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  • Kam Birdee-Wright

Body image - it's not marmite how I HATED my body

Updated: Sep 27, 2018

‘We’re expected to be perfect, like Barbie dolls or something, and if we don’t then we get bullied.’ Girl, Secondary school age*


‘The girls feel pressured by the boys that they should look a particular way and that leads girls into depression or low self-esteem and makes girls feel ugly or worthless.’

Girl, Secondary school age*


Body image is a huge challenge for many females all around the world, and media continues to post images of slim, attractive ‘perfect’ role models who are paid to advertise clothing, footwear, accessories, food, drinks, health products, toiletries, sanitary ware and most things one would need for everyday life, including appliances.


Attempting to fit into this constricting identity portrayed by media and celebrities, especially as a young girl, can be incredibly debilitating, stressful, emotionally and mentally draining and can lead to depression, sickness, hormonal imbalances and low self-esteem, lack of self-confidence and a lack of authenticity.


1 in 4 girls self-harm. *


I was once like many women and girls now, who have challenges with their body image.


Maybe you are one of them too.


When I was a teenager, I was conscious of my body. I remember being around 11, and my Mum taking me to the doctors as I was having pains in my chest. The Doctor, Dr Wearne (a gaunt looking man) examined my chest and told my Mum, ‘her breasts are forming, and her body is going through changes’. Oh lawdy, I can still see it now! I was embarrassed, so incredibly embarrassed and being a shy and timid young girl, I wanted the earth to open beneath my feet and take me away. My face was red, and my heart was beating fast and I couldn’t wait to get dressed.


Following this, Mum took me shopping for my first bra. Oh, my goodness! As if it wasn’t bad enough speaking to the doctor, I now had to go buy a bra with Mum and hide my embarrassment from the shop keeper. I can remember it well. It was white, pretty with lace detail (probably why I love lace so much now).


How was it for you?


I was so self-conscious. So incredibly self-conscious that if I was teased, I found it hurtful and cried and withdrew. I have cried a lot in my life.


We didn’t dress in front of each other as children either, I used to hide myself when I dressed as a girl. And, I hated my body. My bra was worn every day, for me then, you had to hide your breasts, for if they were seen by another you were dirty. No one talked about the vagina. That was dirty too.


I didn’t even know what its purpose was, outside of urinating and menstruating. Talking about such things was shameful. Therein began my journey of my body of shame.


Can you imagine being ashamed of your body?


So where is this blog going? My friend Antonia, the owner of lovely business called Mermaid in England, which creates colour changing swim wear for women and girls to enhance and embrace body confidence, asked me in the Springtime, if I would appear in a photo shoot to show body confidence to women, especially as a British Asian (dislike that term) woman.


Whilst ordinarily, being an advocate of inner beauty, I would jump at the chance to show confidence and self-esteem to young women, but I declined. Why?


The consequences of an image of me in a gorgeous bikini may bring shame on to my family.


And this inspired me to write a blog about it.


How can I be an advocate of something, if I haven’t experienced it? Here’s the platform to share my experiences, right? Read on.


In my experience of the Indian culture, there were 3 things about body image I grew up with:


1. respect your modesty.

2. hide your body.

3. feel great in Indian clothes.

4. shame.


I hated my body.


I knew nothing about how to appreciate and love my body. I knew nothing about the mechanisms and workings of the body. In my world, my body was me and I was told I was fat and ugly, therefore, I was unlovable, unacceptable, unwanted, unworthy and a waste of space. Especially as I was a female. Yep, especially as I was female.


Culturally, even though, woman wear the trousers in the house, my Mum was not necessarily respected, loved and cherished for her role and the nurturing she bought to her family and extended family.


My Mum is a trooper and has experienced a great deal of sadness and sorrow, however, she didn’t know much about life herself and coming from the Punjab, India, as teenager, together with being married with her first child at 16, she had no strong, loving and compassionate female role models to help her grow as an individual or know how to simply love and accept herself. Body image was not something which was discussed in her family, especially as her Mum had died when she was very young.


