Our relationship with our bodies is a complicated thing. It’s not ‘just in our heads’ – it’s a complex interplay of many factors. TV shows, the internet, social media, peer pressure, magazines, airbrushing. All guaranteed to cause somebody to feel pressure to be someone else that they’re not.
All these external pressures enforce the idea that men have to be toned, muscular, beefy creatures, and women have to be thin, tanned and have large breasts and a large behind. But is that the reality for the 99%? Of course not! Have I fallen victim to the idea that this muscular, toned and tanned frame is expected of me? Yes, I’ve fallen hard.
I’ve never thought I’m beautiful, never thought I’m anything special to look at, never been confident in my own skin. I’m fully aware that I’m definitely not overweight, but I’ve always felt inadequate compared to others. I used to swim regularly, and I judged my body by comparing it to the other people in my swimming club – I didn’t look like them. They may have had six-packs and big, muscular arms, and I felt horribly insufficient.
When I became a lifeguard later in life, I always felt like I just wasn’t good enough in comparison to the others on the team. I looked at myself – I didn’t have big muscles like the others, I wasn’t a regular gym goer, I was just me. My physical appearance didn’t affect my job, but it made me feel like it would do. In fact, I had one of the swimming teachers tell me they thought I was putting on weight. What a thing to knock someone whilst they’re down, hey? Even though I didn’t have a great amount of self-esteem, I felt like someone had just attached a lump of lead to my self-esteem whilst it was skydiving. I hated looking at myself after getting out of the shower.
I definitely know that the Baywatch image of lifeguards is completely false, however I almost felt pressured to be like that whilst at work. I would scroll Instagram and see men who were strong, muscular, in the prime of their fitness. Seeing these things should make me feel good for these people: well done you, for making yourself feel confident. Instead, it made me feel incomplete and weak. But why? I don’t know these people, they aren’t saying anything to me about my body, and I will never meet them. I still felt inadequate and unwanted by society as an outcast for not living up to its norms.
It wasn’t just my size that knocked my self-esteem – I felt it very hard to deal with having spots on my face and chest, too. I know they’re part of growing up, but I just felt as though I wasn’t attractive in comparison to these (airbrushed) images that you see on social media. On TV. Everywhere else. All this going on whilst suffering with mental health difficulties anyway certainly doesn’t help matters.
One day, somehow, things started to change. I tried very hard to stop worrying about what people think of me, however difficult it may be. I tried to force confidence in myself, my abilities and my work. When you’re successful, nobody cares what you look like. When you look at a CEO, a musician, an artist, a successful politician, an inventor, what’s your first thought? Is it “I don’t like the way they look” or is it “wow, look at what they’ve achieved”?
I was started on a course of anti-depressants by my doctor, and that definitely started to help my mood to lift slightly. I realised that external pressures were the cause of my lacking self-esteem. I cut people out of my life who made me feel bad about myself, I started at university, I started counselling. Things were starting to look up. I finally felt confident in my abilities. I was getting my mojo back. I even started to (with great difficulty at first) become happy doing presentations. Now all that was left was my pesky body.
I wasn’t confident with how I looked, not one bit. Whilst that didn’t matter to my studies and my work, I still felt rubbish about myself. Only very recently have I started to feel okay with how I look, things are still difficult, but my appearance has definitely been the last part of my self esteem to grow and develop.