You Beautiful Thing, You.

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A few days ago I saw this ad on the TV. I was actually reading at the time so had to rewind the television to make sure I’d heard it correctly.

Sadly, I had. There is an actual TV commercial running which implies that your relationship with your children depends on whether or not you can lose weight and keep it off. Seriously? I have no words.

Well, obviously I have lots of words. Which is fortunate as otherwise this would be my shortest post yet.

I’d like to set your mind back almost a year and ask you to revisit the point of my Mummy Kindness Manifesto:
“I will not be defined by the number on a scale. It is not my worth”.

Talk about easier said than done.

Everywhere we look we’re bombarded with messages. All of which promise happiness, success and belonging (and in this case, your only hope of bonding with your children) if we only buy this….Wear that…Smell like this….Eat that… don’t eat that. Look like her…. Don’t look like her. It’s endless and it’s everywhere.

Image, it seems, is everything. It’s our only hope. We can’t possibly amount to anything in life if we don’t drop a dress size or four. There is no fate worse than fat.

The truth is, being comfortable in our own skins is bad for business.
It’s no wonder that the same companies who manufacture cakes and desserts also want us to subscribe to their diet programs. They want us to spend money getting fat so that we can spend more to get thin.

And of course, they don’t want us to stay thin. No. The most profitable customers are those of us with a history of yo-yo dieting. The more weight we lose, the more we can re-gain. More revenue for the slimming clubs, protein powder suppliers and personal diet chefs.

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I spent twelve years selling advertising for best-selling magazines and newspapers. It’s no secret that January issues are filled with diet advice and pictures of miraculous celebrity weight-loss stories. The reason for this is the fact that it’s the busiest time of year for diet focused advertising. So the publishers feed (pun intended) our insecurities to create an environment perfect for advertisers to slot in to. They make sure that the antidote to the dose of self-doubt we’ve been served is readily available for purchase from their sponsors. It’s a commercial practise and it’s at the expense of our self-esteem and confidence.

To give you some background info on me, I’m 5ft 4 tall and currently a UK size 14 (that’s a size ten for my US readers). I’ve seen dramatic fluctuations in my weight over the past two years. I lost a great deal of weight following a strict protein-only diet before gradually regaining it, and then some. Anti-depressants and tendency to numb feelings with chocolate hasn’t helped. Not one bit.

I’m not an exceptionally large woman by most people’s standards (fashion magazines and celebrities notwithstanding). I’m smaller than the UK national average. I’m well aware, however, that I’ve gained weight recently.

When it comes to dieting I’ve tried most of them over the years. I lost a couple of stone on WeightWatchers before my wedding. I gained half back and then fell pregnant. I lost the baby weight then had another baby. I quickly lost weight again with the Dukan Diet. I’ve thrown out bigger sized clothes and bought smaller ones and I’ve grown out of them again. Three times I’ve lost around two stone pretty quickly and gained it back again.

I’m an all-or-nothing person when it comes to dieting. I’m generally either incredibly strict and at the gym every day or completely off-the-wagon. There’s not really a middle ground for me.

I’ve spent at least twenty years obsessing over my weight and appearance. Whether consciously or subconsciously I compare myself with everyone, all the time and rarely, if ever, feel like I match-up. I know some very stunning women and many of them are “bigger” girls. I know lots would be thrilled to be the same size as I am. I look at their beautiful faces and wish I was prettier. I can find something or someone better than me with almost any comparison. So I guess the trick is to simply stop comparing.

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Can you imagine how different life would be if you were comfortable in your own skin? If you didn’t feel inadequate next to other woman who you perceive to be better than you in some way or another?

It’s a widespread belief that getting fat is the most detrimental factor to anyone’s health. We hear it so often that we don’t question the logic. But it’s just not as straightforward as that; body size is not an accurate indicator of someone’s health.

We all know the skinny person who eats nothing but junk and who rarely moves from the sofa. They are at a far higher risk of health problems than a heavy person who eats healthily and exercises regularly. I’m only scratching the surface of this topic and plan to post more in future weeks, but you can find much more info via this fantastic blog.

It’s my belief that if we’re truly happy with ourselves and our choices we will cease to care so much about other people’s opinions.

Because, truly, when we stop to think about it, isn’t the approval of others a huge factor when we try to get thinner?

The media and society tells us we have to be thin to be beautiful and it’s become so ingrained in our thinking that we can’t imagine feeling differently.

