Can you remember the day you first saw photos that made you think ‘Oh my God – I look awful?
I think most of us can relate to the moment when we see a set of holiday photos and say silently (or not so silently) “Oh God, look at that bloody awful photo – I look dreadful. I feel fat” – I can remember that moment clearly, I hated my knees in a pair of shorts, I felt as though I looked pudgy and awful.
I was ten years old. I was really very pretty. I was not, by any stretch of the imagination, fat or awful.
From 10 years old to 41
I was badly bullied at school by mean and jealous girls who knew the way to wound a shy child. Girls can be the best of friends but also the cruellest of bullies. They know instinctively how to damage self-confidence and how to capitalise on the stress that causes. They did it very well.
I hated myself in that photo at ten years old and for about the next 30 years.
Size no object
And the sad thing was, I hated myself whether I was a size eight or a size sixteen. Whether my hair was long enough to sit on or cropped close to my head. I hated myself in a photo whether in a ball gown or in jeans. I avoided the camera for three decades.
I also formed a less than healthy relationship with food.
Growing up in a foodie family I had the luxury of eating well all through my childhood and teens. My mum cooked fantastic and wholesome meals from scratch even when times were hard – and often for her, times were hard. I don’t think I realised how hard until many years later, but food was always readily available and cooked with love. This, as it turns out would later by my saving grace.
A battle with weight…and food
My weight has yo-yoed from the date of that photo onwards. I loathed the years of teenage puppy fat, often throwing my sandwiches away on the school bus and making the way through the day, weak and wobbly, surviving on an apple and a drink. I would return home starving, to a home cooked meal and devour it, only to feel fat and horrendous afterwards. As I approached my mid-teens I was diagnosed with PCOS which fellow sufferers will know means that maintaining a slim figure is harder than it might otherwise be.
Alcopops and garlic chips are not a balanced diet
Throughout university I was the only one in the house who really knew how to cook – but in a culture of takeaways and drinking, someone who could whip up a decent meal wasn’t really held in high regard, so very often I joined the others. A diet of alcopops and little else certainly slims you down fast but doesn’t do much for your general health. Bulimia looked attractive, anorexia a glamorous option for girls with real willpower.
A year in the land of the thinnest girls on the planet
A year of uni in the stunning town of Aix-en-Provence did little for my confidence either. With every menu full of ‘plats minceur’ (diet meals) and with most French women in the late nineties living mainly on salad and diuretics, a girl who see-sawed between a size 8 and a size 14 in a year went in and out of fashion. I can clearly remember being in a store and laughing with a friend at the size of a pair of trousers “who the heck fits into these” I joked “surely there aren’t people who can fit a leg into these” I can remember turning around to face the smirks of two French teenagers, who could both have fitted their entire bodies into one leg – at the same time! Not a great moment.
I never really talked about my weight issues, my troubles with food. It was the elephant in the room and I only ever wanted to be the skeleton in the closet.
Becoming a mum
Ironically, I wholly embraced my pregnancies, revelling in my round belly that was growing a small person. Being pregnant at the same time as Victoria Beckham meant that within days of producing a mewling newborn, the press was full of her miraculous ability to snap back to her pre-pregnancy jeans within hours. I didn’t – but I did launch into a slimming frenzy the moment I stopped breastfeeding.
As I raised my two stunning daughters and handsome boy, I often felt a kind of…jealousy? That sounds crazy right? I still craved the feeling of being beautiful, pretty, slim or athletic. None of which I felt.
One evening when my eldest daughter was about seven, a Weight Watchers advert appeared on the TV. My daughter watched Patsy Kensit prancing around in a little black dress – waxing lyrical about her hew lease of life having dropped the pounds. My daughter turned to me and said “she looks happy in that dress mummy – you don’t feel like that do you”.
I would like to say that this was turning point. My wake-up call. But it wasn’t. It just made me feel even worse. I got back on the cruel hamster wheel of self-loathing and crazy diets. They didn’t work.
So what stopped me feeling like this for the rest of my life?
Two things happened.
First of all I met a coach. The wonderful Josephine Laakso. An intuitive woman who taught me tools for self-acceptance, taught me to be brave enough to connect with my spiritual self (which I always suspected was waiting in the wings but never dared to venture towards). Over a period of four enlightening months we went on a powerful, emotional and often exhausting journey where I was taught to find my true passions and beliefs. Through meditations, manifestations and fearless self assessment, combined with a no nonsense business focus, she encouraged me to reconnect with the things I really cared about – taught me to dream about the things that really set my soul on fire. After much soul searching it became clear that those things were family and food. Simple.
I began to cook again, to embrace the season. To feed myself well. I started to celebrate food rather than fear it. I cooked it, shared it and photographed it in all its glory. Food became a channel for wellbeing, health, kindness and connections. Just as it had always been in my childhood.
I hunted out farmers markets, small producers, specialist producers and cooked for my life. I amassed a recipe book collection of over a hundred books – maybe way more – I haven’t counted.
Secondly – very slowly at first, I began to notice the signs of discomfort in my pre-teen daughter. A skipping of the odd breakfast, eating rubbish over healthy foods, saying that foods made her feel a bit funny sometimes. A girl who checks her reflection in every mirror and every shop window. Right now, she still wants to wear bikinis and shorts, sundresses and swimsuits. I want more than anything for her to stay this way.
No more wishing we could be someone else
I don’t want my girls or any girls or boys for that matter, to waste 30 or more years wishing they looked like someone else. 30 years of avoiding social situations or camera lenses. How much harder it must be under the relentless onslaught of social media, I’m not sure I will ever fully understand.
But I do know this.
Having finally accepted myself (which is currently a very curvy size 16) I feel more capable than ever to make better choices myself, healthy choices, choices that make me feel better, feel happy, as opposed to purely choices that will make me look thin.
I’m on a journey to share my experiences of embracing food and to help others rekindle their love of food and themselves. I will help you to create healthy (and occasionally downright naughty) food from simple ingredients and to teach you and your kids to embrace food in all its wonderful deliciousness.
Are you with me?