From low self esteem and poor body image to becoming friends with my body and embracing it.
I love seeing so many inspiring women sharing their self confidence and helping others embrace their own bodies on social media and Instagram. It has made me stop and think about what being body positive actually means to me.
Whatever size we are, we all have our own journey with our bodies and when I look back at my own, I am finally able to accept and love my body, flaws and all. To reach this point is incredibly liberating and has increased my self confidence ten fold. I would never have had the confidence to have modelled like this when I was younger and whilst I think it has been a real shame to have wasted precious time feeling insecure in my own body, maybe this is all part of my journey and the time is right for me now.
Growing up I was always slightly chubbier than my friends at school and the size of my chest was an issue fairly early on! I do remember being called Chubby at secondary school, top that with 'specky four eyes' and its not a positive start. Don't get me wrong, I had amazing friends and enjoyed life but I do remember those feelings of not being good enough creeping in early on.
As a society we are so judgemental about looks and size; it is so unhealthy and makes me sad.
I have been what I would call 'thin' three to four times in my life, where people would tell me how great I looked now I'd lost weight, congratulating me on the 'achievement'. Once when I was a teenager after my parents got divorced, once when I got into a bad habit of making myself sick and when eating out caused me huge anxiety, once after breastfeeding and having no car so I walked literally every where (which I loved) and finally when I got divorced! Apart from one of these periods of life, the rest weren't very positive or good for my mental well being.
Fast forward to my twenties when I gave up my job and went to work as an au-pair for 6 months in Denmark aged 23. During those six months I learnt so much about myself, it was the first time I had left my home town and ventured out solo in life. I made new friends and ate too many Danish pastries washed down with plenty of beer. I came back home two stone heavier. But what has always stayed with me was sitting with a close member of family whilst they chatted on the phone discussing my return. The first comment made was about how much weight I had put on, not how well my trip had gone or things that I had experienced. At that moment I was so hurt and felt humiliated. My confidence took another tumble. How have we got to this point in society where we are so shallow that how we look defines us over our personality and life experiences?
Again in my thirties all dressed up in a black figure hugging wiggle dress for a special event I felt amazing. I went out feeling so confident and glamorous. During the course of the day a close male friend announced, in front of a line of other men that I scrubbed up well for a 'fat lass''. At that point I wanted the ground to swallow me up, I went bright red and went for a good cry in the toilets. Looking back, what actually makes me really cross is that everyone else's reaction to this was so unsupportive and I was the one that had an issue because I was 'too sensitive'. I can see clearly now that these comments were completely unnecessary and I allowed them to penetrate my own self belief when I am also sure they were forgotten about five minutes after they came out of their mouth. If only I had the inner confidence then that I have now! It is also worth noting I was a size 14 at the time which really highlights what a screwed up message people are still receiving, from the fashion industry and media, about the judgment and image of women, when the UK national average women is a size 16.
I strongly believe there is a need for more body positivity and self confidence building to be included in schools curriculum, because it is the next generations to come that have a real opportunity to change this mentality. Body activist Taryn Brumfitt's and her Body Image Movement, first started in Australia, is such a fantastic cause. If you haven't seen the Embrace documentary yet, I can highly recommend it, (finally available to buy in the UK on ITunes). I am proud to have become more involved with this and am looking forward to taking part in a live Q & A panel after a screening during York Fashion week on April 17th. Her mission is to make an Embrace education study guide, working alongside education and health specialists, accessible to all schools across the UK. The movement is already having a positive impact in schools around Australia. As a parent I would also recommend taking a look at Doves Self-Esteem Project www.dove.com
I honestly think there was not a single year between 20 to my late 30's where I didn't try a new diet at some point. Putting pressure on myself to achieve unrealistic goals, striving to feel like I 'fit in', loathing myself when I failed. It's such a vicious circle. In my late thirties I actually booked in for a breast reduction thinking this would make me feel better about myself, thank fully I didn't go through with it. It wasn't my bra size I needed to change but my mindset. I am also fully aware that my experiences will seem trivial to some women who will have experienced a lot worse, but I guess the point I am trying to make is that regardless of your size or sex or age , if you are size 0, 10, 16 or 20 we all have the right to love our bodies and society works hard to try and stop us.
Since turning forty there has been a huge transition in my own attitude and I no longer look to the scales for my self value. Two things have happened in my forties that have finally shifted the negative body image I had of myself. Firstly I embraced my natural grey hair, which I have managed since my teenage years and had every colour of the rainbow. I love my grey hair and would never change it now, it's part of me.
The second shift came in 2017, after volunteering to join a local photographer Mya Fawcett who organised a group of women to re create the Loose Women MyBodyMyStory photograph. 11 women, all strangers to me, stood in our underwear together, all different ages and sizes, all with their own body stories. I wanted to challenge myself, also I have three teenagers and I want them to be able to see their beauty and fill them with self love, challenging the medias portrayal of beauty by being a good role model. I walked out into the studio and immediatley went to my default programme of comparing myself to others and feeling very insecure.
This really hit home to me the fact that it doesn't matter what size you are, or how others may perceive you, its such a personal journey and all of equal value. A recent Dove global research report showed that ''80% of women agree that every woman has something about her that is beautiful, but do not see their own beauty''(https://www.dove.com/uk/stories/about-dove/our-research.html).
MyBodyMyStory with Loose Women
Following this photograph we ended up on Loose Women live in our underwear, since then nothing phases me! I have gone on to model swimwear with Ashley Graham and Swimsuitsforall, Lingerie for Panache and I am keen to continue flying the flag for the 40+ women in being body positive and embracing our years. Women in todays society are put under so much pressure from a young age to look a certain way, when in fact we should be embracing our individuality and judging others a lot less. I don't want to be written off because I am over forty and curvy, I'm just getting started!
Rachel Peru with Swimsuitsforall in the Bahamas.
Panache Lingerie 'I AM' campaign
Yes I have a large chest, my waist is a little bit wider than it used to be, my front teeth overlap, I wear varifocal glasses, I have cellulite and stretch marks. Shock, horror!
In the last ten years my body has got me through a 1/2 half marathon, 2 Great North Swims in Lake Windermere, cycling from London to Brighton, the 127 miles Leeds to Liverpool canal route and two sky dives. I am also immensely grateful that my body gave me three wonderful children, I am fit and healthy, loved and in love. I have a great smile and am a happy person loving life.
What do you love about yourself? Start that list.......
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