Blogger and curve model Lauren Nicole has experienced pressure to conform to unrealistic beauty ideals and body dysmorphia from a young age. She's now a body positive activist and shares her story in support of the Be Real campaign.
2016 was an exceptional year for curvy women in the fashion industry; from Ashley Graham's Sports Illustrated coveted swimsuit issue to an increase in plus size models gracing the runway during Fashion Week. 2016 is also noteworthy in my journey of self-love and acceptance.
I'm Lauren Nicole, a plus size model, blogger and body positive advocate. But before all those titles came about, I was just a young impressionable girl from west London, who loved fashion and writing but despised her body.
From a young age, I dealt with the pressure of conforming to unrealistic beauty ideals and body dysmorphia. I distinctively remember, when I was 14 years old my mum asked me to go to our local Sainsbury's, which was about five minutes away from my house on the bus. For the whole bus journey, I cried there and back, because I felt like everyone was looking at me and laughing.
I became my worst enemy. My love for performing arts was ruined by my hatred of my appearance. I couldn't bear the idea of joining a drama club because I was "too fat", or "too ugly". It didn't matter how many people told me I was great, or how much I wanted to take part, my fear of not being pretty or skinny enough stopped me.
By the age of 16, I wasn't treating my body with respect; from binge eating to comfort eating, to forcing myself to be sick because I overate. As much as I knew what I was doing was wrong and damaging, I was aiming for this twisted image of perfection.
An image that I wouldn't have been able to achieve through my choice of methods, an image that was simply unattainable.
After years of battling myself, I finally had enough. There's only so much fighting you can do, so on my 18th birthday, I promised myself to make a change and that the next year was going to be different.
"This year, I promise to love myself."
"This year, I promise to respect my body."
"This year, I promise to celebrate myself, whether I'm a size 12 or a size 18, because my body doesn't determine my worth or value.”
I won't act like it's the easiest thing to do – because it isn't. I still struggle now. But the vow I made to love, appreciate, accept and celebrate who I am in full, changed my entire life.
From wearing a bodycon dress for the first time to shooting in swimwear for an independent plus size brand, I actively - and sometimes unintentionally - sought ways to push myself out of my comfort zone. The decision to do better caused me an incredible amount of anxiety, but it also kick started a journey of self-love and body positivity.
Whenever I'm asked what the best tip is to overcome self-doubt, my answer is always the same: "Find ways to mute that voice of self-doubt". Everyone has it, for some, it's loud, and for others it's faint, but with practice, it can become almost non-existent.
Be kind and gentle to your body. Every time you think or say something negative, follow it up with positivity and love. Words are powerful. Change those negative words, by affirming how amazing you are by using words like I am 'beautiful', 'worthy', 'valued', 'enough'.
If you believe the phrase 'you are what you think', then we must translate thoughts into words and eventually into actions to manifest our intentions. And not to get caught up in the science of it all, but affirmations are proven methods of self-improvement because of their ability to rewire our brains. The way I see it, if I can overcome my body image issues, so can you!
Keep up with the latest fashion, lifestyle and beauty trends on Lauren's website.