First, a secret: by the time I was six years old, I already hated my body.
Let that sink in a moment – I shouldn’t have had a care in the world beyond who was borrowing my colouring pencils or wanting to stay up as late as my older sister, but I vividly remember at just six years of age staring in the bathroom mirror, pulling my stomach in tight and vowing to never breathe out again.
And so it continued, through my pre-teen years and into secondary school when naturally these things become all the more significant and difficult to deal with. By the time I reached sixth form, almost my entire self-worth was based around my body and not the academic success I was achieving. My hatred for my body – there is no other word for it – seeped into every aspect of my life, damaging not only my self-confidence and mental health but my relationships with those around me. I felt like a hypocrite: how could I claim to be body-positive when I harboured so much hatred for my own?
Then just before I started Year 13 I met G, who can be found at the gym at least four times a week. You might think that having a boyfriend who could probably model for a protein shake company would just make everything worse, but instead it gave me a boost – not only because he was interested in me in the first place, but because he told me all the time what I’d spent years telling other people and had never believed myself. Our minds and ideas and ambitions are more important than how we look, he said; you are more than your body.
What’s more, his discipline and love for the gym intrigued me; I was always the girl to complain about PE and avoid all exercise apart from my horse-riding and, bizarrely, mid-distance running. Back in high school I volunteered for around ten hours a week at my riding school which was very physical work, but by the time I started my gap year my fitness levels were at an all-time low; it occurred to me that although I was beginning to make peace with my body, I could maybe learn to appreciate and improve it, too. One day I stumbled upon the NHS’s Couch to 5k programme and podcasts, and rediscovered running.
From there, and amongst other things, my gap year became my year of fitness. Alongside improving my eating habits I finally found the courage to join the gym, and went swimming for the first time in six years. I bought a bikini for the first time in my life and allowed pictures of myself wearing it to appear on my Facebook profile for everyone to see. This time last year I was in the best shape of my life, and, what’s more, my body was no longer a source of pain and anger but a place of growth and empowerment. I was thrilled.
I’m not sure what led me to dropping off the bandwagon. Stress and anxiety over starting university caught up with me in a big way over the summer and I stopped eating well; my gym routine was boring me and I couldn’t find the motivation to run more than once a fortnight. I was going backwards. What’s most interesting was that I didn’t really care.
This, for me, is perhaps the most significant transformation of all; by the time Christmas came around I was back where I started, and it no longer mattered. There were more important things to concern me than a little extra fat here and there, and I was in no way unhealthy. I needed to focus on my degree, my relationships, and my family. All of these had to come first, before my physical insecurities which had, practically overnight, become insignificant.
I am proud of each step of this journey. I am proud that I overcame huge fear to join a gym and to wear a swimming costume and to buy a bikini and to run through my village on hot days in nothing but shorts and a sports bra. I am proud of how fit and healthy I was this time last year, and how confident I became as a result. What’s more, I am proud of the fact that when my efforts slipped, my attitude towards my body didn’t: I can say now that my self-worth is no longer ruled by what I see in the mirror, and that is a bigger difference than I ever could have imagined.
Now, though, I’m ready for the next step, and this time it isn’t about getting a flatter stomach. It’s not even about becoming the healthiest, fittest ‘me’ I can possibly be. Instead, it’s about making good choices to become a bit fitter and feel a bit better; I’m not going to become a fitness obsessive, but I do want to be pretty healthy.
So let me introduce the #PrettyHealthyProject!
I’ll be starting out small, making a few improvements to my eating habits and trying to fit in a bit more exercise, which should be easier now the days are a little longer. To keep myself accountable I’ll be writing fortnightly posts here every other Monday including monthly progress check-ins.
Like I say, I’m not trying to run a marathon or become a bikini competitor; this isn’t about getting a ‘beach body’ or even finding my body confidence – I’ve already got both (believe it or not, Protein World). Nor is it a competition with anyone else. Instead, I just want to find a lifestyle that allows me to enjoy my favourite foods (almost all of which would never be classed as ‘healthy’!) and activities whilst also being a pretty healthy person in general.
I’m really excited to have a space where I can share my experiences and find inspiration from the amazing health and fitness blogs out there. What’s more, any posts here or on my Twitter and Instagram will be tagged under #PrettyHealthyProject, so you can follow along there and even add your own posts if you want to join in.
I don’t think I’m going to undergo an enormous change either physically or mentally as a result of this project, but I do hope that over the next few weeks and months I’ll be able to track a difference in how I look and feel. Now, two weeks before my twentieth birthday, seems as good a time to start as any – and now I’ve told you all about it I’ve no excuses!
Let me know your thoughts about the #PrettyHealthyProject in the comments. Have you got any tips for me? I’d love to read some blogposts about getting started, so post them below!
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