“She’s so full of herself. She really loves herself,” was one of the many insults hurled around back when I went to school. To be told you were “up yourself” or “loved yourself” was a sure way to bring you down a peg or two. This is not what you need to hear as a teenager, battling all sorts of self-doubt. And I think it’s one of a million reasons I have struggled with the idea of loving myself ever since. Until the past year or so, that is.
I’ve always been an outwardly confident person. I’m chatty, love the limelight and have often been accused of being irritatingly chirpy. Inside, though, I’ve had my fair share of crises of confidence. Throughout my life I’ve been accused of being too loud, too confident and too annoying. When the reality is that I’ve often been my own biggest critic and I am sensitive beyond belief. You can be sensitive, humble and kind AND be confident, chatty and chirpy.
We have a real issue with confidence in this country. Or, rather, we have a real issue with ALLOWING ourselves to be OUTWARDLY confident. Maybe it’s the British self-deprecating humour thing or the fact that many of us wince at being the brash, annoying one at a party. But the thing is, while this self-deprecation might be charming at first, it holds us back. That’s my experience anyway.
Rewind back to a couple of years ago and I wasn’t very happy in my own skin. I felt heavy, uncomfortable and like I was taking up too much space – literally and metaphorically. Right now? I weigh the same as I did back then, but I feel COMPLETELY different. I look in the mirror and I like what I see, mainly because I like the person underneath. And not just that – I’ve given myself permission to like myself and be confident in owning it.
I’m not a model. I don’t have a Love Island body. But I genuinely feel good about myself because I know my worth is NOT defined by the way I look – it’s defined by the person that I am. And I’m a good person. A talented person, a funny person, a creative person, a kind and happy and caring person. And with that self-love has come an appreciation for what’s on the outside.
I used to look in the mirror and focus on the un-toned bits, the wobbles and the non-perky boobs. But when I started to look – to really look – I saw things I liked. My smile, my strong shoulders, my round bum. These aren’t things that define my worth – I am so much more than the shape of my body – but I feel good in appreciating them as PART of me.
And that’s OK. It really is OK to love yourself. People often confuse loving yourself with the traits of insecurity. Someone who “loves themselves” is seen as a diva, rude, someone who puts others down. For me, these are classic traits of insecurity and – I’d argue – the traits of someone who doesn’t really love themselves at all.
Someone who genuinely loves themselves has enough love to overflow from their cup into others. Their confidence is infectious, they lift others up and spread the joy without worrying it will run out if they don’t keep it all for themselves.
I feel like it’s time we started to change the language we use around confidence, body image and kindness. Instead of berating people for getting “too big for their boots” or “loving themselves” and rushing to be the most humble in the room why not celebrate our achievements – and those of others?
Maybe you’re a new mum. Next time you’re at baby group and someone starts a conversation about “losing the baby weight” you could reply with a comment about how grateful you are for your own body – and how your friend who wants to “lose the baby weight” looks amazing, especially seeing as she’s surviving on three hours sleep a night. This would be a far more positive and uplifting conversation than one talking about all the things you want to change about yourself.
Or maybe you’re a teenager and you don’t feel comfortable in your changing body shape. Instead of looking at Love Island or models in magazines, know that these are a small minority of the shapes in the world and that your shape – whatever shape that may be – is JUST as worthy of love as any other. And tell this to your friends when you see them looking in the mirror or feeling nervous in the changing rooms before PE.
There are so many conversations we could be having around confidence, self-love and body image that are WAY more productive and positive than the ones we’re currently having. But I have hope that by the time my own girls are my age hopefully we’ll all be adept at loving ourselves, owning our confidence with pride and avoiding the trap of instant self-deprecation and negativity.
Until then, love yourself. It’s the only self you’ve got.