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Now, I’m not saying that we should all ditch our new year diets and go on a huge cake binge. However, I do think we need to question why it is that we feel our lives will be transformed if we shrink a bit. Why do we need to be thinner to feel better about ourselves?

Our bodies are precious. They’re beautiful. The wobbly bits, the stretch marks and the scars? They’re beautiful too. Our bodies are entitled to be nurtured and loved.

Healthy food and exercise is good for the body, mind and spirit. It’s important to look after yourself, not because a magazine says you need to resemble a supermodel or teenage popstar, but because you deserve your own loving care.

You have nothing to prove, because you’re already good enough. Honestly.

We need to have faith in our own beauty because our children are watching and listening. Even when we don’t realise it, they’re learning from us.

They need to know that they’re worthy of love and acceptance whatever their appearance and that food is to be enjoyed and not feared.

I want my children to see the beauty in people of all shapes, sizes and colours. Not just those who fit an aesthetically perfect stereotype.

The only way I can think of to teach them is to lead by example. To look after my body with my health and well being as a priority and not just a target weight or dress-size in mind. This, if anything, is my resolution for 2014.

Happy New Year, you beautiful thing, you.

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Guest Post: The Princess. The Bump. Your Body.

Today I’m sharing a guest post from Karen Laing. Karen is a very well respected pre and post-natal exercise expert who blogs about health and fitness at www.alittlefitter.com. In addition to the blog, Karen teaches Pilates in Essex and London. Her specialism and passion is women’s health.
Karen writes for national publications and presents on health and fitness. She co-directs Fit School with husband Chris, a new fitness initiative which aims to educate through fitness.
Karen is mum to Isaac who is two and a half and is expecting another baby in January 2014.

I think this is such an important post. Every woman should read it so please do share it if it speaks to you.

Guest Post: The Princess. The Bump. Your Body.

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THERE has been much furore surrounding Princess Kate and her post-baby body since she emerged, glowing, from the Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital last week. In fact perhaps more media attention has focused on Kate’s body than on beautiful baby Prince George.

So; Newsflash! The female body takes time to recover after 9 months of growing a person and squeezing it out of a very small hole, or even out of the sun roof. But just how long? Weeks, months or years?

The doctor can sign you off as soon as six weeks post birth when initial recovery has taken place but a study published last year by Salford University, suggested it could take up to a year for women to recover both physically and mentally. Some experts suggest this may even be two years, since it takes this long for your abdominal muscles to fully return to their pre-pregnancy state. And then there’s breastfeeding – pregnancy hormones remain in your system for up to four months after you stop nursing your child.

So here’s a little guidance on how long it really takes for beautiful female bodies to recover after birth:

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Early days

In the early days after giving birth your body is in full recovery mode. You may have lost a lot of blood and fluids and you’ll definitely be short on sleep and energy. You’ll most likely be sore and swollen so now is the time to enjoy some confinement and TLC.

0-6 weeks

There’s a lot going on during the first six weeks of post natal recovery. Whilst your uterus is contracting (cause of the painful, cramping sensations you’ll be getting) the rest of your internal organs, which got squidged out of the way during pregnancy are returning to their rightful place. Your pelvis will be recovering and returning to it’s pre-labour state and your urethra, vagina and anus, which again will have moved slightly during pregnancy will be returning to their original homes. Any intense activity during this stage could hinder the healing process. Walking and gentle stretching is fine but definitely nothing bouncy.

You’ll also be bleeding heavily and may also be anaemic, so plenty of iron-rich foods and dark green vegetable to aid iron absorption are critical during this time.

You’ll be quite inflamed and possibly held together by stitches for a few weeks. You’ll need to keep them as clean as possible with salt baths and lavender or calendula compresses and drink plenty of fluids for breast milk and to flush out any nasties and minimize your risk of infection.

Some women get haemorrhoids, mastitis, back ache or other complications and all women will suffer with some degree of sleep deprivation so rest, recuperation and realism are the order of the day for the early weeks.

Up to 4 months post breastfeeding

Your pregnancy hormones, most noticeably relaxin stay in your body until up to four months after you finish breast feeding. This means any associated symptoms, such as reduced stability in your pelvis and joints, also linger for this amount of time. So high impact activities are best enjoyed with caution until you feel ready to go – experts disagree on this point but you know your body best and if you are at all at risk of or unsure of your pelvic floor stability, focus on this side of your training through Pilates or resistance training before you hit the tennis court.

