The Ultimate Diet.

Apologies for the lack of posting; new job means getting used to a new routine in a new phase of my life.

As I’ve said before it has been my own journey through body image issues and self-discovery that has led to me to this new place of positive body image activism. I only recently noticed that an old triggering point had arisen once again: gaining weight. I spent too much time in my teenage years and early 20’s battling my own mindset about how I looked, how I should look and struggling to disassociate my worth from my weight. So this now felt like a great time to test whether I could walk the walk, after I’ve spent so much time and effort on here talking the talk.

A UK size 14-16 is where I have averaged out throughout my adult life; I used to be positively ecstatic if I fitted into something smaller as the numbers meant a lot to me. Looking back now I can see just how much they dictated how I felt about myself at 18 years old, even though it’s so clear I have always been an average or below average size. But I was cross with my body because I felt it didn’t allow me to be the person I wanted to be.

I tried to stick to the ‘rules’ of how women considered ‘curvy’ should appear. Try to keep your hair long and full, it will hide excess chins and it’s more feminine. No boots, we don’t want to make those legs look bigger do we? Try a flared jean instead to balance out those proportions. Accentuate your waist as it’s the smallest part of your body, we need to see how small you can be! Try an A-line skirt to skim and cover your hips. Three-quarter length sleeves will hide any unsightly bingo wings. PUT DOWN THAT TANK TOP!

This kind of thing really annoys me. I’m not a piece of fruit.What it should say is: Are you human shaped? Then wear whatever the hell you want.

 

I was lucky I have family who tried their best to balance out the negativity I was picking up from outside, but those external influences are strong at a young age. The message I received from the media was that we must always try to be smaller, more fragile…

Women should aim to take up less space.

Confused?

Are you confused?

 

When actually, if pinterest had been around then, mine would have been filled with cropped hair, mini skirts, doc martin boots and skinny jeans. Now this isn’t to say I NEVER wore any of these things, because I did. But the point is how I allowed myself to feel in them, and if I had been brutally honest, I usually felt uncomfortable. Thankfully, nowadays I’m way more relaxed, so much so that I almost missed the opportunity to write about this, simply because it didn’t become a ‘thing’ in my life.

Until summer I’d spent a period of time being at the smallest I’ve ever been at a 10-12. It wasn’t something I’d taken much notice of because I no longer weigh myself or particularly pay much attention to what size I’m buying. I was eating on the go and exercising 6 times a week as a way to de-stress my way through my fourth and final year at college. Although I had no time to socialise and was in bed by 9 most nights; I wasn’t obsessive, I wasn’t restrictive or negative, it was just my life and routine at that time. The only other time I have been that size was in the end stages of my time living away from home; when I was devastated by bereavement and possibly suffering from a mental breakdown. Nevertheless, at this present time I was casually applauded for this change in all situations; at college, at the gym, at church and when I was out socially. Years back this used to make me feel really good; but now I just smile awkwardly so as not to be rude, but know that on the inside I’m eye-rolling. When one girl noticed my disdain for the ‘compliment’ of “you’ve lost weight, you look amazing now” I was told to “enjoy it” and that “you love it really, everyone likes to hear they’re thinner.” I’m at a point now where if that’s what you think I’m thinking, you really don’t know me at all.

 

Smaller, earlier in 2014. That skirt might not fit now…but it is JUST a skirt.

 

When I finished college everything changed. I had kept my head so focused on that end goal for 4 years, I really hadn’t thought of life beyond getting that certificate, because if you had told me 5 years ago that’s where I’d be, I wouldn’t have believed you. My routine changed; I was job hunting, writing, not working out much, happily spending time re-focusing on what the next journey could be. The whole rhythm of my life changed again. I wasn’t sad to leave college, I had gained everything I wanted out of the experience. It wasn’t all easy, as change seldom is but I’m focused on all the privileges I am blessed with in my life that some people don’t have, one of the biggest privileges of all: choices.

And as I contemplated all the things I have achieved so far that I am actually proud of and all the things I still hope to achieve, I wondered how they could link in to my blogging experience. I got my answer when I was getting dressed later that week; a proportion of my clothes no longer fitted and I found myself just casually tutting instead of blind panic. Sure, it was annoying, those skirts my mum had taken in would need letting out and still might not fit, I even hulked out of one of my favourite shirts…

I lift weights at the gym to be strong not to make myself small, so feeling a bit she-hulk was kind of awesome.

I lift weights at the gym to be strong not to make myself small, so feeling a bit She-Hulk was kind of awesome.

