Saturday, 20 August 2016

You will never look 18 again...

And that is totally okay.

Two things happened this last fortnight which got me thinking about how things change in life and how your appearance changes; both in ways you sometimes can't control and maybe don't want to control again. 

The first:
I was having a spring clean of my room and whilst I was doing this I had one of those weird epiphany moments. On a mirror in my room I have photos of me with family and friends stuck all around it. I looked at myself in these photos, I mean I really looked at myself; then back at my reflection in the mirror and as cliché as it sounds, I suddenly realised that I don't look like that girl anymore. I took one of the photos down and just couldn't believe how different I looked in it. I was 18 years old, tanned, fairly toned, a size 8/10 and despite the big smile stretched across my face, I remember that I was very unhappy. 

The second:
I went to the counter of a well know French beauty brand to buy a mascara. The assistant seemed fairly friendly; she looked at my eyelashes and made a recommendation; I said I said yes that's great, thanks etc. but the conversation then took a dive; she said "you know, just looking at your eyes, you have a few fine lines around them and I think you would really benefit from an anti-wrinkle cream"; I laughed and told her my age thinking it was a joke, but no, she was actually serious; she then proceeded to tell me that an anti-wrinkle cream "could take five years off" me. 
I was flabbergasted. 
I'm not sure if it's just me but I didn't think it was the ultimate ambition of most 23 year old women to look 18 again. 
The whole encounter just annoyed me really.




So how do these two events link? 
Well I think they both made me realise that I will never look like the girl in those photos stuck on my bedroom mirror ever again. Fact. Because things change you. Things happen that you never even expected and once they've happened you cant go back. This is on both a deeper emotional level and on a more obvious physical level. They also made me realise how far I have come in reaching body acceptance and the profound effect this has had on my life.

After my mirror moment I had a little dig through my photos and found the below pictures. The first which I'll call the "before" was taken before a night out when I was 18 on my gap year. The second photo, the "after", was taken just a few nights ago after I'd passed my driving test (Ahhhhhhhh!).

My "before" and "afters":



There's no getting away from it; I look different.
In the "before" I'm wearing a size 8 dress and the in "after" a size 14. In the second photo I look a bit older than in the first, a tad (okay a lot) paler, less toned, I have more boobs, bigger hips etc.
Just different really.

I'm guessing these photos probably look wrong to some of you reading this, like they're not in the right order? As a society obsessed with bodily perfection we're almost conditioned to expect that the "before" photo will show an overweight, miserable woman and the "after" a sparkly, thin, happy woman.
People are quick to judge. Many would probably say I look "better" in the first photo but what people don't often see when they judge others on their appearance is what's behind the eyes of that person.

So let me tell you what's behind the eyes of my 18 year old self and the person I am today. What the "before" and  "after" of a journey towards self-acceptance looks like. 
Albeit eyes with fine lines...

The "before":
I was obsessed with my appearance. My thought process went like this: 
Do people think I'm "thin" or "fat"? Do people think I'm pretty? How many calories are in a pack of sushi? Oh my god my arse is enormous! Do men find me attractive? If I eat this yoghurt will I go over my calorie allowance for the day? Shit I need to lose 20 pounds before that party/date/my sister's wedding/I let the man I like see me naked. I wonder if I could get the fat sucked out of my bum and injected into my bee-stings? Am I tanned enough? Does my outfit look okay? Does my hair look good? Does my make-up look good? Do I look good?
Basically; am I good enough?

I was so wrapped up in my physical self I failed to make the right choices for myself and take responsibility for my own life. I was forever doing what other people thought I should do and not trusting my own intuition.
I started my degree a year after that first photo and didn't enjoy it because I had no interest or energy for anything other than my pursuit for perfection. I did fairly well in my 1st year of uni but I knew I wasn't reaching my full potential. I had no real hobbies or interests. In fact, my main hobbies were baking myself on sunbeds, applying fake tan or flicking through magazines that rated/slated celebrity bodies. I've always been lucky in that I'm surrounded with amazing people that love and support me but I feel like I neglected them. I was never really "present" in my relationships. Instead of watching my nephews play, I was probably logging my calorie allowance on myfitnesspal.

