What's This Blog All About Then?

I'm on a mission to roadtest ways of overcoming negative body image. For years I have struggled with feeling I don't look 'good enough', I'm too fat or flabby. Even when I was a UK Size 8! During each of my two pregnancies I fell back in love with my body, marvelling at the amazing things it was doing and at my feminine voluptuousness.

Now that my most recent baby has been outside of my body for a while, the mum tum and stretchmarks are starting to bug me. I have decided enough is enough. I want to feel proud of my body like I did when I was pregnant. I don't want to wait until I'm a certain weight or dress size to feel good about the way I look. I want to love my body just the way it is right now. And I want to help other women to love their imperfectly perfect bodies too.

Join me on my quest for a better body image. During my journey to (I hope) total body confidence, I'll be posting useful resources, tips and research on body image and self acceptance. There will also be posts from other people shedding light on how to feel comfortable in the skin you're in - maybe you'd like to send me an article? Contact me at annacolette(at)gmail(dot)com with 'Body Image' in the title.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Yoga During Menstruation & My Next Experiment - EFT

I've got my period and am feeling relieved that I have only committed to doing a posture a day. I've only done a few minutes of yoga for the last few days. But I'm missing the feeling of having a really good, long stretch so I've trawled the internet for some advice on postures to try during menstruation.

There seems to be conflicting advice on whether you can do inverted postures (where your head is lower than your heart, for example in Downward Dog)during your period. The best rule of thumb is to listen to your body and do waht feels good to you.

There are some suggestions here and here which I'll be using to replace some of the more strenuous postures from my Daily Dozen.

Today is Day 22 of the Yoga Experiment and I'm really sold on yoga. So much so that I've asked hubby for a block pof 'mum and baby' yoga lessons for Christmas. I'm pretty sure I'll continue with my daily yoga practice once this month is over.

My next experiment in improving my body image will be to try the Emotional Freedom Technique which is supposed to be good for overcoming all sorts of emotional issues.

Basically, you tap specific acupuncture points with your finger while focusing on a specific thought you want to get rid of. EFT is said to produce results in just minutes. Here's a demo of the technique.

Intriguing, hey?

So, from 1st January I will be trying out EFT every day for a month. I'm not yet sure how to use it to combat negative body image but will read up a little more on it and let you know what I plan to do.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

I am Postnatal Woman. Hear Me Roar (or Rather Say Ommmmm)!

I had a breakthrough moment today.

We were staying with friends in Kent this weekend. Another couple who live close by came over to see us and the baby. It was late morning and our hosts were still padding around in their dressing gowns.

I had been comfy in my pyjamas until my boobs leaked milk onto my top. I wanted to still feel Sunday-ish so I dressed in my old maternity velour jogging bottoms (they look nicer than they sound!) and a skimpy vest top before the couple came over.

Thing is, I often wear this outfit to do my daily yoga. And somehow wearing it in front of people I haven't yet seen as a postnatal woman, I felt really proud of my body and of how much I have snapped back into shape (relatively speaking. Relative to my huge bump of six months ago).

Now, I still have a big tum, overly large thighs and upper arms and big ole saggy breastfeeding boobies. I don't look like a postnatal celeb*. At all. But I felt strong, like my body is in pretty good shape considering and really proud of myself that I'm the sort of person who does yoga EVERY day.

Yup, that's me. A regular little yogini.

I felt all hard bodied and fit chick-like. Although I'm not. But feeling like that was amazing. I was channeling those yummy yoga mummies with their flat tummies and tight bums encased in designer yoga pants.

Talking to this couple in my fairly revealing outfit, I felt proud of my body and what it can achieve. Did you know that when I do my seated forward bends now my nose nearly touches my knee?!

When I started the Yoga Experiment to improve my body image I needed to use a dressing gown cord to do that posture cos I couldn't stretch far enough to get hold of my foot.

My body is stretching beautifully. I'm amazed at how quickly what seemed so difficult my body can now do with ease.