 

But I didn’t freak out. I just adjusted my diet a bit and aimed that I’d stick to 2/3 workouts that I enjoy a week whenever they fitted into the rest of my life…but my size didn’t change. And I finally got it, that this is my natural shape. The thing that so many women fight a daily battle against. Because you can never win when you make yourself the enemy. As long as you’re healthy (whatever that is for you as an individual) and happy you are winning. I may have gained physical weight, but I realised I’d finally lost what I had needed to all along, I’d lost the emotional weight. Don’t underestimate it, that’s a lot heavier than you might give it credit. You’ll be so much lighter to do all the things you want to do, to dream all the things you might do. Lose the guilt associated with taking up more space in the world. Lose the shame that you’re ‘letting yourself go’ if you skip a few workouts. Lose the fear of being less attractive because in real life you can’t Photoshop yourself to perfection. Lose the hate that you will be worth less because you weigh more.

That is the only diet you will ever need. Lose your emotional weight.

This will mean so many different things to people, that I couldn’t begin to cover it here, but start the ultimate diet by focusing on the achievements in your life that have nothing to do with your weight and appearance. All the positive things and things I am most proud of: finishing school, travelling, always working at any job I could find, re-discovering my christian faith, having wonderful family and friends, overcoming depression, supporting gender equality and gay rights, getting my degree, appreciating what I have, always keeping hold of my dreams…you wouldn’t need to know the number on my scales or the number in my waistband for any of those things.

 

 

So what have you done?

Found out who your true friends are and cherish them?

Made peace with something or someone in your life?

Studied towards something that means a lot to you?

Fallen in love?

Have a wonderful family?

Got a job you love?

Left a job you hate?

Travelled alone?

Faced your fears?

Stood up for what you believe in, at all costs?

Always remember those things. The positive and negative, the light and shade in your life is who you are; your spirit, experiences, memories, choices and changes. Not your physical body.

 

We will all be smaller and larger at different times in our lives but we must never let it dictate our worth. I will keep saying this, over and over: your weight has NOTHING to do with your value in life. If you’re a size 6 or a 26; you can be whatever you want, your dreams are just as valid and attainable as the next persons and you can be beautiful and sexy. So don’t wait to lose weight, or gain it, before you start living your life and being you. It goes by so quickly, there’s only one you, there will only ever be one you. So make it count.

Oh and stop being an apple, rectangle or pencil and wear what you want. Your ‘bony’ legs or your ‘spare tire’ aren’t going to kill anyone. And just FYI, I recently graduated, bought more miniskirts, now own multiple pairs of boots and chopped my hair off…and it feels great.

Thanks to Beauty Redefined for the celebrity quotes.

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Ubiquitous

I started Art College back in 2010, it seems such a long a time ago yet when I look back over my work it can feel like yesterday. Going back to education was one of the best decisions I ever made. I rushed into things years ago when I returned back from travelling; picked the wrong course and when personal turmoil meant I had to move home, I was left feeling like I’d wasted so much time.

But it all helped shape where I am, who I am today. That’s the thing with loss; there really is only two options once you’ve hit rock bottom. You can become embittered and angry at the world, deciding it owes you something to make up for all that it has taken. That pain will eat away at you from the inside until all good that enters your life is brushed with the slick poison of fear and fury. Or you grit your teeth, somewhat reluctantly and feel the pain in your heart as a reminder that you are still alive. The best way I’ve found to remember those you’ve lost, is to nurture immense gratitude for your own life and to make it as happy you can on your terms. Find contentment in the small things and work through each day until your smile isn’t just a mask on your face but genuine in your heart again.

That is what ‘Ubiquitous’ was all about. My final Degree project. The culmination of 4 years of soul searching and confidence rebuilding through photography and writing.

An extract from the foreword:

“This series explores the journey through loss; rediscovering the world and your place in it after that time.The sense of uncertainty and confusion is all-consuming after a loss as you search through the haze for traces of normality and what was once present. Using photography this story is told through varying shades of light and shadow, hope and despair, life and death. Bereavement can create a time of readjustment, a quiet period of contemplation which canbecome a catalyst to start seeing everything anew. Like ripples on the water, change spills out further than you first realised.

A curiosity and comfort can be found in the mundane; everyday moments revealing beauty and sadness, the simplicity and greatness in everything. And as you make your way through the dark towards lighter moments the horizon no longer feels so far away. Although everything will always feel more delicate, more fragile, like it could be blown away in a breeze. So you cherish the sun on your face, the sound of the crashing waves and when spring returns you finally realize that what you seek cannot be found in any fixed place. It is found everywhere.

This work has grown to represent all those tiny moments, shattered fragments, the missing pieces. They are the quotidian, the banal and the profound. They are the visual footprints through the loneliest yet most universally human experience we have. Hopefully it can serve as a reminder that as well as grief and sadness, comfort, love and hope are not a rarity.

They are ubiquitous.”

All rights reserved © 2014 Jennifer-Anne. Do not use without the 
artist's permission.

