When it comes to how many of us feel about our bodies, statistics paint a bleak picture. New research by the Mental Health Foundation found that one in five UK adults felt shame, just over one third felt down or low and 19% felt disgusted because of their body image in the last year. Retailer Boots revealed in its recent research that 76% of women in the UK skipped summer activities, like going to beach or attending music festivals, because they felt self-conscious.
Clearly, there’s a lot that needs to change to shift our default from self-hate to celebration, but loving our bodies is easier said than done.
One person who understands that struggle is journalist, author and body positivity advocate Bryony Gordon. Bryony, who’s previously run the London Marathon in a bra and pants, regularly posts images of herself on social media with the hashtag #effyourbeautystandards and has written You Got This, a book empowering young people to love themselves unashamedly.
Just like the rest of us, self-confidence is a work-in-progress for Bryony.
“I get a lot of messages from women saying ‘I wish I had your confidence,’ she told Goodhousekeeping.com/uk.
“I don’t have confidence, I have the same hateful thoughts everyone else has, but what I do have is a desire to not spend any more of my time hating on myself.
“I’m sick of this world where we, as women, have this obligation to take bits of our bodies and do them down. It’s really sad.”
For Bryony, it’s important to not let other people’s negativity around body image affect her.
“Today it’s sunny, so I put on a sundress. I’m a larger woman and I had this moment where I was like ‘Ooh, my arms, my bingo wings’. I stopped and thought ‘It’s hot and I’m going to wear a dress that’s comfortable’. If anyone looks at me and starts criticising in their head, that’s tragic on their side. They’re the people with the problem, not me.
“I don’t need my body to look amazing, it is amazing because it keeps me alive on a day to day basis, and that’s enough. I’m sick of this notion that our only worth is found in how we look. It’s really detrimental to our self-esteem and our lives in general.”
Bryony, who’s 38, is finding that she cares less about other people’s opinions as the years go by – a positive impact of ageing many women find to be true for themselves. She feels it’s important to embrace and celebrate the privilege of getting older.
“Liking yourself is a really radical feminist act. The world wants us to be down on ourselves and think we’re not attractive because we’re getting older because then men can continue to maintain the status quo of patriarchal rule. When you refuse to engage in that way of thinking you’re setting an amazing example and helping a future generation of girls who don’t even exist yet,” she said.
Speaking of the next generation, Bryony has worked hard to instil body positivity into her daughter, Edie.
“I don’t trash talk myself anymore and I don’t allow anyone else to trash talk themselves in front of me. When my mum says ‘I look awful’, I tell her she doesn’t,” Bryony said.
“My daughter has really picked up on this, the other day we were swimming and in the changing room I was putting on my swimsuit and said ‘My boobs are so big’. She said ‘No mummy, your boobs are exactly as they were supposed to be. We’re all born as we’re supposed to be born.’”
Other little things that can add up to make a really positive difference?
“When I see friends, instead of saying ‘You look lovely’ I’ll say ‘You are lovely’. Don’t use filters on photos, the only person you’re fooling is yourself. Don’t let your kids see you saying ‘Can I just check that picture?’
“Don’t instil in them the notion that the way they look needs to be changed.”
As we approach summer, feelings of shame and anxiety about our bodies can reach a peak, but Bryony believes it’s important to remember you have a right to dress however you want.
“No one is thinking about you and the way you look, everyone’s in their own head, so wear whatever the hell you want.
“If someone does say something [about how you look], feel sad for them that they’re in such a negative space they need to comment on someone else’s body. You wear what the hell you want, you’re not a Christmas decoration.”
You Got This by Bryony Gordon (£9.99, Wren & Rook) is out now.
Wren & Rook