughter grew up with a positive self-image. I vowed that I would learn to love myself and this is how I did it.
Accept yourself as you are now
No matter how you feel about your body, the first step to self-love is to accept yourself exactly as you are right now. Find whatever you can appreciate about yourself, be it your hair, your eyes or your skin tone, and focus on that when you look in the mirror. Slowly but surely this will create a more positive body image.
Silence your inner critic
Be mindful of how you speak to yourself. Every cell in your body is eavesdropping on your thoughts. My inner critic would tell me every day that I wasn’t pretty or thin enough. I realised that I would never dream of speaking to anyone else in this cruel way, so why was I doing it to myself. I gave my inner critic a name, and whenever they made a cruel swipe I would acknowledge the comment, and respond that such nastiness wasn’t appreciated. Gradually the voice faded away, until one day it just wasn’t there anymore.
Social media means that we have unparalleled access to the lives of others which can often exacerbate any insecurities we have. Notice how using social media makes you feel. Unfollow anyone who leaves you feeling less than, and chose positive, inspirational accounts instead. Limiting the time you spend on any social media will positively impact your mental and emotional wellbeing.
One of the basics of self-love is to practice regular self-care. When you love someone or something, you nurture it. Practicing self-care isn’t vanity, it is essential to boosting your self-esteem, and connecting with your body. Simple things like taking relaxing baths, treating yourself to a massage or painting your toenails your favourite colour, are all ways to send a positive a message that you are worthy of love.
Amy Huggins is a nutritional therapist and fertility specialist. After being diagnosed as infertile, she used nutrition and naturopathic techniques to heal her body and reverse her diagnosis, giving birth to her first child in 2017. Amy now helps women achieve their dream of motherhood with nutritional and lifestyle coaching. You can find out more about Amy and her work over on her website www.amyhuggins.com or instagram, twitter or facebook