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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Your ordinary and magical life.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the ordinary and the exceptional.

I read about this speech David Mccullough had given at the commencement for high school students, boldly reminding them they are ‘nothing special’, you can read about it here. And also thinking about my only encounters since graduating; the countless  uncomfortable looks given when I state I’m ‘just sticking around here at the moment’ when asked what I’m doing next. “Aren’t you going to set up your own business and become a professional?” Umm….no, no current plans for that. Always followed by a big grin to ease their unwarranted disappointment. Thankfully though I was not bought up in a house that measures success only by accolades.

There seems to be this unspoken desire in our culture today that we have to aspire to be remarkable individuals, but that ideal is measured on a skewed scale.

We have such a limited, blinkered view of what we perceive to be an accomplished life. Money and notoriety are presented to us as things that are synonymous with happiness. There is this idea that we should always want more. The problem is that no one really knows what they are chasing, this thing that has no tangible form, nobody knows what it looks like or what it feels like. Therefore this desire to do more, be more, achieve more can be manipulated, packaged into countless forms. And sold as solutions and ideals for those hungry for reassurance to devour. But it can never satisfy.

I think there is a lot of misconception about settling for an ‘ordinary’ life, not constantly feeling that urge to fill your life with ‘more’. As if it means you should give up on all your fantastical dreams. That should never be the case. You just cannot live off delusions of grandeur based on other people’s sense of success if you want true happiness. You cannot strive to be the best at what you love, just so society will give you a pat on the back for trampling over the competition, triumphing over thousands of others with your same dream. Your dreams must be rooted within you, to be fulfilled because they bring you contentment and peace. The outcome is sometimes superfluous, it’s the journey, the enjoyment of the present that counts.

I love to write. I have been writing my first book for a few years and I have no idea if it will ever be a ‘bestseller’ but I HAVE to write it because I couldn’t live with it inside me forever. It would be wonderful if a lot of people eventually read it…but it’s not why I’m writing it.

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There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do something huge to change the world for the better…but do it for that reason. A successful life is not just about getting on the rich list or having your picture the newspapers or hitting 10k followers on Instagram. That’s great if you have arrived there through a lot of hard work, with a happy heart; not needing anything more, but taking opportunities graciously as they present themselves. A successful life is full of friendship, love, simple acts of kindness to others, loss, strength, hope and happy memories.

Getting average grades at school makes you no less worthwhile than the straight A students. Leaving college and working in a local shop (like me) doesn’t have to make you feel any less successful than those who moved to the big city with the high paid jobs. Staying in the same town all your years and leading a quiet life is no less remarkable than someone who worked all over the world and regularly attended ‘prestigious’ events. Comparisons make people miserable and don’t think there aren’t powers beyond some of our control that don’t know that.

So don’t measure yourself against industries that seek to extract money from you, society standards that seek to make you feel inadequate or people who seek negativity and woe in every corner of life.

Watch the seasons change, take pictures, see your loved ones grow and change, comfort the sick and those in need with love, listen to the birds sing and see them fly, feel the sun on your face, the wind in your hair, remember your dreams and hold tight to them or adapt them through the years.

There is no doubt there is a lot of suffering and hardship to be seen, but the Dalai Lama says that if each of us simply strives to be happy, it’s one of the best ways to change the whole world.

I saw this advert on Facebook a while ago and though I knew it was a commercial I thought the narrative was beautiful.

 

Your life, can be extraordinary. Just give yourself permission to let it be so, on your terms.

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

The State of Happiness

Firstly apologies for the lack of posting; Bank Holidays and working in hospitality= seriously busy followed by seriously tired! But busy is always better than bored 🙂 Anyway…

I recently spoke to someone I haven’t seen in a while. Just casual chit-chat and small talk but I started to notice a quizzical look in their eyes.

“You’re very happy today. What’s new?”

“Nothing much” I smiled. “Just made a few changes in my attitude.”

When my answer didn’t satisfy I was met by a barrage of questioning in attempt to discover exactly where my chipper mood had emerged from.

We can be very untrusting of genuinely happy people. I remember a girl at school who was always smiling, always so nice, but I just didn’t buy it. Convinced she was hiding something I never felt I could be friends with her. Ridiculous!

Happiness; such a simple concept, yet something so many of us have trouble realising. It is something you have to actively participate in. Although it’s a bit of a paradox, since I have decided to create a ‘happier self’ I have found myself now and then rather uneasy and that’s because finding true happiness means breaking routine and making a change. It doesn’t just happen, it requires action and dedication in cultivating a positive mindset.

I’ve put together a little list of positive actions I personally bear in mind and thought it might be worth sharing. Now I know it all sounds a bit like work and initially it might be, but the benefits are well worth the effort. At first you might be shocked as you realise all the negativity you’ve been harbouring subconsciously as it’s ingrained in our primitive brains to think this way. However sorting through your emotional junk can be a very cathartic process and hopefully a rewarding one too.