She was and is very strong, but her upbringing was that of the old culture in being a housewife and serving the husband and family, which she continues to do now, but through choice instead of expectancy.


However, even though she knew no different, that was not the way I wanted to be raised, and at that time, I had no way of communicating this. I loved her no less. I had sisters, but, they were not the greatest role models for me.


I was bullied throughout school. I couldn’t fit in. I hated taking my clothes off after PE and the dreaded communal showers, where we wrapped the towel around our bodies and splashed our shoulders and legs. Heaven forbid the PE Teacher coming to check in on us and we had to take off the towel. That was awful! Especially as I was bang in the middle of puberty. Gosh, we even dressed with the towel wrapped around ourselves, so the other girls couldn’t see our lumps and bumps.


Throughout my early years, right up until the age of 33, I had huge challenges with my body. I experienced anorexia and bulimia and my negative self-talk was then, the self-harm. More on these in another blog.


Unlike some of our cousins who wore trousers and weren’t allowed to show their legs, our parents let us wear skirts and dresses. In fact, one of my happiest memories was that of my 10th birthday. My Mum was and is a fantastic seamstress, and she made me a most beautiful lilac, satin dress with puffed up short sleeves. I can see myself now, as I jumped off a small wall and the skirt of the dress came down like an open umbrella. The feel of satin was cool and soft against my skin and I loved twirling in it. I felt so deeply loved, cherished and grateful. But this was before puberty. I may ask Mum to make me another one.


Mum bought or made most of the clothes for us girls and we were presentable.

As a teenager, I used to hide behind my clothes and big, plastic-framed NHS spectacles. With the onset of acne and the bullying at school, cheese grater head was yet another nickname I endured.


The worst advice I was given by an Aunt, was to put a face cream, by ponds, on my skin. That made it worse. I was uneducated in skin care and didn’t have the internet and information available today to know how hormones worked and the difference between oily, combination and dry skin and the do’s and don’ts of skin creams/moisturisers. She was an elder, and you did what they said.


As you may well imagine, with a greasy face and acne, I felt even uglier than before.

I didn’t wear make-up - save the bright lipsticks which didn’t suit me - when I went to work at 16, which I wiped off before I got home. Yes, I did that. Most girls did. And that was ok.


But at weddings and celebrations, we liked to dress up. Most Indians/Asians like to dress up. We like the bright and vibrant colours, the sequins, beads and most of all the bling which brings the outfit to life. Wearing beautiful hand stitched clothes made me feel good and Mum made all our Indian costumes. We looked the best. She would spend hours and hours learning something new and gifted with an innate ability to see something and recreate it. We were incredibly blessed, and grateful as we strutted our stuff.


There was no need to strip off for body confidence, our clothes were a statement and were worn confidently. I felt good in beautifully made costumes. Even though I enjoyed wearing our Punjabi clothes at home or out and about to local shops, I/we faced much racism. So, we stopped wearing them locally and kept them for home or special occasions.


Yet even though I was wearing beautiful, hand-made clothes of raw silk, chiffon, crepe and satin, I still didn’t feel confident in my body. I still didn’t like my body and I still hid my body.


It’s amazing how our negative beliefs about ourselves can stop us celebrating our individuality.


Mental Health


Depression began at 19 when I was made redundant from my job and I began to withdraw from life. I stepped out of that bout of depression when I was 20. I had been so unhappy in my body and life, that eating a chocolate bar for breakfast was quite normal. But the depression was a catalyst and as I came through the other side of it, I began to take notice of what I was doing.


I began martial arts classes, ate healthily and noticed the weight shifting. I think I went from a size 14 to a size 10. But, I also ate meal replacements - we’ll keep that for another blog.


