I consider myself to be relatively in the middle of the spectrum when it comes to my own body image. As a child, teenager and in my twenties I spent more time thinking about my body shape than I do now. I think that’s probably pretty normal. Whilst I have always stressed about the size of my thighs, my lack of a waistline and heavy arms, I never got involved in dieting to extremes, somehow still having an inner picture that whilst I didn’t look like a model, I was still ok.
I started working out in the school gym as soon as it became available. This was partly due to a shy nature, it was a good way to keep myself occupied in a constructive way at lunch times, and partly due to the threats of one of our sports teachers. I will never forget Miss Moore. Athletic, deeply bronzed olive skin, petite in height and frame, swinging thick black hair and a take no prisoners attitude. Intimidating in many ways. I’m sure she had good intentions. However when she told my year 11 class that in her experience and opinion by the time we were a year or two out of secondary school most of us would be overweight and unhealthy and it was all down hill from there, I was alarmed. As a young woman with increasing body consciousness it struck fear deep into my heart.
I developed an unhealthy and unrealistic vision of the body that I wanted to achieve and started working out. Now when I say the body is unrealistic and unhealthy, well that all depends upon your perspective. If I was able to achieve that body, I feel quite sure that I would be very healthy and fit. However from the starting point that I had, and my genetic make up, it would take a good deal of hard work, dedication and discipline.
Over the years I have realized that whilst I have continued to work out, take care of my health and desire to improve my health and physique, I have never had the depth of desire that would drive the levels of effort and discipline necessary to achieve that body.
In the mean time I have traveled, worked, played and generally lived. A lot of the time there were elements of life that negatively contributed to the state of my health or fitness. Late nights, unhealthy meals, alcohol etc. All very normal, nothing extreme, but all an important part of my journey.
In my late twenties and early thirties I had children and whooo man. What a challenge that can be! I became enormous! With the first pregnancy, I was comfort eating for two, in shock about the impending changes to my life. With number two, well I never really lost a lot of the weight from the first pregnancy and then she was a huge baby. So by the time I had finished pregnancies, births and breast feeding my body barely resembled my body from before.
I found this time immensely challenging. I was exhausted, over weight and to be honest depressed. Around this time, I trained as an Image consultant. Learning about body shape and creating a more desirable body shape through clothing spurred on my desire to change, this time with a different focus on maximizing my ability to dress the way I wanted to. In my head it was less about my health and more about my perfectionism in crafting a look.
After a few years with this approach I started to become aware of the messages I was passing on to my girls. Some of the thoughts that emitted their lips alarmed me. In respect of them, I won’t share but it made me rethink some of my choices in life.
Over time I believe I have managed to get myself back into exercise and an acceptable level of fitness. I have been very fortunate to have the support and encouragement of not only a great partner but some wonderful fitness professionals. I no longer hit the gym five times a week, realistically I only manage three at best. But I believe my attitude to my fitness and my body is more sustainable.
However, I am no pin up girl. I still have a considerable spare tyre around my waistline as well as excess kilos all over. What has changed is that I now accept that. I know that I could be fitter and slimmer and have a pretty clear concept of what would be required of me to get there. I continue to look after my diet and exercise but what has changed is the nasty little voice in my head has got quieter.
So here is the thing that has subdued that nasty little voice.
I have two beautiful, intelligent, delightful daughters. Like most mothers I try to be the best role model I can, to guide and encourage them to recognize and value their uniqueness and to understand and accept the diversity of people in their world. I have tried hard to raise them with a healthy diet and a healthy attitude to sleep, exercise, food, indulgence etc etc.
But what they have given me through no fault or intention of their own is acceptance of myself. In my experience most parents at some point realize that their children are fundamentally different from one another. Whether that be through genetics or environment and a desire to differentiate themselves from one another and their parents, over time they develop their own interests, personalities and…. physiques.
My girls are both lean and muscular. Not highly motivated in competitive team sports but both very active and more interested in personal goals and achievements. One has definitely inherited genetics from her father with a very small frame, lean muscle and little body fat. The other, it’s harder to pinpoint but she is also developing a lean muscular frame. The differences in their frame were pointed out to me by a pediatrician when they were 3.5 and 2 years respectively and I struggled to see the difference at the time. Now its obvious.
The point is they are who and what they are as a result of many different factors, genetic and environmental. Despite living in the same house, with the same food and parents they are increasingly different. They are both just as beautiful, healthy and lovely as one another. Just different. And so am I.
To finish, as a women there also comes a time that when you realize that if your very slim, narrow hipped, 13 year old has moved into size 8 ladies jeans, then it is perfectly reasonable that your 40 something, curvaceous, muscular, post two children butt will best be accommodated in something substantially larger. And that’s OK.