When I first started my unretouched self-portrait body series, the images I shot were for myself — not to share. They were my way of moving out of the currency of tiny images on social media, seeing myself from different angles and lights and capturing myself in different moods. They genuinely helped me become confident because I explored myself — and my body — through them. Maybe it was a way of documenting my move into womanhood. Into owning my own body — quite literally — in the image. They were my saviour in understanding my body and, through that, myself.
I have always had an hourglass figure. Growing up as a gymnast, I had to stand next to, and train with, the other girls on my squad. I looked different and I hated my hips, which is not what you want when you are in your early teens. Hell, it is not what you want in your early twenties, either.
The female body is this magical, mythical thing that no one quite understands. So owning one means you will likely go through stages of understanding what it does, what it looks like and what others think of it. I used to constantly measure myself, looks-wise, to the girls who were my best friends. The images in magazines let me know the ideal, and I would compare each of us accordingly. Even something as insignificant as the size of my arm made me worry. I thought, somehow, that I would be seen as lesser.
On top of this, we now live in a social media era. It is hard when scrolling through your feed to forget that a posted photo is likely one of 150 photos taken and not what someone really looks like. There is (sadly) so much editing going on in terms of lighting and sometimes even shape that these images should not be seen as reality, and even if they are, you are not lesser than them.
All it took was one day on a beach to shock me into realizing something: All women, no matter their size, compare themselves to each other. Even the girl who you think has your dream body could be comparing herself to someone else — and it might just be you.
Another woman’s beautiful body does not lessen the beauty of my own
I remember the moment my friend told me on holiday that she loved my shape and wished she had more curves like me. It took me back. I had always put her body (skinny, muscular, long) on a pedestal. She liked my shape? I at once felt complimented and also like she was playing a joke on me. That is how much I thought someone with her shape couldn’t want parts of mine.
But she did. And her telling me was the first shift in seeing my body in a different light, and eventually coming to love it. A lot.
It was surprisingly a lot easier than I had thought to lose those decades of self-taught disgust. Now, when I am with friends, I do not compare my body to theirs. We are all women and we are all different — that is the magic of our bodies. They are all wonderful in their own unique way. It sounds painfully cheesy, but it is true: Why would we all want to look the same?
Another woman’s beautiful body does not lessen the beauty of my own. I will say it again: Another woman’s body does not lessen the magic of your own. The same way another woman’s success does not take away from yours.
And since being more confident in my shape — and owning it — when I see a photo of myself in a bikini next to my friends, I do not compare the size of our legs or arms.
It is the incredible physical body that keeps us alive. Why would I want to hate on that?
Although it is, of course, a long process, I do have a few tips for feeling comfortable in your body:
1. Stand in front of the mirror, either naked or in your underwear, (I started with underwear but feel comfortable enough nowadays naked) and admire yourself. Sound foreign? It can be. Tell yourself, to your reflection: I love you, every part of you. Hug yourself.
2. Do things that make you feel attractive. Take a bath and scrub your body, feel every part of it. Enjoy how it feels, rather than just how it looks. Put on your favourite outfit for no reason — just for you. Allow yourself to accept compliments from others rather than shun them away. If someone tells you that you look great in those jeans, say thank you, I think so too, not oh no, it’s the cut! No girl, it is you. Allow yourself great sex and masturbation. Feel one with your body. It is yours. Enjoy it.
3. The first step towards loving your body — and yourself in your body — is a mental one. Comparison is the death of all joy. So make a rule to not compare yourself — in real life and the digital world.
4. Be gentle to yourself. Be kind. Allow yourself bad days and good days.