But the biggest progress of all is that I am starting to feel proud of my body again. Just like I did throughout both pregnancies.

I still look the same as when I started the daily yoga. But hell, I'm not trying to change the way my body looks, just the way I feel about the way my body looks.

And I'm really starting to feel better about my body and what it can do (and has done - made two gorgeous daughters for a start!!).

I think the yoga is beginning to work wonders for my body confidence:-)

*Thank you Kim Kardashian for speaking out and letting us mere mortal mamas know that celebs have postnatal bellies too. They just get photoshopped out to entice us to buy certain magazines. Shame on you, OK magazine. Check the before and after photos here

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Yoga for a Better Body Image - Day 8

So, it's day 8 of my yoga experiment and I'm just waiting for my dinner to go down before doing my eighth session.

I'm being uncharacteristically determined. By taking the pressure off myself and only committing to a minimum of one yoga posture a day, I feel more inclined to do all of the twelve postures that I originally set out to do.

It also helps that I am being realistic and fitting the yoga in even if conditions aren't particularly conducive. Yesterday, for example, I did my 'Daily Dozen' postures joined by my eldest daughter. She very sweetly spent three minutes copying me and then spent the ten twenty minutes singing "Alouette gentille Alouette
Alouette je te plumerai' over and over and over again. I breathed through it for a while and then helpfully suggested she play her Nintendo DS while I finished off my yoga (to the background music of Junior Brain Trainer).

How am I feeling about the way I look? A little better - suprisingly. I didn't expect to feel any different so quickly.

I feel as if I'm being kind to my body by stretching it, and working it out, a little. I feel stronger in my core and am holding myself more proudly. I feel good that I'm sticking to my word and am practising some regular self care.

I still feel disappointed and a bit ashamed when I look at certain parts of my body in the mirror (oh how I wish that would change!) but I find myself initially looking for the good things, the improvements - noticing where I look stronger, leaner. I really don't think my body has changed at all but my attitude to it has shifted a little more towards the positive.

I think a little daily yoga could really help to centre me in my body more. I feel more grounded already, not living from my head as much but also having my awareness in my centre, my core. If that sounds a bit esoteric or airy fairy, let me assure you that this small shift has taken me a few steps away from body criticism and towards self acceptance. In only seven (nearly eight) days I think that's pretty good going.

I'm thinking of shifting from my current body focus to a more mind-based tactic next month. Perhaps practising daily affirmations to(hopefully)implant more positive body-loving thoughts in my brain or trying out EFT techniques that my hypnotherapist friend suggested I could use to tap away negative body image thoughts and feelings.

Do let me know which technique you'd prefer me to test next, or if you have any other suggestions of things I could try.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Real Mummy Tummies

I love the real mummy tummies on the Mama Baby Bliss website
we should be proud of what our bodies can do and resist the pressure to look perfect!

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Day 3 of The Yoga Cure Experiment

I'm really enjoying the Basic Yoga DVD. Day 3 of my yoga cure experiment and I'm amazed that so far I've wanted to do the full 'Daily Dozen' outlined in the DVD:

1. Cat
2. Mountain
3. Standing forward bend
4. Lunge
5. Tree
6. Standing side stretch
7. Downward facing dog
8. Cobra
9. Child's pose
10. Seated spinal twist
11. Seated forward bend
12. Relaxation pose (corpse)

I jotted down the poses yesterday while following the DVD so I tried them myself without the DVD today and it took 35 minutes. I didn't rush through them at all. In fact, I did extra breathing cycles (the DVD recommends six per posture).

I need to find some kind of moderation to The Lunge posture though - it really hurts my knee even with a cushion underneath it. Shame, as they show modifications for some of the other postures.

While I'm doing the yoga, I feel calm and connected to my body. I'm also impressed at how my body is responding - I can already stretch my heels much closer to the floor in Downward Dog and am finding the Seated Forward Bend easier too.

