Body Image – MHAW 2019 – My Personal Exposé – and 10 years of change
The article below (see *****) was originally written 5 years ago.
This week (w/c 13 May 2019) is Mental Health Awareness Week, focused on Body Image. I felt that this was a good time to share changes I’ve been through; physically and mentally since 2008.
I take a personal interest in this because of the importance of mental health awareness for men over recent years. Men have increasingly felt anxious about the marketing of the male image and rightly so.
If you want to continue reading you will hear my thoughts on what health and body image means to me. I’m now 50yo and I can definitely feel and witness more physical changes than 5 years ago. But, in 2008, when I decided that I needed to make changes because I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror, the resulting body wasn’t the focus. Even back then I knew that my weight was a result of stress and struggle. Therefore, it was about focusing on new things – ensuring I had peace of mind, new aspirations, heading in a different direction and a radical change in life style. Thankfully, the influence of social media was less than it is today but there is no doubt that images such as those in Men’s Health magazine were setting a bar mere mortals would criticise themselves for failing to meet.
Chasing down an instagram body will bring most people face-to-face with their personal demons. How does a mirror or camera have the power to reflect our deepest and most critical sense of self? We all know that it’s not the perfect body that matters. We say that and mean it to our friends. Yet when it comes to our own body we often have harsher expectations than we do for those around us.
How do we promote and give priority to being healthy and feeling good while accepting that what’s behind the body image is far more important than the veneer of some good lighting and a lifetime of fads and insta-follows of genotypes that do not represent us?
Promoting our HEALTH is a far better model for improving our mental and physical wellbeing. It’s a “whole” approach.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE FROM APRIL 2013
This is going to be a long blog! Why is it that reflecting in our heads seems to happen in a heartbeat. Putting pen to paper seems to take so much longer!
5 Years Later – This Life Coach Reflects
The mind is always ticking away. It will remind us from time to time that there is always something processing in the background.
At the end of January I realised (in one of those light bulb moments) that it was exactly 5 years since I’d started to take care of myself – inside and out.
At the same time lots of little inspirational snippets began to catch my eye about focus, priorities, journeys, steps, time, sowing seeds, etc.
It was a BBC article on the current state of health in the UK that really caught my eye. Plus there was a Harvard Business Review Blog about blocking out time in your calendar for you. And, funnily enough, it was the blocking out time article that finally led me to writing this blogpost, for it was that very approach I took 5 years ago which started the journey of putting my priorities before work commitments.
By now a picture is emerging of the pieces coming together in a way that triggered me to reflect upon my own situation and how over time a lot can change for the better. There’s no doubt that it requires focus, re-focus, awareness and kindness.
And so, on-&-off since January, I have sat back and been astounded about how much has changed between 2008 & 2013.
Fundamentally, I think I’ve been rebooted! And to coin some sort of journey-esque phrase: You don’t know how far you’ve travelled until you turn around and look back.
Perception: What I See Is Not What You See. I See So Much More Inside!
In this 5 year spot-the-difference photo I can see and recognise a complete re-wiring of what I think and how I operate. The upshot is that the inside and the outside are in line with each other. There is no battle.
Yes, I am pleased that I look better. Our sense of our personal appearance helps personal esteem. But, it’s not the image that’s the result. The result is that I feel and am healthier than I’ve ever been. The word ‘healthier’ encompasses my mindset as well as what I do. Therefore, this transition represents things I’ve done to get here:
- learning to listen to myself – in all aspects of my life
- making educated choices – about all areas of my life
- regularly re-grouping with myself and my priorities – to maintain focus, again, in all areas of my life
- finding positive supportive people – to help me achieve what I want, oh again, in all areas of my life
2008: So Why Did It Start?
I was nearing the BIG-4-0 and ruminating. I was stressed, tired, frustrated. On the outside everything was fine or, at least, good enough. But inside I had become somewhat more of a state than a positive status.
So there came a point back in 2008 where I wanted:
- To decompress – stress levels were through the roof and being tired & run down the norm
- Become healthier – that meant wanting to feel more energetic & to feel lighter on the inside. Unburdened.
- Become fitter – feeling good for my age, agile, strong and appreciating that I have a good way to go yet. There’s nothing wrong in that.
- Re-locate for a while – moving away from London was increasingly on my mind. I lived in a great City but the sum of my use of it was the office, the tube or taxi and my sofa
- To look at other ways of working & enjoying life at the same time – I no longer wanted a traditional career. I wanted a portfolio of interests that mattered
Although materially quite happy with my lot, in many ways what I wanted was less and I needed that less to mean more.
As I began to think about each aspect of what I wanted, it was evident from the start that to make these changes I had to begin again. To start from the ground up. Tweaking bits around the edges wasn’t going to work.
Creating a new foundation of thinking and habits was needed. Get me right and I’d get the rest right.
It’s been 5 years of an evolving process. I have continued to learn more about myself, to read my moods and to assess my experiences along the way. Since 2008, the goals haven’t changed. From time to time I may need to re-prioritise various parts of myself but I fundamentally need to feel that nimbleness and awareness.
2013 (and now in 2019!): Where Am I?
