Noami is a 26 year-old Trainee Academic Librarian from Birmingham, who loves photography and djing. Having experienced insecurities throughout her teenage years about her appearance, she shares how she has learned to be more in touch with her emotions and that it’s ok to not always feel positive.
Being bullied at secondary school caused me to suffer from extreme insecurities throughout my teenage and early adult years. My fragile confidence was further shattered when I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease at 22 years old that affected the texture of my skin.
Now at 26 and I can confidently say that my self-esteem has drastically improved. My physical and mental health is better and although the marks on my skin continue to come and go, I have made peace with the fact that they are part of me and who I am. Hence, yesterday I envisioned writing this blogwould feel celebratory; a reminder of how far I have come in freeing myself from self-destructive thoughts. But to my surprise writing today feels mentally draining. Re-focussing attention back to this familiar subject almost feels like I am taking a step back, because for several years my body and its appearance was a constant, unhealthy obsession.
Some days, feeling ‘positive’ about my body is harder than on others. It may be caused by fatigue which leads me to a lower mood and greater feelings of self-doubt. It may be caused by a harmless conversation which triggers anxiety and paranoia. Or, it can be caused by a new outbreak of my skin rash. More often though, it is simply the fact that I’m naturally experiencing a broad spectrum of human emotions, which of course can vary at different times every day.
Many authors who write for the health and wellbeing industry, say that we can control our emotions and always produce ‘positive’ thoughts and feelings. Maybe this works for them and can work for you. As someone who has religiously read many self-help books and tried to adopt these philosophies with the aim of seeking a permanent form of ‘happiness’, I have unfortunately found this to not be the case for me
For the last four years I have searched for an answer to happiness, but what I actually learned is that stopping to view my life in binaries has worked best for me.
We all know that life is not always black and white and so I try to apply this to how I feel about my body. I try to not divide my thoughts into categories of ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’ thoughts. They are simply momentary feelings and do not truly define the overall state of my mental health. Similarly, I try to see ‘Happiness’ and ‘Sadness’ as neither ‘positive’ nor ‘negative’ emotions, but to accept that they are fleeting emotions within that present moment.
Recognising this has made the biggest difference to my self-esteem. It has allowed me to develop what I would call ‘body comfortableness’ rather than body confidence. Looking back, there was the old Naomi who did not like her body and who would additionally chastise herself for feeling these ‘negative’ feelings of body insecurity. “Why can’t I just love myself more”? “Why can’t I just be happy?” she would repeatedly cry, adding to the misery and depression. The present Naomi accepts that today her thoughts are causing her to feel less self-assured about her body. She understands this is normal and, as with everything in life, is temporary. Some days I can comfortably embrace the discomfort. At present I am not in the mood to comfort myself with kind words and I am merely waiting for this mental discomfort to pass.
Having this viewpoint has, begun to revolutionize the way I see the human body. I no longer believe in the ‘ideal’ and ‘non-ideal’ body shape. Humans are not a homogenous species and the way our bodies look and act can vary. Living in a hetero-patriarchal society that favours aesthetics over health, considers ableism as the norm and fat-shames rather than accepts body shape diversity, makes us forget this fact easily Living in an age of social media also helps to fuel an unhealthy obsession with our image. Nevertheless, I passionately believe that all this can change! Despite its negatives, social media provides a platform for people with fresh and challenging perspectives. One of my favourite online bloggers @TheSlumFlower recently said: “My physical appearance is probably the least interesting thing about me”,and she’s absolutely right! Because in reality, true beauty transcends our physical appearance.
Acknowledging that not everyone has the same ability to reach this exact viewpoint is important. When speaking about body positivity, we should consider how our personal viewpoints on body positivity can be affected by how far our body shape and skin colour personally fit into conventional beauty standards. Perhaps it is easier for me to ask people to look beyond my body and its imperfections, when my body shape is one that has never been ‘othered’ and I can disguise my affected skin. This is in contrast to people with a disability or plus sized body shapes who arguably continue to face a poor and harmful representation within our society.
Remembering these advantages means I end writing this piece with my spirits lifted. Again it proves that thoughts and feelings are ever fluctuating. Today you may lack ‘body comfortableness’, but tomorrow that may not be the case. Thinking optimistically about the future is not a regurgitation of a new-age, self-help mantra, but a proven fact of life if you really think about it.