Body confidence. It's something I write about a lot working for an empowering publication like Red, but sadly, it's not something I often practise myself.
I look like I do, I stride into rooms confidently and wear trends with seeming ease, but inside I'm usually fervently adjusting my clothes before I walk into any room for fear of showing off too much cleavage or an unflattering tuck around my rotund middle, a habit formed from a perpetual dislike of parts of my body I deem different to the shiny bodied people I see plastered all over the media on a daily basis.
As someone who works in the industry and knows the tricks of the trade, you'd think I'd be immune to the societal pressure of the beauty industry and enjoy the rise in normal-sized models starting to creep into the mainstream. And I do, but after I applaud them, I go back to , waiting until the day I'll look like them, because surely my size 8, small-boobed days are just around the corner, right?
Well, probably not, but what I'm realising is that it might be no bad thing. I've confided in friends about my fears of sagging breasts at the tender age of 30, only to have them stare at me in confusion: "You have big boobs...", they say, "it's totally natural!", they tell me, as I'm briefly consoled, before plunging straight back into mentally auto-correcting my body.
I was listening to an old episode recently, where presenter read out a mock conversation of her judgemental inner monologue, as if it were a friend; a really terrible, mean and judgemental friend. Pointing out that if someone spoke to us in the same harsh way we do to ourselves, said friend would likely be phased out of our lives pretty swiftly. Listening to the podcast, I realised how much I resonated with this story; the harsh language I use to describe myself to others and the quick self-judgements that flare up when I stare in the mirror for any length of time.
Despite professing the importance of self-love to others, I frequently cast a ruthless eye over my reflection, berating myself for perceived flaws.
A recent trip to the all-female bathing pond at Hampstead Heath in North London proved a surprisingly pivotal moment for my body confidence. Gazing around at all the normal-looking topless women sunbathing, with breasts of all shapes and sizes, I realised that there is no 'right' way for my body to look, and that real women all look different. Some have no boobs at all, some have perky, dainty cup sizes (the ones I often wish I had), but the majority had breasts that didn't sit where we're told they should on the female body.
As I darted fervent looks around the pond, comparing myself to these strong, confident-looking women, sitting around chatting and laughing, as I awkwardly fidgeted with the clasp of my bikini top; I had a lightbulb moment. Not only were they not lying back on the grass posing, breathing in and tilting their bodies in a way that best maximised their assets, but they were sitting hunched over, no thought given to look or height of their breasts, Something that I always place such a high value on was simply not a priority for them.
I'm not saying I now love every aspect of my body and my years of self-criticism have been washed away in one magical afternoon at a semi-nude bathing pond, but I can now look at myself naked in the mirror without turning away in shame or irritation. I can look at my breasts and see a womanly feature almost identical to the groups of women I saw on the heath that day, and I can look at my skin contorting as I twist my body around to look at my back with fondness, rather than trying to mentally retouch it.