At IMAGE, we believe in real beauty and celebrating difference. In our new Love Your Body series, we speak to real Irish women about what beauty means to them. While they might be of different ages and come from different backgrounds, they all have one thing in common: they have proudly embraced their bodies and real beauty. This week, Ellen Brophy talks us through her journey to self-acceptance.
Ellen, so-named after her grandmother, has struggled with her weight and body image for years. "My body is such a source of angst for me," she admits. "I have always carried weight, and it’s an aspect of my life that I can’t seem to be able to get under control." She's not alone in this. A study published in the Eurasian Journal of Educational Research found body image dissatisfaction is a reality for most women. Of the 160 women surveyed, 79% said they wanted to change something about their body shape and size.
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The single mum-of-three tells us, "The impact it has had on my self-esteem is enormous. I used to love my eyes, but now with my pudgy cheeks, they disappear when I smile. My legs used to have a great shape, but now the weight has deposited in a way that they’ve lost their shape. And my midsection is a disaster," the 37-year-old continues. "I have a round, full belly that looks like I’m carrying a child. There’s only so much a well-chosen outfit can do to hide that."
It's one thing feeling this way about yourself; it's another when other people start to comment on it too. The Kilkenny-native says, "I have been asked a few times if I was pregnant. When it comes to members of the opposite sex, I’ve been told that I’m attractive but I’ll 'always be the fat girl'. I have let it get to me sometimes," Ellen admits. "I would just rather not go out than be surrounded by young, slim girls wearing body-con dresses. In a nightclub on a busy Saturday night, if you're fat, you might as well be invisible."
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Being kind to yourself
Despite her ongoing insecurities, Ellen has realised there's more to her body than how it looks. "I can’t say, 'Oh, I love my body!'" she starts, "But, it works. My body has given me three beautiful, healthy children. It keeps me going day-in-day-out to care for them. The fact that I don’t love the reflection in the mirror is just one tiny aspect of its existence."
Ellen has come to appreciate her body for all the good it's brought her. By looking at herself from this new, positive perspective, she has developed self-acceptance. "I’m working hard to be kinder to myself because I believe change can come when you are in the right frame of mind. Maybe I'll be able to address my weight if it comes from a place of love, not hate. I’ve also found a number of people to follow on social media who promote body positivity and it has helped me. Fat is not the worst thing you can be in life."
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As well as being kind to herself, Ellen has also learned to dress for her body type. This (and her perfected make-up routine) has transformed the way she sees herself now. "What I try to do is dress well. I try to wear flattering shapes that play to my assets (that’d be the boobs!). The clothes industry has come on so much, and that really helps in finding something nice to wear. Years ago, there were only a handful of shops I could buy anything in (and then I’d have to pay through the nose). Now, I have loads of choice and feeling good in your clothes has a massive impact on your confidence.
"I always feel better when I have my hair and make-up done as well," Ellen tells us. "My thinking is, I suppose, that if I draw the eye up to my face that my body will go unnoticed," she surmises. "I am more comfortable now because I choose to be."
The most important thing to Ellen now is to maintain a positive attitude towards her body, and to continue choosing her daily outfits ahead of time. "If I get up and can find nothing to wear, I could be in foul form for the day. I’ve recently blitzed my wardrobe and got rid of the stuff that I just ‘throw on me’. You don’t need lots of clothes; just a few staple pieces that suit you. I think doing my hair and make-up also keeps me going. I have my make-up routine down to a T, so it doesn’t take long and it really makes me feel good when I have it done.
"I’m slowly coming to realise that even the most beautiful women in the world have insecurities; and that physically, how you look, is just one small part of who you are. I admit I let it affect me more than it should, but it’s a work in progress."
Beauty isn't everything
Lastly, Ellen wants us to remember beauty isn't everything, and we need to put less emphasis on it (particularly when it comes to children). "I think the focus on looks begins at a very young age," she says. "Time and time again, you’ll hear adults tell children that they are handsome and beautiful. I think we should pick other attributes to build our children’s confidence.
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"I already hear my daughter say things like, 'I’m going to do my hair so people will think I’m beautiful'. She didn’t hear that from me. I told her, one day, all the reasons that I thought she was beautiful; her kindness, her imagination, her determination. Not one of those reasons had anything to do with the way she looked. So I think we need to start with the young, and teach them that physical appearance is only one small aspect of what makes you who you are. It’s not everything." Not by a mile.
Photo: Vinicius Amano via Unsplash