In some of the postures I'm thinking 'how does my body feel? How can I work with it to stretch a little more but not push it too hard?'. It feels as if I'm learning to work with my body and respect it's needs and limitations. At least for the half hour or so that I'm doing the yoga. I wonder if this attitude will carry over into the rest of my day at some point? Hope so.

I can vouch for the claim that yoga promotes inner stillness. Focusing on small actions and specific parts of the body somehow promotes an attitude of curiosity and inquistiveness.

I start tuning into what parts feel tight and sore (shoulders, hamstrings,buttocks) and what feels relaxed (arms, tummy, chest, mind. I'm finding my body interesting. I'm learning what it feels like, where it needs to unravel, where I need to let go.

It's a relief to give up the urge to 'whip myself into shape' as if there's something bad about me, something flawed that my flab is a manifestation of. To move from that subtle self hatred into an attitude of self care - exercising because it feels good in my body and my mind - is life-affirming and surely a boon to my self esteem.

Monday, 29 November 2010

The Daily Yoga Cure

Yesterday I was feeling particularly achey and unfit due to a 'veg out day' spent indoors with hubby and baby.

I enjoyed chilling out, but it didn't do my self image any favours as I've been hugely inactive for weeks now (mainly due to the rubbish weather)and feeling bad about that. I'm all for loving myself as I am but I realise I need to care for my body in order to love it more.

When the most exercise you're getting is a five minute mooch around the local shops or an evening of lifting a glass of wine to your lips you know you're not loving your body like you could.

My back was seizing up so I decided to do a few yoga postures to ease it. I enjoyed the feeling of my muscles stretching, the paisn in my back easing and my body feeling energised. All this just in a few minutes of doing Cat, Downward Dog and a Seated Twist!

I then got to thinking about how exercise can improve your relationship with your body when it isn't solely about 'exercising to look good' but you're coming from a place of 'I'm doing this because I want to be kind to my body and this is what my body needs to function well. Oh, and it feels good and makes me happier!'.

The problem with most exercise regimes I have tried to follow in the past is that the goal was always to look better, so while I was exercising I was subtly punishing myself for not looking good enough now. Hardly a motivating frame of mind.

Can you imagine going to an exercise class where the instructor shouts at you 'come on, jelly belly, if you don't work harder at this you're doomed to a life of looking like a flabby freak'?! Compare that to one where the instructor softly encourages you to 'give your body what it needs, feel that stretch nourishing your body and helping it to feel strong and supple.'

So, I've dug out the DVD hubby bought me a while back: Basic Yoga Workout for Dummies which takes you through 12 postures they call the 'Daily Dozen'. Now I'd love to tell you how I'm going to do those Dozen every single day for a month and see how that affects my body, mind and self image. But I'm not sure I can go from couch potato to yoga devotee straight off.

So, I'll make a promise to you, and myself, that every day I'll do at least one yoga posture. I mean everyone can find three minutes in their day right? Even me, a lazy busy mum with a demanding baby..

The challenge will be for me to keep the right frame of mind i.e. to do daily yoga because my body loves it and it helps with my body image NOT in order to change or improve the way I look (although that may happen as a by product).

The word yoga means "union" in Sanskrit, that is the union of the body and the mind which results from regular yoga practice. When I was doing weekly antenatal yoga classes with Marie from Gently Strong yoga I began to feel more connected with my body, I was encouraged to listen to it, respect it and to enjoy moving it.

The weekly class became my meditation and my treat - to my mind and to my body. I wonder if it played a part in the profound sense of wellbeing and the positive body image I enjoyed throughout my pregnancy.

There's only one way to find out...

I'll keep you updated on my daily yoga practice for the next month as well as continuing to find you other news and views to shed light on negative body image and how to love yourself more.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Are We Inadvertently Teaching our Daughters to Hate Their Bodies?

Most young women in the UK are unhappy with their bodies. A survey on newwomanco.uk in 2001 found that just one per cent of young women are "completely happy" with the shape of their body. Over 3,000 women, with an average age of 25, responded to the survey.