- Recognising when to manage stress levels – I like to put pressure on myself but that’s about what I want, not what people want of me. If I feel I’m reacting to other people’s stress on me, I remind myself to step away. Getting older certainly bestows a maturity upon oneself to not take on-board other people’s emotions
- Being Healthy – I enjoy healthier food options & to be active. I genuinely enjoy it. If I go off-piste I know why, I ‘fess up to myself and to a couple of trusted people (everyone needs a confessor!) and I get back in the game. People spend too much time beating themselves up. Better to own up and move on. Who really cares more than you do? 🙂
- Appreciating my Location – Living on the English South Coast; on the beach, full sea views with The South Downs National Park behind me and still with great access to London. Win-Win.
These things continue to be the mainstay of creating my version of a healthy, healing & positive environment where I feel I can flourish.
*** Having taken the time to read this back to myself, this makes me sound like a nature loving and evolving eco-foodie. Given the recent climate (quite literally!) I probably am 🙂 That said, I am also a realist. I simply feel better and thrive in a good environment with the knowledge that being mindful of what I eat most of the time with regular exercise and activity is actually good for me. I feel it mentally and physically. I may wallow in a tub of Haagen Dazs from time to time. It’s just not nightly! ***
Add to that:
- I have re-trained as a coach and through that process I am much wiser and accepting of who I am and what I need to thrive intellectually
- I am not afraid to think, review options, act and even fail. I fail a lot. Who cares?!
- Coaching & mentoring; people’s personal development is what interests me most in life & how they apply what they learn
- Understanding the value of my money/finances/career. Going solo just at the start of the Financial Crisis in 2008 was a Boot Camp in “tighten and adapt, adapt, adapt”. There is no doubt I got the portfolio lifestyle I wanted and through it I value what I do, what I have and where & how I spend my hard-earned cash now more than at any time in my life. Maybe that’s also about getting older.
Many A Wise Word
I see no need to reinvent the wheel. What I’m going to list here you will have heard from many sources before. I do know that what I put here has worked for me.
- Eat well. It’s fundamental. It’s as quick, if not quicker, than fast food to make a damn fine meal. Respect yourself.
- Exercise. Sorry, we’re built to move. Move! Chairs are silent killers
- Sleep well. Don’t get caught up on the 8 hours thing. If it’s in the ballpark of a quality 6-9 hours, great. If you have trouble sleeping, which I have had when stressed, get up. Recognise it, make a hot drink, have no or low lighting, write down what’s worrying you (yes pen and paper works best) and you’ll be back to bed in an hour or so. I also use some guided meditations which I keep and use to go back to sleep. May I also take this opportunity to bang on about not using the PC or phone before going to bed? Consider yourself to be an evolved reptile. That blue light will only stimulate you. You’ve been stimulated enough by the day already. That’s why you’re awake at 3am!
- Have an engaging activity which provides you space from your day to day. It can be a sport or a hobby. You’ve heard that I like exercise. I also like knitting and making stained glass. Engage in polishing all those facets of yourself that make you sparkle. Knowing you have a physical and/or mental space where you are creative, engaged and liberated from “the usual stuff” creates mental freedom and promotes resilience through learning.
- Thinking clearly and positively allows you to plan better and to investigate options more creatively
- Exploring options is exciting. Expect to fail in some and to grow in others. Two steps forward & one step back is always progress
- Find your balance of thinking & doing. But do both in some measure
- Be around people who allow, assist & insist that you grow. They, too, will benefit from the best you possible
- Be emotionally intelligent. Recognise your emotions, triggers and accept what they mean. Handle them with respect. They each have meaning, purpose, time & place through which we develop & improve.
- Learn to sit with yourself. Once you are happy with you, you can face anyone and be content and confident in any situation
- In a fast-paced world, going slowly is a rediscovered luxury
- In a highly connected world, being off-grid is also the new luxury. Embrace it.
So what is Body Image?
Body Image can tell a story. It is part of a system of self-belief.
Sometimes our physical body may represent internal struggles. Other times, it recognises that changes may need to happen and self-care becomes a priority. Between 2008 and 2013 that’s what it was for me. The story is about self-care.
Since 2008 I’ve added a few kilos and seasonal variances mean that I will fluctuate. That’s being human and being over-50yo. I’m at a stage in life where 20-30-fit-somethings simply don’t represent me (as if the genetically pre-disposed ever did, but there was less media around and very few of my generation “worked out”).
Today, the 2013 picture helps me to navigate back to a healthy weight and a sense of nimbleness when I need to. It embodies how being active and being conscious of my diet is good for me mentally and physically. After all, there is a health crisis, I’m told.
It also reminds me that I need to reflect, accept and make changes. Stressing won’t help. So exercise also helps with stress. As does meditation.
I am more acutely aware that the progression of age and illnesses both have a huge impact on our physical and mental wellbeing. We need to be able to self-manage and to be encouraged by others through physical and mental step changes in life.
In those times, and fundamentally at all times, self-care is important and powerful. It helps our mood and positive outlook.
Body Image obsession is fed from social media and external pressures. We need to recognise the difference between that and self-care.
Body Image is about being cognitive of our wellbeing and our belief systems underlying our physical and mental health. Rather be a ‘fitty’ focus on being mentally and physically fit and agile.
Be Healthy. Be Whole.