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I’ve never been one to follow trends. At school I tried to keep up with the latest fashion must-haves such as the Globe or DC trainers everyone seemed to wear during the entire first and second year of secondary school; the trainers that made your feet look huge and the only way to wear them without getting picked on was to tuck the laces down the side which in turn, meant constantly stabbing your foot with the hard bits that kept the laces from unravelling, as you shuffled along trying to keep them on your feet. Or the rucksack that had to be a specific surf brand such as Ripcurl or Quiksilver, you’d wear it so low down your back that when you walked, it bounced against your bum meaning you could be heard walking a mile away as your Helix Oxford math set and tin bashed against your spine.

But apart from the occasional trend I’d jump onboard with to make sure I had friends during school, growing up I was never one to fall in line with the silly fashion statements magazines constantly promoted, or spend too much time trawling the rails after rails of identical looking tops and skirts that littered every single clothing store. I was more excited about receiving the hand-me-downs my older cousin, who I wanted to be like, would begrudgingly throw at me. Or the box of goodies my mum would bring home from the charity shop which I would rush to rifle through before my younger sister to make sure I got the best bits. I remember being so proud of the bright orange and blue flannel top which had a Bart Simpson motif on the front, and the rainbow striped leggings I paired with a lime green t-shirt from a part of Spain I’d never visited before.

Now in my 30’s I’m pretty much the same, except I now experiment with clothes that suit my shape, rather than wearing anything I liked the look of on the hanger, even if it was twelve sizes too big for me. As much as I tried to not fall in line with fashion trends during my early twenties, I still went through a stage where I cared incredibly deeply about what other people thought of me. I would follow like a clueless sheep what my college or uni friends would wear, but I never felt like I’d found my identity or a ‘style’ which suited me until about 4-5 years ago. In actual fact, it was turning 30 when I stopped giving too many hoots about what I should or shouldn’t be wearing to fit in with other people, and finally found an identity to match my personality.

“As a woman, I believe you have to embrace your body, and feel beautiful both inside and out.” Tamara Ecclestone

These days you’ll more or less find me in walking boots, a sports bra and various waterproof jackets. I don't tend to have a specific style, it all depends on where my mood takes me that morning; one day I can be in a floaty dress and biker boots, the next a pair of jeans and a scruffy rock band tee. The only thing to be continuous in my 'style' are my eyeliner flicks! Recently, through losing two stone, I have gained the confidence to start wearing short shorts (well, short as in still covers my arse) and tighter t-shirts that show off my curves, rather than the baggy dresses and jumpers I’d buy specifically to cover my lumps and bumps. I’ve not always been a confident person with how I look and from my late teens, regularly seemed to be the 'bigger' friend or carried a little extra weight that fortunately, through being tall I could disguise with the clothes I wore and the smile I plastered on my face. But as much as I smiled and acted confident on the outside, inside I was always thinking about the best way to sit to hide the tummy rolls, or crossing my legs a certain way to make them look slimmer, or finding ways of standing to shrink my height and be less conspicuous, and sucking my tummy in when a photo was taken. Changing room mirrors gave me unpleasant shudders and the thought of trying anything on used to terrify me. I am my own worst enemy and harshest critic, yet when it comes to anyone else criticising their own body, I am the first person to defend them and tell them they are beautiful exactly how they are.

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” Buddha

After a testing time at the end of 2019, a difficult start to 2020 and then the world being thrown into lockdown, I decided it was about time to pull my walking socks up and do something about my unhealthy relationship with my own body image.

Body positivity (bopo) seems to be on the rise and I’m seeing so many wonderful posts of women on social media embracing their curves and enjoying their bodies. I wanted to feel that way too and although I’m not saying shedding two stone has cured my body dysmorphia, because it hasn’t, it will always be a work in progress; feeling positive about yourself is a mindset and can’t be found by just losing weight. But feeling fitter and healthier, as well as approaching food with a more positive outlook, has definitely improved my feelings of the body shame I carried around with me for most of my life.

So what did I do to start my body positive journey?

