Thoughts on body image, airbrushing, photoshopping and Instagram

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!

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The unedited version of my photo

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.

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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).

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The terrace complemented my dinner outfit.

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.

Thanks for reading,  if you would like to follow me on social media,  check out my InstagramTwitter and Facebook page.

Edel

Confidence, courage and community: What 4 years of blogging has taught me

When I began my blog in 2013, I was so broke, I didn’t even have a smartphone, never mind a camera or any other blogging equipment.

I had a part-time job which I didn’t like very much and as I’d moved to Dublin from Galway a few months beforehand, I didn’t know many people in Dublin.

I had a lot of free time and needed an inexpensive hobby to entertain myself with.

I thought about starting a blog years before but was afraid to “put myself out there.” Eventually I decided to just go for it, because I had nothing to lose.

I soon realised blogging was rekindling my passion for writing and it made me feel excited.

I’d completed a psychology degree in 2010 but since leaving college, I’d floundered.

I had done some subbing in a school for autistic children and I also worked in a summer camp for special needs children abroad but I found the work very emotionally draining and was deeply unhappy.

When I started my blog in 2013, I was working in retail but that certainly wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life.

When I began blogging, I found it helped me in various aspects of my life.

 1.Confidence

Although I am very outgoing and have never had problems making friends or chatting to strangers, I sometimes suffer from a lack of confidence in myself and my own ideas and opinions.

At this point in my life, I would go out of my way to avoid talking about my personal life with other people, as I didn’t want them to know I worked in retail and wasn’t as successful as some of my friends.

I was also suffering from extreme anxiety, particularly at work. After enduring severe bullying in a previous job, I found myself unable to articulate myself properly to managers in work.

I would find my hands shaking during routine work meetings or speaking to managers one-on-one.

When someone criticised my work, I would take it very personally and feel as though I was being bullied again.

Once I began my blog, I had something I enjoyed talking about and I gradually began to feel more confident in myself and my own abilities.

I still struggle with anxiety and low self-esteem from time to time like many people, but blogging helped me regain a lot of the confidence I was missing.

2. Career

When I was younger, I was determined to have a creative career. Being from a rural background, there was a lot of pressure to go down a traditional route, like primary school teaching.

I cannot tell you how many times people tried to dissuade me from pursuing my interests and tried to steer me towards teaching. (No shade to all the amazing teachers but I would have made a REALLY terrible teacher!)

Ever since I was a young child, I loved fashion and art and hoped to pursue fashion design. After spending the year after Leaving Cert doing an art portfolio course, I wasn’t quite so sure and decided to study psychology instead.

However, once I began writing about fashion, I knew I had found something I really wanted to do.

It also rekindled my interest in writing about other topics and media in general. I began to write other pieces for online magazines and really enjoyed it.

A few months after I began my blog, I realised I wanted to do a postgraduate course in journalism.

It took another two and a half years for me to get my act together and save the money and while it was extremely tough, it was also the best thing I ever did.

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I’m now working as a digital journalist and while I’m now 29 and slightly older than some of my colleagues, I also have experience in other areas on my CV.

Before I found my current position, I had applied for a LOT of jobs and at the interviews, the interviewers were always curious about my blog.

It certainly helped me get a previous internship and my current job and I am very grateful for that.

3. Community & Friendship

At first, I used to just tweet my blog link into cyberspace or sometimes share on my own personal Facebook page.

Needless to say, I didn’t get many clicks, apart from a few from curious friends.

I joined several blogging groups on Facebook, including the Irish Bloggers Group. Here I found an amazing community of bloggers, blogging about diverse topics and openly sharing personal experiences, such as mental and physical health problems, relationships and bereavements.

I learned many tips from other bloggers here and all about the basics of blogging. What I didn’t know, I researched.

Then in 2015, I met some blogging friends in real life. I’d joined Girlcrew and noticed a post about forming a blogging meetup group.

The day I met my blogging friends sticks out in my mind for several reasons.

Earlier that day, I’d been to an inquest into my dad’s sudden death a year before. It was a very sad and difficult day and I thought about skipping the meetup.

But once I got there and met the founder Sinead (SineadSocial) and the other bloggers, I was so excited to chat to other people about blogging and share blogging tips and stories.

I left feeling happy and I’ve gone on to become good friends with other bloggers.

They are Sinead, who coaches other bloggers on starting a blog, social media and blogging resources, Kathryn (ViolinKit), who shares my love for vintage clothes and thrifty finds and Ciara (Irish Travel Key), who is passionate about travelling abroad and day trips in Ireland.

Then there’s Martina (From the tiny flat), who blogs about healthy eating, exercise and training on her blog, Senan (Oakleaf Adventure) who blogs all about outdoor life and Eadaoin (Firechild Photography) who is an avid photographer.

Meeting these people was crucial to my enjoyment and knowledge of blogging.

I’ve also connected with some lovely fellow bloggers online who I’ve never met but enjoy their content.

My blogging journey has been very positive in general but I have experienced some jealousy and resentment at times. Blogging can also be lonely, so having a supportive group of blogger friends makes all the difference.

I’m so glad I have my blogging friends and I’d recommend anyone who wants to learn more about blogging to join the Girlcrew Bloggers.

4. Perseverance

There were several times in my life when I felt like abandoning my blog. I was filled with self-doubt when I compared my humble blog to that of prolific bloggers. I had thoughts like “I’m no good at this”, “no-one will be interested” and “I don’t have enough followers.”

Counting followers, clicks and hits and comparing your blog to that of others will only make you unhappy. If you admire another blogger, see what you can learn from them but never try to copy their content.

It’s good to keep track of your followers and hits on your blog so you can assess what type of content your readers enjoy most but don’t let that take over.

In 2014 I contemplated completly abandoning my blog. My dad had just died and I hadn’t posted in several months. I was very upset for months afterwards and I found daily life a massive struggle.

I found it hard that life around me was still going on as normal while my life seemed so empty and sad.

Gradually I began posting again and although I was still dealing with the bereavement for many months afterwards, it helped having something I still cared about.

I’m so glad I didn’t give up on my blog as it proved crucial in helping me find work in the INSANELY tough media industry.

While my blog is still quite small, it fills a huge part of my life.

It’s a hobby, something I can put on my CV, it has taught me so many skills I never would’ve learned on my own (SEO, basic code, basic photography etc.) and I’ve also enjoyed some moderate success.

In the first year of my blog, I made the long-list for the Irish Blog Awards and in 2015 and 2016, I was delighted to be shortlisted for Best Fashion category.

I’ve also had the pleasure of attending some amazing events and meeting interesting people in the worlds of blogging, PR and media at these.

I used to think I couldn’t blog because I didn’t have the best equipment or loads of money for clothes and I have a tendency to look awkward in photos.But in reality, it was only my own fear holding me back.

I can never keep a straight face while posing for a photo so if I take an #OOTD it’s usually with a big cheesy grin on my face.

Although the world of fashion blogging can be competitive, I’ve found my niche with thrifty style.

Hope you all enjoyed this post and thanks for bearing with me on this one.

Don’t forget to check out my InstagramTwitter and Facebook page here.

Edel