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Love Your Body Week: Catherine’s Story

September 4, 2019

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It’s Love Your Body Week! 💙 

This week is a Butterfly Foundation initiative and aims to raise awareness of body image concerns and to promote body confidence in all Australians by celebrating body diversity. ⁠

Our speaker Catherine from South Australia shares her story.

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Did you always feel the way you do now about your body? 

My biggest struggle has been with body image. This started as young as 10 years old. I remember thinking I had a bigger stomach and thighs and that I was fat and fat was something that was disgusting and to be avoided. I was also a girl who hit puberty quite early and I know now, from the research, that girls who hit puberty early are at a higher risk for mental health and body image issues and I definitely fell into this category! I remember I felt really uncomfortable about my body being bigger and more womanly in comparison to my peers. I also grew up in a heavily conservative Christian environment that taught me messages around modesty and that I had a responsibility to others to cover up my body at all times to avoid unwanted attention. I definitely felt a lot confusion and shame about my body as a result of this.

When I headed into my teens, I developed unhealthy beliefs around weight-loss and eating. On one hand, I was being told at church to “cover my body up for others” and then the next day to be told by social influencers to “lose weight so I can show off my body for others”! Talk about confusing!

It was very normal for my friends and I to discuss methods of losing weight and praising each other for it when we succeeded even if these methods were dangerous. I would see the popular girls at school and think that if I too controlled my diet and exercised, I would have what they had: boys who liked me and girls who would want to be friends with me and that would give me happiness. Reflecting back, I feel so much for my teenage self because I honestly had so much going for me but I was only obsessed about weight. I was smart, creative, funny and incredibly musical but I was so consumed about my body and how it was perceived by others. I did not realise the standard I had set for myself was unsustainable and impossible and I became very depressed and miserable as a result for a very long time.

What helped you to accept your body?

I learnt how to accept my body through a process of unlearning the hateful beliefs I had picked up towards my body. I feel like this process began when I was 17. I was having a rough time at school. Boys were saying things about my body that made me feel powerless. I stumbled across this spoken word poem by Savannah Brown called What guys look for in girls. Her expression of her own experience with body image was one I could connect with powerfully, and for the first time I began to see where all this was coming from: society. This was the first step towards healing my relationship with my body.

After this, I spent time researching body image issues, listening to talks and following social media accounts that I could relate to and learn from. Through this, I realised I had internalised so many messages about my body not belonging to myself. I began to realise my body was my home, a vessel to experience life through and it deserved to be treated with compassion, gentleness and acceptance just as it is by me. Again, as I mentioned before, I grew up in a conservative Christian environment so I also began to unlearn messages that I had to dress in a certain way to avoid unwanted attention. I began to learn that it was okay to dress how I wanted regardless of my shape and that became incredibly freeing and empowering.

Learning that my own relationship with my body is the most important relationship and the only one that mattered was how I began to accept my body. My body is my own.

Is there anything you do to look after your body that helps you to feel good?

Absolutely! I really try to tune in to what my body is wanting from me. If I am feeling run down and tired, I might pamper myself with a bubble bath, face mask and paint my nails. I eat and fuel my body when it needs it. It might mean getting dressed up for social events and wearing something I feel empowered in and taking photos. I love moving my body so I tune in to what that means on the day. It may be going to the gym and lifting weights or going for a gentle walk and yoga or even having a rest day. All this really honours my body and creates self-acceptance for myself.

Do you have any tips for how to stop negative self-talk?

Talking about it to a loved one. We live in a world that is constantly telling us we are not good enough and capitalises off us wanting to change our bodies so you can literally aim to love yourself but I still struggle occasionally. When I cannot find the me that loves me, I look to my support network, particularly a close friend and  tell them, “Hey, I am being really hard on myself and struggling with how I see my body, could you remind me of my worth today because I can’t see it right now?” That is always a way that helps me. I also love to journal and sometimes I write lists of things I like about myself, physically and mentally to interrupt that negative self-talk.

What would you say to your younger self if you could go back in time?

That you are a phenomenal and beautiful woman, inside and out and absolutely nothing needs to change. What matters most is what you think about your body, no one else, and that so many people love you and will love you and it never has anything to do with weight.

Are there any Instagram accounts you follow that make you feel good about your body?

Yes! I am obsessed with Jameela Jamil’s account (@jameelajamilofficial). I found her so relatable and authentic, and she helps me accept myself. I also found @beauty_redefined really great too to just give myself permission to be accepting of my body!

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If this story has brought up strong feelings for you, please contact the Butterfly Foundation National Helpline on 1800 33 4673.