There are several ideas I’ve had in the back of my mind recently – mostly rants, a lot of my own opinion – so I (Big Cup) decided to do a little bit of an ongoing “series” on these under the heading “We Need To Talk About…”. They’re really intended for my personal style blog, Rebel Angel, but this one fitted more here, so apparently that’s where the series is starting – there may be more here, or there may be others at Rebel Angel, we’ll see! In general, I’m not a hugely opinionated person – I don’t often start arguments because I’m not good with confrontation, but I’ll quietly keep my own ideas to myself (or rant them to Ben!). But sometimes there are things we need to talk about, big and small, from feminism to body image. Yes, some of them might be #FirstWorldProblems, but they’re usually things we can all connect on and all have opinions about. So first up – We Need To Talk About…Self-Confidence.
I’ve recently been thinking a lot more about body image and the importance/non-importance of it – it’s something that’s been on my mind a bit too for the past few weeks with the #PlusSizedWars topic hitting up the media, bloggers and Twitter.
For a bit of background to my own “story” and where I’m heading with self-confidence and body image: I’m not classified as plus size (I usually wear a size 8-10), but I am classified as “curvy” – I have a large bust and large hips in comparison to a small waist. In the past I’ve been skinny shamed (in internet world and real life), but I’ve also been “censored” for wearing apparently “inappropriate” clothing for my size (simply because my bust was straining at the top I was wearing – one of these occasions I was wearing a turtleneck jumper), even before I knew what inappropriate clothing really was. I’ve always had a larger than average bust size, and I was told to keep it hidden at school by teachers even when cleavage wasn’t showing. While other girls might have been wearing strappy tops, I wasn’t allowed to wear them because it showed off my body too much. This touches on the modesty debate that I’m not so sure I agree with – I see nothing wrong with wanting to keep your body covered, but I can never fully understand the concept of keeping your body covered so as not to attract male attention. I feel like that’s both offensive to women (since when does what you wear correlate with your sexuality?) and to men, insinuating that the only possible thing they can do when they see a woman in “immodest” clothing is have inappropriate thoughts about her.
While I haven’t suffered hugely as a result of any censoring or shaming I’ve been subject to in comparison to others, it’s always there in the back of my mind. I know that I have over time begun to subconsciously cover my cleavage in case it might be seen as inappropriate. Only recently have I added things back into my wardrobe that allow a bit of cleavage to show because I realised there was actually nothing wrong with that.
But in addition to this, those small digs over time at my body being seen as inappropriate have made small impacts on my body image over time. When I was at school, I had extremely poor body image to the point that it affected my life on a daily basis – I perceived every tiny fault with my body to be the root of everything that was wrong with my life. My body became the thing to attack if something went wrong, and this is still a natural instinct in my head, even all these years later that I fall back upon. Ben even calls me out on this when I do it now – often a small argument we’re having will reduce to me proclaiming that it’s “because I’m fat, isn’t it?!” – a ridiculous notion that bears no relevance to what we’re even arguing about, but shows how those ideas are still buried there in my brain, ready to strike when I’m feeling at my lowest. Simply because I’ve been trained to think that anything that’s wrong with me all stems back to my body.
I was a young teenager (possibly even younger) when I initially had these body image issues; I’m now 24 and only just realising that the majority of things I used to perceive as flaws actually aren’t. Okay, yes, it looks like I’m taking that line of argument – the “your flaws are beautiful and what make you unique” one. But actually, it really only hit me the other day that what I still look at my body and see as “problems” actually…aren’t. They’re normal. They’re signs that my body is healthy. And I find it a little bit scary that this only just occurred to me recently – the fact that it’s been so drilled into my brain that it took me right out of my teenage years and into my mid-twenties to realise this is actually a little bit worrying.
No one is scrutinizing your body except you yourself. No one cares about that extra inch on your waist. No one is picking up on the fact that you think you look “terrible”.
These are all the common phrases that you see everywhere, and I’ve always read them and thought: “Yes, okay, that’s fine, but it doesn’t apply to me.” Then suddenly I realised: it does apply to me. Really, no one else sees these perceived flaws that I have, and if they do, they don’t care. Does it make me a worse person because I’ve gained a inch on my waist? No. Does it change how people think about me? No. Does it really make any impact on my life whatsoever? No.
This recently hit me was when I was driving to the gym the other day. I’ve always hated exercise – possibly because I was awful at team sports and that was basically all we did at school, which made the games teachers hate me because I was useless and always moaning. Hence, an inbuilt hatred of exercise. So while I wanted to do something exercisey recently, I’ve never really made an effort because I feel like I would be useless at it, everyone else would be looking at me thinking about how bad I was at running/swimming/using an exercise bike. This was pretty evident in the fact that before I went to the gym that I’ve recently joined for the first time, I spent an hour trying on different workout clothes. It might seem that I was being shallow, and maybe I was, but I was attempting to look as if I knew what I was doing so I didn’t stand out too much, but also I didn’t want to look like I’d put on all the most awesome workout clothes I could buy then it was obvious I didn’t know what I was doing. Ridiculous – I know.
So I’ve now managed a few sessions at the gym and several swim sessions, and I’ve realised – no one cares. No one is looking at what I’m wearing. No one is watching how fast I’m running, how long I’ve spent on a machine, how out of breath I am, or how weird I look when I run. All those insecurities are things I’ve dreamt up for myself. Yes, I might look silly – but no one else cares about that, they’re too busy spending time focusing on their own workouts – the only person I’m inconveniencing is myself with these ridiculous thoughts.
I don’t know if it’s my brain overworrying itself and finally figuring out these things, or if everyone else is the same. I marvelled at a girl at the gym the other day who so carelessly walked over to the weights and starting using them. In my head, I thought I could never do that – people would be watching me, laughing at me. But no one watched her, no one laughed at her. Probably the only person who noticed her was me, and that was because I had had the sudden realisation of: why can’t I do that?! The only reasonable answer to that question being: actually, I can. There’s nothing stopping me except myself.
I guess the point of all this is that I’m shocked it’s taken me so long to realise this. I’ve known before that my perception of myself can be entirely wrong and that the person I see in the mirror is not at all what other people see. I’ve suffered with body dysmorphia before, and I guess I still have bits of that still hanging around in there because I, like so many other women, do fret about what I see in the mirror. I also worry about what I say and do in public. It takes a lot of forethought, worrying and overanalysing for me to do something outside my comfort zone, such as visiting a new place to buy lunch in town on my lunchbreak – something so small that for a lot of people it wouldn’t even register as being a worry, but for me, it takes a lot of confidence. I was knocked back by my stint in teaching thanks to someone who was supposed to be my mentor, and apparently I’m still building that self-confidence back up again. But I’m glad to have finally realised that my own self-confidence is part of me, something I can change myself by being aware of it and working on it. A lot of my issues with myself are in my head and not even evident to anyone else. And there will always be set backs. There will be things that happen that mean my confidence in myself drops again, but there’s nothing to stop me building it back up. This sounds likes it’s turning into one of those motivational talks, but there’s nothing stopping me from doing the things I feel I can’t do except myself.
What are your thoughts on the topic of self-confidence? Have you experienced any body image issues? I think it’s important that we talk about them to realise that it’s not just you in that position.