Body neutrality: How I learnt to live with my body

They say love the skin you’re in, but it’s hard sometimes isn’t it? I know I’ve struggled over the years to be truly happy in my body. I was always slightly chunkier than my mates and never felt as slim and confident as they did growing up. As an adult I’ve come to accept my body a whole lot more, but this past year since hitting the dreaded peri-menopause, my love-hate relationship has definitely erred on the hate side.

I’ve been feeling like my body is letting me down. Despite not changing my diet or the exercise I do, I’ve put on a stone since I was first diagnosed as peri-menopausal. Plus, I definitely notice the aches and pains a whole LOT more in the last few years. My body seems to take ages to do anything – it’s not the young, fresh thing it once was, and I now have hairs growing out of parts of me I didn’t realise could sprout hairs and saggy bits where there once was firm, taut skin.

I don’t think my story is unusual, which actually makes me pretty sad. Our brains are taken up with so much anxiety about how we look, when they could be used for something a whole lot more useful.

In a bid to help myself out of this negative body rut, I’ve been turning to a lot of body neutrality influencers and experts out there to help me try and form a better relationship with my body.

So, what is the body neutrality movement? Before I started looking into it properly, I assumed it was women speaking about how much they love their bodies and how proud they are of them. That does exist, but it comes under the body positivity banner. Being neutral about your body is much more achievable. It’s about not being so proud that you’re posing on Insta in your bikini every day, but also not hating it, covering it up and ignoring it. It really is about trying not to think about your body and just letting it do its job.

To do this, obviously takes some retraining of the way our brains think. I can’t recommend Just Eat It by Laura Thomas highly enough. A registered nutritionist, she writes mostly about intuitive eating in the book, however, this is closely linked to body neutrality. She believes if we’re eating intuitively – giving our bodies what they need when they need it – our weight will even itself out, however, this may mean we’re ‘bigger’ than we want to be. As she said in a blog for Huffington Post “If you can't learn to love and accept your body, AS IT IS, independent of shape, size, colour and everything else, you will never be happy. Because you have to live in your body, every damn day.”

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I can’t say I’m anywhere near a finished product and wholly love the skin I’m in every day, but I am learning to talk my body with a much more friendly voice now. As with any habit that you’ve formed, it takes a long time to start viewing your body in a different light and some days are better than most, but here are some of the things I’ve learnt in the past year…

Start surrounding yourself with positive influences
Ditch the friend that only talks about their diet, stop buying magazines that fat-shame celebrities, and most importantly, find yourself some positive sources of inspiration. My downfall was definitely Instagram – I was following a whole load of beautiful people and often felt thoroughly depressed after a scroll through my feed. So I’ve ditched those accounts and started following a diverse range of body positivity influencers – from Radhika Sanghani, a journalist who posts #sideprofileselfies to break the ‘big nose taboo’ to Libby’s Happy Project, which features fabulous body positivity illustrations. Seeing a diverse range of accounts makes you realise that all bodies are different – there is no one shape fits all. Here are a few others to add to your Instagram feed:

Bodyposipanda – My daily dose of body positivity comes from Megan Jayne Crabbe. She posts the most inspiring photos of herself accepting her body (and also sometimes struggling with that), while also encouraging her followers to do so.

Mamacaxx - Mama Cāx was diagnosed with bone and lung cancer at 14 and given only three weeks to live. The price of survival was losing her leg however, she’s gone on to kick ass and her feed is full of beautiful photos that make you smile.

Bishamber Das – Bishamber is the Britain’s first Asian plus-size model and is a great champion for diversity.

Chessie King – Yes, she may only be a size 12 but her real-life photos of her tummy rolls and double chins add levity to my feed and make me feel so much better about my many rolls of flab!

Katie Meehan - Katie was born with Cystic Hygroma - a condition that causes cysts on the left side of her face, neck and tongue. This hasn’t stopped her from becoming a super successful beauty blogger and role model for many.

Stephanie Yeboah – She calls herself a Fat Acceptance Advocator and I love her sass. She’s brilliantly positive and also a great educator around the whole body acceptance movement.

Remember who you are as a whole
Does your best mate love you because of your size? No. She loves you because you’re funny/clever/kind. Our bodies are such a small part of who we are, yet they become this big deal. Remind yourself of everything you are – write it all down if you need to – and you’ll soon realise your body is only a small percentage of the total package.

Dress comfortably
Do you have to keep pulling your skirt down? Or does that bra dig into you? Then ditch them. Buy the size that fits you, not the size you think you are. When I look in my wardrobe, I own everything from size 10-16 and they all fit me. Sizing is rubbish, so ignore it and don’t let it make you feel good or bad – it literally is just a number. Being comfortable in what you wear is such a big step in making yourself feel mentally and physically at ease. I went and had a bra fitting last week – I’ve been wearing the wrong size for about four years. My new (much bigger) bras not only feel more comfortable, but they also make me look better.

Appreciate what your body can do
We’re so quick to pick up on what our body doesn’t look like or what it can’t do, so I’ve been desperately trying to change my mindset to what it CAN do. It can get me from A-B, it’s produced a lovely little boy, it enables me to live the life I want. Sometimes it’s harder than others – especially when you can’t get into that new dress you just ordered or running is too tricky because of your dodgy knee – but it’s good to remember our bodies are here for something more than just looking good, they’re keeping us alive and kicking and enabling us to live our lives.

Move because you want to
Since I had a knee operation 11 years ago, I’ve had to ditch my beloved running. I ran because, yes, it kept my weight down, but it also made me happy, and sometimes I forgot about the latter. This last year I’ve been trying to find my perfect way to keep happy and fit so have been trying out lots of different things. I’ve found that I love dancing – it never feels like ‘exercise’ – and I love walking my dog. These two things will not make me super slim, but they make me feel happier and are helping me keep my body healthy. That’s all I need.

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So, what’s been the outcome of all this trying to love my body? Well, I got my bum out in a national newspaper. Yes, that’s right. The person who mostly posts headshots on Instagram got her whole body, including arse cheeks, out in a tabloid favourite.

I was asked to pay tribute to my all-time favourite pop star Kylie Minogue by wearing gold hot pants, alongside other fans. No problem I said… And while I couldn’t help but unfavourably compare my mid-40s body to the thirty-something slim things I was being snapped alongside, I could for the first time in ages, also see the plus points – my legs are strong and athletic, I have a nice smile – but I also noticed something really interesting. I was having fun. It was a real treat to be made up like my idol and have my photo snapped, so I was just going for it, enjoying the moment. A few of my younger counterparts, despite their banging bods, were nervous and uncomfortable in front the camera, which just goes to show a tiny body does not make a happy woman. A body positive outlook however can.