A more recent survey by BLISS magazine found that 90% of teenaged girls who were unhappy with their own appearance also thought their own mother had "an insecure body image".

As mothers we have a huge responsibility to our daughters. We can inadvertently pass on our body insecurities to our daughters. After all, we are their first example of what it means to be female. It is vital that we learn to love ourselves, to feel comfortable in our own skin and so become the positive female role models we so desperately want to be.

More than half of the 2,000 girls questioned for the poll said “their mothers worried and moaned” about her own weight, which made them even more aware of how important being slim was to look and feel good.

Nearly a fifth (19%) said they were "already suffering from an eating disorder" such as anorexia or bulimia, and 26% of 14 year olds said they had considered having plastic surgery or taking diet pills.

Helen Johnston, editor of BLISS Magazine, has said: "Female body image obsession has grown year on year since the 60s and it's now reached epidemic proportions, filtering down to young girls.

"Teenage girls look to their mums for guidance only to see them continually worrying about their own body shape and size. Now many girls of 13 and 14 are dieting constantly at an age when their bodies are still developing."

This has got to stop. How can we learn to love our appearance and teach our daughters and other young women to do the same?

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The Body Image Revolution

During an idle Googling session I found this fab site which is currently running a free teleseminar on The Body Image Revolution with speakers who are all experts and activists in the field of body image.

A bunch of inspirational women who are bucking the trend, saying a big "NO!" to the common misconception that thin is healthy and beautiful. To promote body diversity and create resources to help women love their bodies more...now that's something I could really get passionate about.

What a noble cause. After all, which one of us truly loves our body? And how much do we hold back on doing things - being happy, living a life we love - because we're just waiting until our tummy is flatter, thighs thinner, boobs perkier etc etc

Even if we try not to think of it, that nagging voice 'you're not good enough the way you are' is playing on a loop constantly. It is sanctioned by the media with it's unachievable images of one specific body type (a figure that is more common to teenage boys than to grown women incidentally), and our female friends who occasionally bemoan their own figures/weight. Maybe even our husbands or partners (not mine, thankfully) who suggest we lose a bit of weight or say no to that second slice of cake.

I've just listened to Cheryl-Ann Webster, a speaker on The Body Image Revolution. The Beautiful Women Project is her touring art exhibition of 120 life size clay sculptures of real women aged 19-91, each decorated to reflect an aspect of the women’s life journey.

Deemed a “revelation of truth”, the sculptures act as role models for natural beauty, allowing audiences of all ages to compare reality with socially-created, unattainable images of beauty that are portrayed in our culture. Check it out here and start to realise that we are all imperfectly perfect just the way we are.

Vive la revolution!!!

Saturday, 11 September 2010

My First Steps to a Better Body Image

It feels good to have finally started this blog, this quest. But I'm unsure of how to proceed. Here are my ideas so far, what do you think?

In my quest for a better body image, I could start by:

-Implementing some suggestions people have made over the years - like 'don't look in any mirrors for a while it'll make you less body conscious'

-Trying some techniques I remember from books e.g. choose a body part and do nice things for it like Neck - buy perfume, lovingly rub in cream every day, adorn it with beautiful necklaces

-Trying an affirmation for a body confidence - saying and writing it often through the day

-Asking my hypnotherapist friend H for some sessions, and supplementing with self hypnosis CDs and/or scripts she recommends

-Trying EFT techniques to tap away my negative body image

-Exploring (and writing about) my specific issues to define and understand the problem

-Interview friends and family to discover their body image issues and any tips they have for a better body image

-Surveying strangers through netmums, British Mummy Bloggers and other female online networks

-Googling body image, body confidence, love your body and other phrases to see what paths and techniques I can unearth

All of the above seem like good ideas and I think I'll do them all. But I need to prioritise. Writing that list helped me to get clear on the possibilities, and I know that more ideas will come once I put some of the above into action.