It should be noted beforehand that it can, depending on your personality, take a lot of mental strength to genuinely achieve this; simply because often without even realising, negative responses are habitual part of your daily life. But even if you just start doing one of these I’m sure it will make a difference 🙂

Sever ties with poisonous behaviour-Gossiping.

This was a big one for me though it shames me to admit. Gossiping is not nice; it’s petty, jealous behaviour that only people with unfulfilling personal lives engage in. It may seem like a harmless past-time amongst friends but as a group it makes you cliquey and unapproachable and as an individual it makes you untrustworthy. Think before you speak.

Mind your own business.

We live in a culture obsessed with comparing ourselves to one another. Sure, it can be argued that this drives some to aim higher and achieve more, which is great if it works for you but it can also be very destructive.

Why would you let others define you?

Essentially this is what you are doing when you concern yourselves too much with others business. You are leading your own life and worrying about what someone else is doing will only hinder your progress.

Make peace with your past.

Holding on to grudges and resentments will only hurt you; reinforcing the negativity and initial sting you felt at whatever happened. It’s ok to be hurt by bad things, they happen and that’s life but don’t let them set up camp in your heart and eat it away. Things that are unchangeable will always remain so; deal with them and move on.

Be mindful of the present.

I was terrible at this! Always so fretful of the passing of time, worrying about the future and how I was going to reach my goals. Patience is a very strong and powerful tool that is intrinsically linked with happiness and has personally been the most difficult to master. Patience brings with it acceptance which in turn will attract happiness.

Let go of your expectations because they can in fact become limitations. Be mindful of where you are right now, it may not be where you want to be but that’s not the point, every step is part of the journey and if you are positive you can take something from every experience instead of just writing things off as ‘wrong decisions’ and ‘bad choices’. Enjoy where you are now, find something about it that makes you happy because it’s all part of your life. Don’t be so hasty to race to the end of the story otherwise you’ll miss some of the best parts.

Stop worrying what others think of you.

This is the downfall of many. You have things you want to do but become chained up by the fear of what everyone else may say about your choices. Well know this: you chained yourself up because it’s all in your hands.

Think of it this way, if we take a big example like having religious faith. Now some people believe in a God and some don’t, you may have seen or heard debates about it, each side trying to persuade the other they are right. No one ever caves in because it’s firmly what they believe and you aren’t going to change it and why should you. You can do this until your blue in the face but at the end of the day people will think whatever they want. That’s free will.

This is also true of the things you worry about in your day-to-day life. So if you want a radical career change or want to cut all your hair off, all that matters is that it’s your decision and it will make YOU happy. The problem doesn’t lie with others; however much that may seem like the easier option, you can’t lay blame where it doesn’t belong. It’s a bitter pill to swallow but it really is up to you whether or not you feel this way. Stop making others responsible for your happiness and you will feel much better.

Listen.

This is a simple one but often overlooked. In a world that’s crammed with social media and ‘selfies’, everything can become rather self-absorbed, but it’s so important to remember to listen to others. Everyone has something to say and something that is interesting and relevant to them, whether you feel it’s relevant to you doesn’t always matter. You should take interest in others as it’s pleasing to people to feel someone wants to hear what they have to say and in return you could learn something that will enrich your own life.

Say goodbye to fear.

This is one of the ‘action’ points. We all have phobias  but there is a distinct difference to someone having a strong dislike of something to letting it rule your life.

This is how I was with Spiders. Now its very early days for me with this but I have recently been having hypnotherapy for my fear of spiders. I would say to people ‘I freak out if I see a spider’ and they’d be all ‘oh yeah me too’.

No. I actually FREAK. OUT.

To the point where I was starting to feel sick even at the thought of them and being in the same space would literally bring me out in a cold sweat. That’s not cool and no way to live your life. I just decided it was enough and sought help. I’m never going to like them, I don’t want to be the lady who cuddles them to sleep and if someone put one in front of me I’d probably still give them a dead arm for being such an arse, but hopefully I will be able to start living my life happier from now on.

All of this because I am taking steps to free myself from the barriers that fear creates. This can be translated to anything within your lives that is holding you back. You owe it to yourself to at least try to be rid of this paralysing emotion because no one else can do it for you.

Be positive and grateful.

Have you heard the saying that ‘Like attracts like’? It is so true. If you make a conscious effort to be more positive you will in time draw more of it to you through your thoughts and actions. Put an end to wasting your energy on focusing on what you don’t want; mentally visualising negative things only perpetuates the belief that it will eventually become reality. Use the power of your mind to devote your thoughts to happiness, try not to sweat the small stuff and be consciously grateful of every moment that makes you smile. Keep in mind that of course ‘down days’ are totally normal and not something to feel guilty about because you’re ‘supposed to be happy now’. You would have no appreciation of the good if you didn’t acknowledge the bad. It’s how you react to it that is important; keeping everything in perspective and balance. THIS is what happy people do.

The general criticism of happy people from negative minds is that they are not ‘realistic’. Well you know what, the more I think about it, the more I realise they’ve actually got that the wrong way round.

