In our partnership with Dove, IMAGE is on a mission to change how women view beauty. Scars, stretch marks, lumps, bumps, curves and lines are all what make a body beautiful — something that we want to see reflected everywhere, not just on the pages of our magazine and website. This month, IMAGE's own staffers are reflecting on their relationships with their bodies, and how they have come to view them as the beautiful things they are.
Edaein O' Connell is IMAGE.ie's Staff Writer and she has struggled with her appearance since she was a teenager. After focusing on her weight for so long, she decided she needed to make a change. It began to affect her life, but she was not going to let it.
I remember the exact moment I realised I had put on weight.
I was 13, a first-year student in secondary school and completely naive to body image and all of the hangups it can bring. At a family party, a photo was taken on a disposable camera, the results of which I didn't see for weeks. When I did, I didn't even recognise myself. I had to ask my mom is this really what I looked like. She tried to dampen my concerns by calling me perfect and reassuring me it was only baby fat which would disappear as I blossomed.
That picture became the catalyst for a decade of self-loathing. It was the falling piece which started a domino effect of body issues, hang-ups and imaginary wobbly bits.
It was obvious from the offset that I was bigger than my friends. At discos, they would wear shorts and tank tops, while I hid my body under layers and coverups. Gaining attention from the opposite sex is quite important when you are a young teen, but I wasn't even gaining an inch. My friends, however, were dazzling.
Exercise plans and binge eating
Teenage years are winding roads of trials and tribulations. Mine was full of diets, exercise plans, binge eating and overarching guilt. I am one of the lucky ones. In the sense that my eating habits –those periods of binging followed by rigorous exercising – never turned into something more serious. They were periods which I regretted and once they hit, I knew all too well they had to stop.
Normal teenage rights of passage like summers spent at the beach never transpired for me because I wouldn't allow them to. The thoughts of bikinis sent me spiralling, and hell would have to freeze over before I would let any gaze sweep my bare legs. I hid and I hid from life. It wasn't until I was much older that I realised how much time I had wasted fixated on something so unimportant.
After one particularly intense spell of dieting, the issues I had with myself began to seep into everyday life and affect my relationships. Jealousy is a cruel disease, and as my self-worth dropped, the emotion of envy became almost overpowering. I hit rock bottom and told myself this was it. Life is for living and I refused to allow my emotional turmoil to affect my journey. The damage I was causing to my own life was too much.
I had to learn to love myself.
Accepting who I am
When I look back now, I feel nothing but sadness. I feel for this girl, who thought of herself as nothing and placed so much weight and importance on the image she saw before her. There were so many wasted days and opportunities many of which were steered by my inability to accept myself.
I went through diet after diet. I forced myself to complete food plans and torturous exercise regimes – but I was never happy.
True happiness came from accepting who I was. This wasn't a false sense of approval. This was me looking in the mirror and saying "I like you. Wobbly bits and all". It didn't just happen overnight. Being my own friend and supporter took a long time and it is something I struggle with every day. Even now when a negative thought rears its ugly head, I have to stop myself. I stop and think of the parts of me I like and even love. The facets I am not too keen on are not there to hurt me but to make me stronger.
I now eat for fuel and exercise for headspace. The most freeing part of this is that it is on my own terms. I don't do it for anyone else but myself.
True beauty, the type that blinds, is embracing who you are. The dimples, the folds and the crooked smile are all a part of the puzzle which makes you. It might take a while to put the pieces together, but someday, they will intertwine. And you won't recognise the girl you left behind.
So the next time you feel down or blue, look in the mirror and tell yourself 'you are beautiful' and 'you are worth it'. Because you are. In my times of trouble, I wish I had done this more. I wasted so much time looking back at a girl who never smiled.
But I won't waste time anymore. This time the girl who looks back at me smiles back.
And she has never looked better.
As leading advocates for real beauty with a rich history diversifying the images of women portrayed in commercial media, Dove’s latest campaign is an empowering call to shatter unrealistic beauty standards. IMAGE recruited a group of women from different walks of life as part of Dove's project #ShowUs which is doing the important work of filling the gaps between how beauty has been depicted for generations. With the goal of true inclusivity in mind, we can finally begin to expand society’s definition of beauty.
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