You may also find that the extra ‘insurance’ fat that your body gained in the early days of pregnancy also sticks around until baby is weaned, this is because your clever body is still holding on fat stores vital for hormone and milk production. Fat is not just stubborn lumpy stuff with no purpose, it’s an organ in its own right, storing and generating hormones and of course energy.

Up to a year post birth

The University of Salford study, conducted by Dr Julie Wray, interviewed women during their first year post birth and concluded that women need a year to recover both physically and emotionally after child-birth. Her study found that women felt unsupported by medical services and very much left to get on with it. This is where social networks made through local health clinics or organisations such as the NCT offering Bumps and Babies groups can be a vital part of the healing process.

Relationships, personal self-worth, finances and health are all put through the mill in the first 12 months. It takes time to re-find your feet with a new member of your family.

Up to two years post birth

When you are pregnant, your growing baby forces your abdominal wall to stretch. The body responds by creating new muscle cells, or sarcomeres, literally lengthening your abdominals. According to health practitioner Paul Chek (author of How to Eat, Move and be Healthy) it can take up to two years for your abdominals to fully recover. Three big factors that can prevent this recovery, causing an abdominal distention are: Having two babies within two years (or falling pregnant within two years of the last pregnancy); gaining a large amount of weight during pregnancy; or a C-section (C-sections can cause internal scarring or adhesions which can add to abdominal distention).

Two years and beyond

Complications such as diastasis recti (split in the abdominal wall), adhesions, post stitches pain or pelvic floor dysfunction (such as prolapse) can cause problems well beyond two years.

So mummies, let’s lay off the ‘lose weight now,’ or, ‘get fit quick’ resolutions. You’ll know when you’re ready to get in shape or just get more energy, your local gym’s marketing team don’t.

This post isn’t intended to be a license to eat cake and ice cream forever, that won’t do much for your body either but do wear your physical changes like a badge of honour, enjoy the early years with your baby and be like the clever tortoise, not the media hungry hare.

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You can find more from Karen on her Facebook page here.

Our Own Worst Enemies.

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Last night a Facebook conversation erupted into controversy before my very eyes. I’ve spent the past twenty-four hours deliberating my thoughts on it and I’m going to share them with you here.

It started with this status update, from N:

“People, PLEASE, for the love of all that is holy, dress for the body you HAVE, and not the body you THINK you have”.

Let me ask you: What springs to mind when you read this? For me, it was an image of a “mutton-dressed-as-lamb” type, or perhaps some shorts that are perhaps a little tighter than the wearer realised. It actually made me think of the shorts I was wearing at the time, to be honest, and how unattractive my thighs looked, squished underneath me the sofa.

However, it quickly transpired that not everyone drew the same meaning. S replied with the following:

“Or, you could just not look at people who aren’t dressing according to your exacting standards. Signed, a fatty who doesn’t appreciate having to swelter in long sleeves just because thin people think we should. This sort of thing kept me indoors during summers to avoid being pointed and whispered at by people who think the way you do. We have the right to wear what we like, just like everyone else”.

The original poster, N, took considerable offence to the suggestion elsewhere in the conversation, that she was ‘fat shaming’ and ‘perpetuating a myth that fat people don’t know we’re fat’.

In a conversation which included many women, all defended N. She didn’t intend to cause offence, that’s for sure. I genuinely think that hers was an off-the-cuff comment that was probably devised on the tube with someone’s inadequately covered, sweaty backside in far too close proximity.

But the point is, the comment did cause considerable offence, whether intentional or otherwise.

Almost everyone joining debate caveated their offering with words to the effect of “I’m fat, too and I’m not offended.”

Some of the opinions were as follows:

“I really don’t think N is implying that a larger lady should not dress comfortably for hot weather. More so people who wear short shorts up their bums, hipsters and crop tops which are designed specifically to show off certain parts of the body, more than just keep cool, and not over heat”

“People should learn to dress well. Just because it is fashionable to wear crops tops or hot pants doesn’t give people an automatic right to wear them…it is always good when you’re out and about to people watch and think ‘OMG did you see what he/she was wearing?'”

“Can I just say that as a lady of large proportions, I was not offended in the slightest by your comment…”

“As a fatty myself I also take no offence to what’s been said…and I’m fat because I eat too much and I’m a bit lazy, so if I get judged for that then I probably deserve it!”

“I don’t think N is “body-shaming” anybody at all. I think what she’s trying to say is that people could make themselves look better by dressing in something that better flatters their body shape.”