Happy Wednesday 🙂

When I should be sleeping….

I’ve been sat at my desk for what feels like eternity this evening.

As a bit of a former technophobe all this social media and networking makes me feel a bit crazy sometimes…

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Yep. Just like that.

I’ve been sat linking all my sites together, creating a ‘professional’ Facebook page, STILL mulling over the dissertation ideas. And for a moment I was like ‘What am I doing?’ I’m acting like I have this huge brand for crying out loud. That sinister breed of negativity that whispers in your ear ‘you’re not going to make it’. But I have learnt to fight back at it. Life is for dreaming all those wonderful things you want to achieve but don’t let them just be dreams. Do everything you can! Yes, it may all come crashing down but then change your angle of repose, take it on from a different view-point and keep on chasing 🙂

I am dreaming big again. And sometimes that scares me.

But that’s ok.

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When in doubt, choose change.

So I’m back from my break away in Spain and to my amazement I have returned to sunshine which is such a welcome sight and helps negate the symptoms of post-holiday blues. Initially my first post was going to be about my trip but sometimes you are just swept away, somewhere else…..

“Are you happy with how things are going then?” someone said to me a couple of months ago in response to my answer about particular plans I have for the next year or so. I shrugged and replied fairly contented with “Yeah, I suppose so.” This generic and pretty bland statement summed up how I felt about most things really. Now don’t get me wrong, I was not unhappy by any means. I feel very blessed in my life and have been very lucky to have a wonderful family and friends. But if I’m honest, I’d lost my fire and my heading, coasting along with the sails pushing me forward in no particular direction. It’s scary to say out loud those three words when someone asks “So what are you going to do when you graduate?” or “Where do you think this will take you?”

Truth: I don’t know.

At 26 most people expect me to know the answer to these questions. To rattle off some well thought out plan, but I don’t really have one. After experiencing a bereavement that turned my world upside down I kind of stopped making plans. I was adamant there was no point because things can change so quickly and just turn everything that was once solid into dust. I think however through that haze when my heart was incredibly sad for a long time I muddled plans, goals and ambitions together. And therefore although I pulled myself back up and started doing something that I love, I have still been maintaining the barrier between myself and…….wait for it, it’s a scary one to the non-planner……the future. However things are changing and I’m just starting to be aware of that.

I’ve experienced a personal shift recently, in my behaviour, my thoughts, my general outlook on everything. Why? I’m honestly not 100% sure really. I didn’t wake up one day and just….change. And yet I genuinely feel different now I think about it, sat in front of this screen considering where life may take me and the choices I have to make. Perhaps it was all that sun and time to contemplate away from everyday distractions.

For someone reading this seeing black and white statements that I’m happy and doing something I love, all this soul-searching might seem a bit self-indulgent and superfluous, to which I would not necessarily argue against. However life is all about highs and lows, appreciating the former because of the latter and perhaps hitting a long period of plateauing can be the catalyst for all of this.

Where I once coasted along, I feel I am now starting to be an active participant in my own happiness and future. I want to be a writer, but I wasn’t writing. I couldn’t concentrate on reading books and poetry that I love and inspire me because my mind was always looking around somewhere else. I love music but my old piano sits gathering dust. It’s ridiculous now I see it written out but I couldn’t hold a direction because although I was content it was all just jumbled fuzz in my mind. “Just get on and do it” I can hear the cries. But for those who have suffered a bereavement of any kind, I’m sure it rings true with many, that you just lose your confidence, with everything. And I think that realisation is only just hitting me….five years on. That old cliché that time is a healer may just be right.

I hope that if you are asked that same question “Are you happy with how things are going then?” that it is a resounding yes with a smile. Of course we all have bad times, we can’t all be beaming Cheshire cats 24/7, I think that would annoy even someone as chipper as me! But if you are plateauing, make a change. Any change. It can be the smallest thing like spending more time with someone you love or taking up that hobby you’ve been going to start for years; but do it, it could make a change that you never realised possible.

As for me, I shall be spending less time being a day-dreamer and more time actively pursuing those daydreams because you never know…..they could come true. Fear and complacency have no place in achieving what you want. When you stop living within the parameters of others expectations and opinions of you, you can finally wake up.

Start as we mean to go on…

I have been sat at my desk for days pouring over college work and all this technical jargon  of html and widgets flying at me left, right and centre (metaphorically of course, the alternative is rather scary). Anyway all the while I have been trying to think of a photographers name I looked at on one of my last years projects, it’s been driving me mad! And suddenly just when I had given up and stopped thinking about it my sub-concious gave in and let me have it. So to celebrate here he is: Kurt Tong….wont be forgetting that one again!

Memories, Dreams; Interrupted

 

I’ve linked to that particular gallery because it’s my favourite but have an explore (page 3 has a lovely description of the work). I love the way he captures scenes as they might appear to us in memories; slightly blurred and disjointed but enough to conjure back the feelings at the time. Beautiful images.

All images ©Kurt Tong.