We hear a lot about “embracing your flaws” these days but no-one tells you how hard that really is.
Like many other women, I’ve spent a lot of time and money investing in my appearance from a young age.
Obsessing over every minute flaw and breaking myself down into parts, my fine hair which will never be straight and smooth, my fluctuating weight, my fair skin.
But I thought I’d gotten over most of that once I got past my mid-20s and got more comfortable in my own skin.
Last year, I realised I was putting on weight and decided to do something about it. Then I broke my ankle badly and was on crutches for four months.
Suddenly, losing the half a stone I’d acquired went out the window, as I could no longer walk, nevermind do cardio, and I wasn’t exactly a gym-worshipper beforehand.
I had only gained a small amount of weight but that half a stone made me feel so unhappy and unattractive. (I know many other people would be delighted to be size 10-12 and nine stone, yet I couldn’t stop giving myself a hard time)
Every time I couldn’t fit into a tight skirt or felt a waistband dig in, I berated myself.
Over the summer, I developed an unhealthy obsession with losing weight, fitting into old clothes and my body shape.
I went from being pretty comfortable with my body to actively hating it.
I spent hours obsessing about my cellulite and pot belly, counting calories, lifting hand weights, staring at my belly and body-brushing (with an actual brush, we’ll get to the other kind of body-brushing soon).
All to no avail, as I wasn’t active, I just couldn’t lose the weight.
And I was spending even more time than normal on social media, looking at other women who had the “ideal” body shape, curvy bum, tiny waist, toned figure.
I know that only I am responsible for how I interpret something I see online.
I know that many people edit and airbrush their bodies, shapes and faces and to be honest, I don’t blame them, as long as they aren’t selling products on the back of this.
I know that others spend hours working out and sticking to a strict diet in order to maintain their amazing bodies and I admire that kind of dedication.
I’ve even used the airbrushing apps myself at times, not to any extremes, but I’ve touched up my skin, whitened my teeth, softened cellulite, cropped photos to show a more flattering image etc.
If you look closely, you’ll see I softened my cellulite on my legs, blurred back fat, cropped out my lovely orthopaedic boot and threw on a filter!
Of course, I was never going to share an ugly picture of my big black boot on Instagram, after all it’s an aesthetic platform and I’m always going to share the most flattering photo possible.
But looking at my photo again…was it really so bad? I’m not crazy about sharing this photo but it’s one way of proving my point.
I’ve even attempted to slim myself down on occasion but the efforts were distorted and I thought ‘who am I fooling?’
I hated the photo on the left below because I looked quite heavy in it but I’d just eaten a three-course meal at a wedding and my posture is terrible due to standing on one leg!
I remember trying to photoshop my body and even soften the veins in the hand – and I’m cringing at it now.
In the photo on the left, you can see I brightened the photo and I think I may have altered my body ever so slightly.
I feel ashamed now that I tried to alter my photos but thankfully the results looked so ridiculous, I wasn’t tempted to try again.
Here’s two different photos of me in the same playsuit, three years apart.
In the first photo, I look quite thin and leggy, while the second is less flattering, my face is fatter and my legs look bigger.
But the first one was taken in 2014 after my dad’s sudden death. I found the loss very hard to cope with.
So although I was very skinny, it was down to the emotional stress I was going through.
An Instagram version of this second photo exists, but I thought I’d share the unfiltered one.
While I might have been struggling with my body image in the second photo, I was much happier (and having a better holiday).
While looking at airbrushed and distorted photoshopped images may have given us a false sense of reality, I can’t really blame any woman who chooses to alter an image.
Having said that, I am 30, younger more impressionable people may be more susceptible to believing the ‘fake’ image.
There’s a lot of hand-wringing and “won’t someone think of the children” dialogue around social media but I grew up before social media and I’m still plagued with body image issues.
I didn’t even have Instagram till 2014 so I can’t exactly blame that either!
From talking to many other young women, of all shapes and sizes, I’ve learned that most of us have been through a phase of disliking or hating our bodies. And for some, it’s not a phase, it’s a lifelong obsession.
Maybe it’s an Irish thing but the self-deprecation is ingrained so deeply in us we don’t know how to leave it behind.
When I was a child, I remember my mother telling me my hair was like “rats’ tails”. She didn’t mean it in a bad way, but I grew up hating my hair and also my height, which she also often referred to.
No caring mother like mine would ever mean to cause her daughter to doubt herself and yet that’s exactly what happened.
There has been a lot of discussion about heavy-handed editing and airbrushing lately but I can only talk for myself and share my own experiences.
I’m only responsible for myself and only I can change how I feel about myself.
Almost a year on, I’m now swimming a couple of times a week and eating a balanced diet. I’ve lost a little weight and can fit into some of my old clothes again but I’m still healthy and more importantly, happy.
I still love Instagram and a good takeaway but I’ve deleted the airbrush app from my phone and I haven’t touched a body-brush of any description in months.
I’m not going to say that I “love” my flaws because that’s trite and doesn’t ring true for me.
Instead, I’m learning to accept myself for who I am, a 30-year-old woman who is so much more than just her physical appearance.
As the India Arie song goes: “I am not my hair, I am not this skin, I am the soul that lives within”.
PS – this is a great piece about cellulite by Sunday Times Beauty writer India Knight.