My life changed dramatically when I left home at 22, (that’s another story too, which will be written in my forthcoming book ‘Born in England-Still an Indian’). I remained a size 10 and worked very hard to create a life away from my family and went from job to job, staying no more than 2.5 years. With a slimmer body, I could wear shorts and mini-skirts (I have nice legs) and went through a phase of wearing orange.


In my world, I was my body and my body looked and hid better when clothed. And with a slimmer body, I then felt I may be accepted by a guy who may want a relationship with me; or may want to settle down with me and lest I be brutally honest, he may love my body, and this would hide my ugliness.


But he didn’t, and I still didn’t like or love my body. I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. I know there are many females who find it a challenge to do this too.


This non-body-love continued throughout my twenties and into my thirties.


The shift happened after I had major surgery at the age of 32. I had been lying on a hospital bed, doped up with morphine, following tremendous pain in my lower abdomen. It felt like lightning spasms through my abdomen. I was told by a Consultant Gynaecologist that I would never be able to be a biological Mother. My whole world had fallen apart in that moment.


What was the point of living? What was the point of having a menstrual cycle, if I wasn’t going to bear any fruits as result? I might as well be dead.


What was an incredibly painful and traumatic time of my life, became a most powerful spiritual awakening.


I had 2 choices:


1. listen to the Consultant and his belief

2. or tap into my own self-belief and prove him wrong.


I chose the latter as I had control over my life and I wanted to take back the control from any medics. If I could leave my family home to start a new life alone, I could do this too.


I embarked on a deep journey of self-realisation which intertwined with 4 aspects of my limited, negative beliefs and conditioning:


· self-love

· self-acceptance

· self-esteem

· self-confidence


Over 13 years, I studied and qualified in many different complimentary therapies, mindset tools and energy healing systems to heal and love my own body and better understand the mind, body, spirit connection. I changed my attitude towards food and understood the foods which supported and depleted me. The inner work shifted the negative beliefs I had about myself.


I became fit and healthy and deeply appreciated and understood my body which I knew would one day, naturally conceive my child. And I deeply loved my body when I was pregnant too!


What I can share through my own personal growth when it comes to body image and what you think you know about your body, is this:


· You are not your body.

· Your body is a vehicle to enable your journey in this life time.

· It will fluctuate in size and frame though different phases of your life.

· Your body has the power and ability to heal itself through the power of your mind and your heart.

· You have one body in this lifetime – love it.

· Your negative self-talk is what is embedded in your cellular memory about yourself.

· Your body wants to be loved.

· Wear whatever makes you feel good.

· The media industry is there to make money.


If you are telling your body you love it, but don’t feel it, stop. Start by liking one thing about your body, maybe your eyes; your nose; ears; fingers; toes; knees; bottom; belly button; armpits; eyelashes, whatever feels right for you and tell yourself you love/like this part of yourself often. Increase this to another part of your body and build it up.


Stop comparing yourself to others. You are unique, we all are, own your uniqueness.


Models/actors get paid to dress/look the way they look, it’s their job and their choice – yet they may not be happy inside. You also have a choice.


If there’s something you don’t like about your body, either accept it or change it, and do your best connect with it on some level.


I absolutely love, love, love my body and this feels good and warm in my heart. My inner beauty glows and radiates outwards through every cell of my being and this, in my world, is self-love and self-acceptance.


I happily wear bikini’s or swimsuits on the beach as I choose to celebrate my body than hide it, plus I get awfully hot, sweaty and stifled in the sun and my skin needs to breathe. It is important for my children to also love their bodies too and being an advocate for this is my duty as a parent.


It’s ok to love your body and you don’t need to take your clothes off, but if you want to, do so, respect your modesty and celebrate your skin, it’s your largest organ.


Self-acceptance, self-esteem, self-love and self-confidence are 4 areas I specialise in, your journey to freedom, starts with you.


With love and gratitude


Kam Birdee-Wright

Catalyst for Change

Unlocking your Limitless Potential

www.kambirdee.com

*Children’s Society


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