The first thing I had to do was ensure I was starting out with the right frame of mind. I needed to make sure I was doing it for all the right reasons so I wouldn’t stumble at the first hurdle and regress back into old habits. I used to be a binge eater as a kid/teenager and spent many unhappy nights under my duvet gorging my way through anything I could find in the kitchen cupboards. I even did the classic put it in the bin to stop myself from eating it, but then ten minutes later would take it out of the bin because it was all I could think about. I became sneaky with my eating and for the longest time, had such an unhealthy relationship with food. It became my everything; comfort, celebration, reward, a cure for loneliness and a friend when I was scared. It’s a hard habit to break when food is literally the very thing that kept me going, but also the very thing that consumed me entirely, creating so much unhappiness. I have tried every diet you can think of, but that's where I was going wrong. Calling it a diet was already setting me up for failure. I will never be naturally slim, I will always have to work at it and rather than dieting, I’ve adjusted to the fact it is a lifestyle change, not just a quick fix. I had to ensure, before I started the journey, I was prepared for the long haul. And after several years of yo-yo dieting I had reached a point in my life where I was ready to break out of the bad habits, and create a new positive way of being happy with my body.

Walking is a huge factor to my weight loss and healthier way of living. Rather than reaching for several packets of crisps, I will take myself out for a walk around the block. I have been walking with Cornish Ramblings for over four years and although it has definitely contributed to me losing a little weight over those last few years, it has only been latterly I've been using walking as exercise and not just something I do as a hobby. I have cut back the snacking and introduced different foods that bring me more fulfillment. I have swapped junk food for healthier snacks and although I have a sweet tooth and still crave chocolate, rather than a (large!) bar of Cadbury’s, I will go for a square of dark chocolate as an alternative. Instead of sweets, I will have almonds or dried fruit. I set myself a realistic goal and didn’t allow myself any naughty treats until I reached it, and then slowly introduced them back in, but in a much more controlled manner.

I still want to enjoy my life and this includes meals out with friends and family, crisps and dip when watching a film and all the carbs when I’m hormonal. There is no secret to success, there are no magic pills or a diet you can do to create happiness and body positivity. It all begins with how you view yourself and doing things that make you happy. For me that includes walking every day from anywhere between 4 and 10 miles, finding a hobby that gives me a purpose, making small changes to my life if something or someone isn't making me smile, eating a varied but balanced diet, still enjoying carbs and sugar, and learning to love my imperfections.

I have cellulite which for years I tried to scrub away, but cellulite is natural in women so rather than trying to banish a part of what makes me a woman, I have slowly learnt to embrace it. It has always been trial and error, trying to find what fits in order to live a healthy lifestyle. But now I have found inner peace with my body, the rest seems to flow naturally.

“Feeling beautiful has nothing to do with what you look like.’ Emma Watson

I still have days when all I want to do is grab all the food I can from the cupboards and sneak upstairs for a gorge-fest, but instead of letting that take over me I instead work out why I am feeling the urge to binge, and tackle this rather than giving into temptation. Usually it’s boredom which is where walking helps significantly because I have a reason and a purpose to get up and go outside. I allow myself days off and don’t beat myself up for choosing chips instead of salad. But I know, because my mindset is much stronger these days, the following day I will instead choose a salad over chips.

The moral of the story is this; you can only be happy with how you are on the outside if you are happy on the inside. It took me 34 years to finally realise this. I am not a finished product, I will always be a work in progress. I will have ebbs and flows and I will struggle on days when all I want to do is face plant an entire cheesecake. Hormones can trigger bad habits, a significant life change could mean I deviate off the healthy eating, my mental health could get knocked and the last thing I want to do is eat a plate of broccoli...anything could happen to test my strength. But this is why I know it's a lifestyle change and not just a temporary fix, and that is why I am working more on my way of thinking - breaking down all my flaws, turning them into positives where I can, not being hard on myself if one day I am not as strong and most importantly, ensuring I am grateful for the body I have.

“Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.” Coco Chanel

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