*Please be aware that this post discusses diet and exercise in a very open and honest manner. If this is something that will potentially trigger your mental health please proceed with caution. If you need someone to talk to please do not hesitate to reach out.*
I’m very open about the highs and lows of body positivity on social media, and am vocal about the fact that… well, I love myself! A question I’m often asked on social media is “how did you get so confident?” So I took to Twitter and Instagram to ask if you wanted self love content on the blog – and you said yes.
If you would’ve accused someone of loving themselves a few years ago, they would awkwardly shy away from the very idea. But the tides are changing in our current social climate, and self love is in.
I thought I’d share my own journey today (on my 22nd birthday!) because there is no big secret or definitive answer. It’s a long and tough road to walk.
When I started to really become aware of my body I was 11 and had just started secondary school. It was common for girls to loudly declare they weren’t eating lunch that day, or they were trying a new diet. Popular diets included water fasts, eating just one meal a day, fruit diets, you name it. We tried them all.
I grew up in the Skins Tumblr era. So everywhere you looked you were bombarded with pictures of Effy Stonem doing drugs in her smudged eyeliner or Cassie showing Sid how she would avoid eating. These girls were idolised by an entire generation, and we were all desperate to look like them.
I was desperate to be the skinny girl with a thigh gap decked out in American Apparel. Desperate to appear dainty and delicate. At this point there was no body positivity. You were either pretty, or you were fat. I spent a long time being embarrassed and trying to hide myself by any means possible. I took to wearing oversized t-shirts and baggy jumpers, which, in hindsight, only served to make me appear even bigger.
There was a time where I developed disordered eating habits. In the past I have fasted, made myself sick, and binged on food in response to not feeling ‘good enough’. This is something I no longer struggle with, but it was ingrained in my mind for a long time.
Somewhere between leaving school and starting to work full time, food stopped being at the forefront of my mind. I was working in an intense work environment, and changed jobs several times over those years. So the last thing I was really concerned about was food or body image. More importantly, I’d deleted Tumblr.
While Tumblr wasn’t responsible for my problems, it had encouraged a lot of my previous behaviours. There was a constant barrage of pro-disordered eating content, all under the guise of ‘fitspo’ or ‘fitspiration’. I could have simply stopped following accounts who reposted that content, but teenage me didn’t know any better.
Taking a step back from social media and focusing on work helped me a lot mentally. I’ve never been one to actively compare myself to people on social media, so I didn’t find sources such as Twitter or Instagram as damaging.
Sometime after I’d started working on an NVQ qualification with a local salon, I stumbled across the body positivity movement online. I started to discover and follow a whole host of diverse creators; from fashion bloggers to motivational speakers. People who knew who they were and embraced every aspect of themselves; physical and mental.
It began opening my eyes to the fact that we don’t all have to fit into the same mould. Of all 7 billion people on this planet, why should we aim for the one same look?
Changing the media I was consuming day to day really changed my perspective on my own appearance. I slowly stopped saving images as ‘body goals’ and stopped attempting every fad diet under the sun. I educated myself on health and wellbeing, particularly nutrition.
Slowly but surely, exercise became an enjoyable activity rather than a panicked chore to keep myself as thin as possible. I began to appreciate food again without guilt or fear of calories.
Here I am today! Happy, healthy, and confident. I can honestly say that I love the skin I’m in. And so I should, I worked damn hard to be able to say that.
Yes, I still have down days. Days where I look at photos of myself and pick them apart. There are even days where I think it’s a good idea to give another fad diet a try. But no sooner than the thought has entered my brain, it’s gone again.
I know better than to put my mental and physical health at risk to obtain an unrealistic body standard. Fact is, I’m not built like a runway model. I have lumps, bumps, cellulite, and stretch marks. I certainly don’t have a thigh gap and am nowhere near close to having one. But that’s okay.
If you’ve been affected by any of the things discussed in this post, please refer to the charities and organisations below for professional help and advice.
I'm Elen Mai, the brains behind Welsh Wanderer and 20-something human biology student from (you guessed it) Wales! Welsh Wanderer is designed with the eco-conscious adventurer in mind. So stick around for tips & tricks on living sustainably.