I'd like to do one simple thing that I can start to do NOW without any more thought or any preparation PLUS I'm keen to do keep investigating the problem of women's negative body image and usefule resources. As well as this being a quest for myself I would love to discover ways you can help yourself to love your body too.

Oh, and I'd like to improve my appearance too. You know, the usual stuff - lose weight, tone up, keep wrinkles at bay, improve my complexion...etc etc but I want to do these things from a place of 'loving myself and looking after myself' rather than 'fixing myself because I'm not good enough the way I am'. So, I'll only do things I enjoy and that are fairly easy for me.

Looking better can be part of feeling better - but I want the focus to be on how to feel better as I know how hard it can be to change your appearance (for me read 'lose weight') when your mind is constantly whispering 'you're too fat, you can't shift it now you're stuck at this size' and so on. So instead of weight loss I want to focus on doing things to look after my body better, to be more loving to myself.

So - where to start? Have you any ideas? Please let me know...

BTW I would also like to feature guest posts on body confidence and body image. Please email me if you'd like to contribute annacolette@gmail.com

Monday, 6 September 2010

Body Image Test

When I was pregnant I felt proud of my body. I loved my body because it was doing something amazing. It also looked exactly how it should.

For the first time in years I had one tummy instead of three. It was firm. Yes, big but firm. I relished the feeling. And enjoyed the freedom of not fretting over whether friends would be repulsed by the shape of my muffin top rippling through my T-shirt. I felt liberated.

In comparison with my big bump, my thighs and bum looked smaller. I felt good. I felt comfortable in my own skin. I loved my body.

Nearly three months on and the familiar feelings of body loathing are creeping back. This time, I'm determined not to let them get the upper hand again. I want to feel comfortable in my own skin. I want to love my body, whatever shape it's in. I want a better body image.

I do want to firm up and lose weight, but I have pretty much always had that goal and have rarely achieved it. When I have achieved it I usually didn't realise it. Like many women, I look back on photos of me in my teens and early twenties and can't understand why I hated my appearance so much. How could I have thought my thighs were fat and misshapen when I was clearly a size 8 and had an enviable figure?

Maybe in ten years' time I'll look back on photos of me now with the same incredulity and realise that I looked pretty good. But what I would really love is to look at photos of me taken last week and realise I look pretty good. And look at myself in the mirror and love what I see.

Is this even possible without losing a few stone first or getting pregnant again? I think it's time to find out.

I realise I owe it to myself to focus on getting a better body image. The first step is admitting I have a rubbish body image. A suspicion that's always been in the back of my mind. But surely all women obsess about their weight, their size, their attractiveness or lack thereof? Isn't that just part and parcel of being a woman?

If it is, I want to buck the trend and do everything I can to love myself the way I am. That doesn't preclude trying to be healthier and slimmer too but I think that will happen naturally as I learn to love my body.

So, just how bad is my body image? I did this body image test to find out and was surprised to say the least. The test is compiled by Deanne Jade, Principal of The National Centre of Eating Disorders. Doing the test made me acutely aware of how uncomfortable I feel about my appearance the majority of the time. Thing is, it's usually low volume mental chatter and goes under the radar a lot of the time. I dislike my appearance but largely ignore the fact that I do. I criticise the way I look but pretend not to notice.

According to the test:

You are suffering from a condition called body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) which is translated as body hatred. This is not a reflection of how you actually look or how other people see you, because there are very many people who have physical handicap, or, who look different from the norm. But they do not feel this badly about themselves. Similarly there are people who look very normal in reality but they experience this sense of deep hostility toward the way they look. BDD and a damaged sense of self-esteem go hand in hand.

Blimey. I didn't think I was that bad. I mean, I've seen a documentary about a woman with BDD and I'm nowhere near that fucked up about my body image. I'm just average to slightly more than averagely paranoid about the way I look. Aren't I? I hope to find out...

On my quest for a better body image, I'd like to discover how other women feel about their bodies. How does your body image (good or bad) impact your life? Please leave a comment - anonymously if that's more comfortable for you. Or you can email me at annacolette@gmail.com