When I finally held the book in my hands it was like a relief, there was something so cathartic about releasing all that I had been carrying around for 4 years. As cliche as it may sound, it was the work I was meant to make there. But instead of feeling like the end, I think it’s really only just the beginning.

To see a preview and/or order a copy, please visit my Blurb Bookstore

Think ‘Unlimited’

I have been lucky enough in between work this week to travel up to London for the career advice and inspiration sessions hosted by GoThinkBig.

I applied way back at the beginning of the summer and booked my accommodation and travel straight away because I was determined I would be going; luckily that paid off!

Entering into the final year of my degree *sobs* seemed like a fitting time to hear from people experiencing success in their chosen fields. You were able to select two of the four talks to attend and I was pleased to find I had gained a place on the fashion and media (sport and music were also available). It was clear when I arrived that I was in a very small minority of those above 25 but my old anxieties are now replaced by a quiet contentment that I already posses a certain level of ‘life experience’. And when I sat myself down next to a lovely young girl named Amy, 17,still at school and figuring out what to do with her life, it got me thinking about my own path.

I can barely believe it has been nearly 10 years since I left school. I spent a long time feeling like I hadn’t achieved enough and wasted too many years but I can now look back and see how all the experiences both positive and negative have shaped the very determined and ambitious person I am today. Now that all sounds a bit self-congratulatory but I’m not ashamed to say I’ve worked very had to get myself where I am now both physically and mentally. Soon to graduate and to start finding a career, to the outside it seems like I’m only at the start. It’s true I have spent a lot of time fumbling back and forth through the beginning chapters of my story before realising the absence of any clear plot; but like any good novel it has to be edited and re-drafted before it’s ready to reveal a synopsis.

The key is to know when to stop re-drafting and move on

..which takes me to the present.

Now in the grand scheme of things, being 17 wasn’t really that long ago for me, although it seems like decades ago. Perhaps this is because during that time in between you do the vast majority of developing who you are.

What they don’t tell you at school is that often you will be a completely different person heading towards your thirties than you were as a teenager. The decisions, loves, hates, aspirations may all completely change too. And that’s ok. It’s also ok I might add to know what you want to do from and young age and stick to it. More power to you!

Because of financial, social and just general stability factors, most schools tend to push a single focused career agenda instead of the ‘have a go at a bit of everything until you find your niche’ route. In theory I guess this makes sense but sometimes you’ll be better off for following the latter.

Make no mistake, I do not mean for people to drop out of school and be a bum until they have a light bulb moment; those only come from already engaging in something and stimulating your brain. Education is such a wonderful privilege and should be taken full advantage of. What I mean to say is, be driven by your passion and not what career you or others think you should have.

Because if you have passion, you will make it work.

This was the underlying notion put forward by all the GoThinkBig speakers yesterday. A special mention to Sabina Emrit, founder and editor of Access-Fashion who was kind enough to stay after and answer even more questions from me and impart some invaluable advice.

It was reassuring to hear everyone on the panel’s individual paths; how their career journeys were never linear, involved a lot of hard work but essentially bought them to a successful outcome. These are not people who then just sit back and rest on their laurels, you could sense the relentless desire to harness creative energy and ideas. What I really took away from the session is that qualifications do indeed help your chances at employment but enthusiasm and happiness are the qualities that are always remembered.

I also picked up the importance of not to ‘pigeon hole’ yourself with what you do. That’s one of the main reasons I chose a photography degree; I’m so used to the uncomfortable and worried expressions I’m met with when I say may not actually become just a straight photographer after I graduate. Why? Why, they ask me did I do it at all then. The answer is simple: because I love it. But I’ve never treated getting a degree as a subject specific, blinkered experience. I chose a degree I knew I could stick at for 4 years and not tire of it and one that would give me transferable skills so I would be able to branch out further into the creative industry.

When I think back to all the changes I’ve gone through in terms of who and what I want to be, I’m grateful for them. You can look back at things and see them as a ‘waste of time’ or you can realise the value of them, the key is to find what lesson you learnt from each of them and how it informed you to be able to move forward to what you do want.

At one point in time I have wanted to be one or more of these things…and I was very serious about them:

Mermaid

Fashion Designer

Vet

Storm Chaser

Swimmer

Opera Singer

Guitarist in a band

Wedding Planner

Creative Director of a magazine

Interior Designer

A character from Animals of Farthing Wood

Visual merchandiser

Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance’s wife (yes that IS an aspiration!)

Actress

Photographer

Curator

Author

Only a few will always remain unchanged and those are the ones you need to follow. Some are just physically impossible.

But inevitably change is what leads us to success.

Humans have been adapting since our beginnings, it is how we progress and grow individually and as a whole. So, if you get to 20, 30, 40 and beyond and feel the pull of a need for change, well there’s certainly no shame in that. It could be just what you need.

And if you’re doing something extraordinary, it may even be just what the world needs.