I was always a tall, skinny girl.
When I was nine years old, I could put away a full english breakfast and I’d be hungry two hours later. My legs looked like hairy little matchsticks and there wasn’t an inch of fat to be seen anywhere on my body. Honestly, it’s not even like I exercised much. I’ve never been good at sports and being the overtly competitive person that I was, I would never even attempt something I wasn’t good at.. so I didn’t. This continued into my teenage years, until I hit sixth form and my metabolism slowed down a little.
I didn’t even really notice at the time. As far as I was concerned, I was still the tall, skinny girl who could eat whatever she wanted. And thank heavens for it because I absolutely love food. When I went on a girls’ holiday to a greek island at the end of my A-levels, I walked around shamelessly in my two-piece blue bikini, eating junk food, drinking cocktails made from cheap alcohol and flirting with lots of boys. I was the epitome of self-confidence. Never once did I look down at the tiny band of subcutaneous-something-or-other that wrapped itself over the lower half of my stomach and hips as anything more than normal.
A few months later, I started university. One of the girls I lived with at the time was particularly body conscious but as far as I could see… she had a beautiful figure. This was the very first time I began to question what my own body looked like. I remember particularly one night out where I was looking in my wardrobe for something to wear and nothing I tried on ‘worked’. Now we’ve all had this dilemma. But it hit me particularly hard this time when I looked in the mirror. Objectively speaking, I hadn’t actually piled on any extra weight from sixth form; like I say, I’ve been blessed all my life with a decent metabolism. The real change was the filter through which I saw my own reflection and stopped liking what was there.
That’s when the unhealthy behaviour started. The reason I know exactly when I gained that tiny bit of weight was because I obsessively stalked my own photographs to see when it happened. I began to look at other women’s bodies with either criticism or jealousy until it turned into a habit. I wouldn’t wear anything that hugged my figure. I joined a gym in my second term but whole experience was futile because I had no idea how to work out and I hated the whole gym environment with it being full of hench men and hot girls, all of who looked like they knew what they were doing.
At the beginning of my second year, things got a little more drastic. I began calorie counting and restricting what I ate. I drank gallons of green tea, did exercises in my room before lectures every day and fixated on my stomach area whenever I looked in the mirror. I learned to cook which gave me a sense of better control. Feeling constantly hungry became normal. One Saturday night I went out. After stumbling out of the club at around 3am, I wound up in a chicken shop with a couple of other people. I didn’t plan on getting anything but my friend (who was plastered) shoved a box of chicken wings in my face. I stared down at them, still a little woozy from the alcohol. I was so hungry. So I caved. By the time I got home, I was so washed over with guilt that I walked into the bathroom, knelt down by the toilet bowl and shoved a couple of fingers down my throat. Nothing happened. I tried again. Still nothing. Exhausted, I gave up and retired to my room.
The surprising thing was that I continued like this for a while, not really even acknowledging that anything was particularly wrong. It never spiralled out of control and thankfully, I never contracted an eating disorder. Months later, I told my best friend about the episode, almost in passing. It was only when she said ‘Gowri… are you even hearing what you just said?’ that a little more self-awareness began to creep in.
What I didn’t realise at the time was that the thing that started as a seed flourished into a fully grown garden of poison ivy, watered by my incessant negative self talk. This continued for years.
The interesting part of the story, I suppose, is where I am now. I have previously mentioned that I’m working on several aspects of myself at this point in time so that I can stop self-sabotaging and become a happier person. My relationship with my body is one of those areas that is undergoing constant improvement. So what did I do?
In November last year, I decided I was going to try, for the first time, to properly work on my body after my constant cyclical liking and loathing of it.
My previous experiences of going to the gym have been crap: to the point where I was just scared of gyms so I would stay away. I knew I had to stop letting this fear get in the way of a potentially positive change so I got onto google and searched ‘Ladies gyms in my area’ and found one. I joined.
For two years, I had been following a fitness figure on Instagram whose posts I really liked because she really encouraged women to focus on the way they felt rather than the way they looked. She had a workout guide which was a 12 week programme that only required a few weights and a mat. I took the plunge and bought it.
I started going to the gym regularly and eating clean, filling, healthy meals. Yes- quinoa was quick to become my best friend. I stuck with this really good routine, honestly, for just over a couple of months. My trips to the gym waxed and waned a little around February time when I started rehearsing for a dance competition and my focus on exams after that meant that gym turned into a bit of a myth.
Still there were a whole host of positives that rose from this.
- Firstly, and most importantly, I stopped being scared of going to the gym. I’m way less put off by the other people there and instead, I rock up with my workout guide, headphones and a water bottle, do what’s on my sheet of paper and leave. Sometimes I even feel like one of those hot girls who knows what she’s doing.
- Secondly, I’ve been focusing much more on how I feel than how I look. Eating clean and working out consistently makes me feel amazing inside and I get a genuine sense of pride from it; especially when each weight gets a little easier to lift. I can relate to ‘post leg day’ pain and I massively thrive off the routine.
- Thirdly, my real saviour was the workout guide because it told me what I needed to know. I didn’t feel lost; I don’t look around wondering what I should be doing next and it gave my workout total structure.
That said; there’s a lot more I have left to work on.
- Swapping jealousy for admiration
Yesterday, at the gym, there was a beautiful tanned girl with gorgeous, toned arms. I looked over at her curling weights heavier than the ones I was squatting and immediately, that faithful pang of jealousy burned inside me. Ever heard the phrase, ‘Real women lift each other up?’. Well, by definition, jealousy and comparison means I’m doing myself an injustice. So instead, I replaced that toxic thought with ‘Gowri, you have such long, great legs and they’re only going to get stronger if you keep working on them, like you are now’. Once I was happier with myself, I could actually look over at this girl and admire her for the work she’d put into herself. Credit to her; she absolutely 100% earned those gorgeous arms. Why be jealous when I could instead be inspired?
This is a simple exercise in self awareness; being conscious of my thoughts as they arise means that I can analyse them a little more and then replace them with more objective, more healthy ones.
- Focusing on what I like about myself
My height, my legs, my hair and my butt are all, frankly, gorgeous. Sadly, years of putting myself down means I only ever see my stomach when I look in the mirror. I suck it right in and put an arm over my torso even when I walk around the house alone in my underwear. It is going to take a lot of reverse- conditioning for me to embody that super confident girl in the blue bikini from five years ago.
However, with increased awareness of my thoughts, removing myself from sources of comparison (ahem Instagram) and really taking the time out to look at myself and feel good about what’s there- my poorly learnt behaviour can most certainly be unlearnt.
- Maintaining consistency
The time during which I had the most self confidence was the time where I was consistently working out and eating clean. Consistency creates habit, habit is a form of discipline and discipline bridges the gap between your goals and your accomplishments.
I intend on completing all 12 weeks of this workout guide from beginning to end by the end of 2017.
There will be times, as I have found out, where it’s only too easy to fall off this personal journey not only physically but mentally.
However, the beautiful thing is that it’s so much more than about getting rid of the band or having a flat stomach. It’s about being tremendously happy with what I already have and working on it further so I can be healthier and stronger and in love every little bit of it.
For anyone else out there who has felt the way I’ve felt: remember that the society we live in these days makes us feel that we have to look a certain way or fit a certain ideal to be beautiful. But we are beautiful. Inside and out. The more we can begin to see that in each other, the more we can stand strong as a female race and truly be inspired by one another, rather than envious.
Love to all,