Dr Joanna Silver, body image expert and psychologist, says:
‘Give your body some love with these simple strategies to help boost self-confidence…’
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Feel like you have to cover up on the beach because you don’t look like a Victoria’s Secret model? Be inspired by these three readers…
Business owner Rachel McGuinness, 52, lives in Wallingford, Oxfordshire
‘As the waves lapped against the shore, I took a deep breath and untied my sarong. I checked to see if anyone was appalled to see a woman of 41 wearing a bikini with – shock, horror – cellulite and curves, but nobody batted an eyelid. With growing self-assurance, I strolled along the beach, enjoying the feeling of the sun on parts of my body I’d never bared in public before, and wished I hadn’t waited so long to wear a two-piece.
I’d always felt self-conscious about my curvy 5ft 3in frame and 32G bust. I’d been fighting a battle with my weight since I was in my 20s, when I fluctuated between a size 14 and an 18. But it wasn’t until I was 37 that I realised – to my husband’s relief – it was time to stop the faddy diets and concentrate on being healthy, not skinny.
My self-esteem soared, giving me confidence in other areas of my life – I finally quit the job I hated
My trigger moment? A trip to Barcelona, when I glimpsed myself in the hotel mirror. I was devastated to see a tired, overweight woman looking back at me and realised my reflection was the result of a life lived without exercise, eating badly, and smoking and drinking too much.
That huge realisation spurred me into a total lifestyle overhaul. I started to eat healthily, cut out cigarettes and alcohol and joined a gym. It was hard, but worth it when I lost weight, had more energy, clearer skin and felt amazing!
My self-esteem soared, too, which gave me confidence in other areas of my life – finally I felt able to quit the corporate job I hated to set up my own health and wellbeing business.
Now, after losing 45lbs over 15 years, I’m a voluptuous, healthy size 10 and have been proudly wearing bikinis on holiday for a decade. (I’ll keep wearing them until I’m 100 – if I live that long!)
I’ll never look like Elle Macpherson, but I don’t care. It’s taken me years to get here, but I’ve finally learned to look after and love my brilliant body, flaws and all.’
Entrepreneur Mavis Amankwah, 41, lives in east London
‘As I cradled my newborn daughter in my arms, joy surged through my heart and I covered her beautiful face in kisses. I’d been in labour for more than 26 hours when doctors had to perform an emergency caesarean section and, understandably, it had been an anxious experience. Yet when my husband and I brought our little girl home, I realised that I wanted to be the best mum I could, and decided there and then that it was time to take better care of myself.
Before I had children, I ate too many sweets and too much junk food and never exercised, yet I still managed to fit into a size-10 dress. Oh, for the fast metabolism of youth!
Even though I lost the baby weight I’d put on, there was no getting away from it – my body had changed forever
So, post-kids, I made a determined effort to improve. I wanted to be strong, healthy and energetic. I cut out all the sugary rubbish and took up running. But even though I lost the baby weight I’d put on with each pregnancy, there was no getting away from it – my body had changed forever. My tummy was rounder, my boobs were bigger, even my arms looked heavier. I kept telling myself I shouldn’t just accept this new shape – after all, we live in a society that worships slim, toned bodies. But when l looked at my gorgeous, happy and healthy children, it was obvious to me that, as long as I was fit enough to care for them, nothing else mattered.
A few years ago, I started going through old photo albums… and, you know what? I realised I was happy to say goodbye to that young woman who was a size 10 and embrace the curvy-yet-contented size-14 mum I’d become. Today, I feel exactly the same. Even though my son and daughter are now 20 and 15 and nearly all grown up, they’re still my babies and I will always respect my amazing body that created, carried, delivered and raised them. My fabulous curves and wobbly bits are a constant reminder of that incredible achievement, and prove just how strong and gifted my body is. I’m grateful every single day for the wonderful family it has blessed me with.’
PR and marketing executive Chantelle Crabb, 25, lives in north London
‘Luckily, I’ve always been surrounded by friends and family who’ve instilled in me the fact that there’s more to life than the way you look. It’s something that really helped when, at just 17, I seemed suddenly to morph into a woman, complete with huge boobs (30GG!) and curvy hips, thighs and bottom. So, unlike a lot of teens, I wasn’t initially self-conscious about my new body.
But things changed when I went to university and I was away from Mum’s home cooking. I started eating and drinking whatever I liked and went from a size 10 to a 14. For the first time ever, I felt the prickles of self-consciousness.
Before I knew it, I’d begun comparing myself with the way I used to look – I questioned my body, and why my thighs weren’t as slim as a model’s. What I did accept, though, was that my university lifestyle wasn’t doing me any favours, so I started to get more balance in my life. I exercised but allowed myself to enjoy food, too – and if I wanted a burger every so often, I had one. Slowly, I realised that both my body and I were happy at a healthy size 14 – and I wasn’t going to force it into being a size 10.
With this new attitude, I felt confident enough to enter a national modelling competition for a lingerie brand that was looking for a “curvy ambassador”. I came third! I was elated that my shape was being celebrated. But the competition was put to a public vote so, of course, some people did criticise my figure online, saying I needed to lose weight.
It was tough, but I tried not to let it bother me. My message to the haters? Just because I’m a size 14 and don’t fit society’s idea of a perfect body, doesn’t mean I’m not happy, healthy and loved. It’s something I celebrate every day.’