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So many parts of this debate fascinated and disturbed me in equal measure that I'm not sure I even know where to begin. Women feeling deserving of judgement because they're overweight, for a start.

The fact that so many women felt the need to clarify themselves as "fat"; seemingly before anyone else got the chance the say it first was really quite shocking to me. I openly admit that I have a problem with the word "fat". To me it is derogatory, demeaning and offensive. So many of us use it to describe ourselves and others, but not just as an adjective. The connotation is that it's something to be very ashamed of.

So ashamed, in fact that someone above said that large people “do not have the right” to wear certain things.

Do. Not. Have. The. Right. Let that one permeate for a moment. We live in a society where women have died and three feminist movements have taken place. As a result we have freedom of speech and expression and (to a degree) equality. There are many, many cultures where women still don’t have voices. They are literally killed for not conforming to oppressive regimes. Yet we women in the western world are implementing sanctions on ourselves based on what society says we should wear. Based on rules which state you can only wear certain clothes if you fit a precise image. If your BMI is under a certain point. As long as you’re not fat.

I have been the judgey person. I have. I have looked at women over a certain age and sniggered inwardly. I have looked at muffin tops (usually in the mirror, truth be told) and I’ve felt disdain. I’ve wondered what-on-earth is she thinking? whilst looking at a more voluptuous form spilling forth from an outfit. I have. And now I am sorry. I really am. Who has the right to say what a women can wear, whatever her size? It really is only society and the media who perpetuate this ideal. And we get sucked in. We turn this negativity inwards and outwards. We allow it to fester and to tarnish our self-image and our self esteem. Then we pass it on to our children.

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I did some research in to the “F Word”. I wondered if large women openly calling themselves fat was a way of appropriating the word again. Here’s a quote from one of my readers:

“Those of us who are involved in the Fat Acceptance/Health At Every Size movement describe ourselves as fat partly because yes, we’re reclaiming it, but mostly because the only reason it’s seen as an insult is because of societal attitudes. It’s not an insult in and of itself and nor should it be. To perceive it as an insult is to accept that there’s something wrong with being fat.
I often encounter people who, when they hear me describe myself as fat, go “Oh don’t put yourself down!” and I have to explain I’m not; I say I’m fat because I am, and to me it carries no negative connotation. “I am fat” is a neutral and accurate statement of fact just the same as “I have brown hair” or “my eyes are grey”. It is always best to be cautious because there’s no way of knowing how someone fat is comfortable describing themselves or being described without asking, or unless you see/hear them first, but my personal opinion (and that of many other body-positivity people I know) is that other terms are at best euphemistic and at worst, insulting.”

This whole conversation has opened my eyes in many way and is something I’ll be researching a lot more in to.

Again, I want to say that I don’t believe that N intended to cause such offence. That in itself has really made me think about some of the things I post online which are intended to be witty observations but in actual fact could perhaps be very upsetting to some. I recently posted something about poor grammar and the incorrect usage of your/you’re/there/they’re and their. Someone rightly commented that, actually, some people don’t find reading and writing to be straight-forward. I realised I had been judging and I felt dreadful.

On the other hand, I do think we can go too far in censoring ourselves. We should be able to make jokes and engage in banter. But at the same time, we need to be more mindful of who may be reading and what harm our words could cause. I clearly remember a close colleague of mine having to avoid Facebook whilst trying at length for a baby. Not, as you may assume, because she couldn’t bear to see birth announcements and baby pictures. It was because she couldn’t stand to read any more updates from mums complaining about how hard their job as a mother was. It was all she wanted in life and others seemed so ungrateful to her.

Sometimes in life, whether we intend to or not, we upset people. It takes a strong and self-aware woman to let the dust settle, step back and apologise. It’s even harder if you feel the issue lies in the eye (or interpretation) of the offended.

I’ll leave you with these thoughts: Can you envisage being confident enough in your own skin not to take offence in ill-though out Facebook messages?

Can you imagine how you’d feel if you genuinely didn’t care about your weight or your image? If you really loved yourself and saw your flaws as beautiful. If you didn’t judge or feel judged? If you saw beauty in everyone you looked at? Can you imagine giving this gift to your children?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. We are all on the same team, sisters. We really are. Let’s be kinder to ourselves and to each other. Beautiful inside and out, no matter what anyone says.

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I’d love your thoughts on this. Please remember that this article was written with love so please do comment with love, too. No bashing of anyone, please.

All pictures credited to We Heart It.