I'm not going to lie, I actually feel ashamed writing that thought stream out. I would be thoroughly ashamed for anyone who knows me now but didn't know me "before" to meet that shallow, self obsessed person; but this was my reality and is the reality of so many women. 

The "after":
I'd say the turning point came on my 21st birthday. I looked around at my loving family and friends and felt that same shame I've just mentioned. Why shame? Well because I had been so obsessed with trying to "look my best" that I honestly feel I may as well have lived those years in a coma. I lived my life in a complete and utter haze. Moments to celebrate were losing weight, moments to despair were the times I felt unattractive.

The reality of my "after", of accepting myself and my body, has been life-changing. It has enabled me to take complete charge of my life.
I changed my course at uni to something I absolutely love and am incredibly passionate about. I'm doing better in my academic work because I'm actually interested in it now. I push myself in a productive way, going for any opportunity I can take. I have real hobbies and interests now; from things as light-hearted as baking, to blogging on serious issues like the one I'm discussing right now. I think about what's going on in the world because I truly care about other human beings. I question something other than how many grams of fat are in an avocado and am capable of feeling more than guilt for not exercising that day. When I get dressed in the morning I feel good about myself, not because I'm perfect, but because I accept who I am and everything I have to offer myself and other people. My relationships are real; there's no one in my life that doesn't add something to it and vice versa. Learning to drive recently and the freedom that has brought me was the cherry on the cake. I'm always busy doing something and I love that.

My life is full now.

So why this post; what's the point? 
I assure you, it's not to look back on photos of myself because I wanted to have a little Marcia Marcia Marcia moment. In all honesty, writing this post was actually quite a painful process. Looking back through old photos, there were times where I was thinner than the 1st image above and that makes me sad. I considered including them but decided against it because I look clearly unhealthy in them and "achieved" that body type through unhealthy means; I don't want to advocate any of that on my blog. All I remember when I look at those photos is feeling "fat" and "ugly". I was convinced that if I just lost weight, everything that was wrong in my life would be sorted.

Hand on heart; if Aladdin's Genie could click his magic fingers and take me back to my physical and mental self at 18 years old I would say thanks but no thanks. In the last 5 years yes I've gained a few pounds but I've gained a lot more than that. I actually like the person I am now and finally feel comfortable in my own skin. You can't even understand how amazing that feels until you start on your own self-acceptance journey. My eyes see the world in a different way than they used to and that's because I know now that looking thinner or younger isn't going to change your life. Whilst you are in this mindset you are wasting time; precious years you will never get back.

This socially constructed idea that women should try and "go back" to times where they looked thinner or younger is absurd to me now. The reality is that you will never be as you were at 18 because we are a specie that is forever evolving; both physically and mentally.
Ageing is a natural human process and no matter how many face creams you use or face-lifts you have, you'll never look exactly as you did in the past. The same goes for your body, no diet or exercise regime can wind back the clock and give you the body you had at 18. 

All of this naturally leads to a bigger question: Why? 
Why should women be forever striving to achieve something completely impossible, essentially to go back in time? I mean when you think about it, it's completely ridiculous isn't it? We are never allowed to enjoy ourselves as we are because we should always be striving to look how we used to look or as good as someone else looks. We are never just allowed to enjoy our bodies and live our lives as they are now. 

So I say stop. Stop putting pictures of yourself when you were "thin" on your fridge as motivation to get back to how you were. Look after your skin if it that's what you want to do, but don't buy into this idea that you will somehow be more attractive the younger you look. Live every moment in the present and not the past. Enjoy your life and enjoy your body. 

Most importantly, remember that you are enough right now. 



2 comments:

  1. What an excellent post, and good for you that you've sorted this all out in your head so young! And the salesgirl who offered to 'take five years off' a 23 year old ought to be sacked - stupid woman!

    I hope you can keep this outlook your whole life - it will help you when you get to 56, like me, and have to accept that you will never look 45 again - and realise that much of getting old kind of rocks, too :)

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  2. Great post! And congratulation for you honesty! I totally get where you're coming from here... I love the fact that you love yourself!

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