Helen Cox is a UK author. She made her on-screen debut in The Krankies in 1990. Given the choice, her Mastermind topic would be Grease 2 and when someone asks her if she is a god she says 'yes.' Oh, you want to know about her books? Best click some of the links below.
This is my 35 year-old human body. It doesn’t represent me at my slimmest or at my heaviest. It’s just what it looks like today. I don’t have hard abs. I don’t have slim hips, and my addiction to cake, pasta and pizza will probably ensure I never do. Still, despite what other people might see as ‘flaws’, as a gift to myself on my 35th birthday, I’ve made a choice from here forward to see my body as beautiful.
I’ll let you into a secret about this body. For the last 25 years, regardless of what the scales have told me or what size dress I’ve pulled off the peg, I’ve hated it. At best, I’ve accepted my body as adequate and have gone to horrible lengths in order to make this body all I thought it had to be.
Like most young people concerned about their weight, I’ve skipped meals and starved myself. But in my twenties I also ensured I went to the gym seven days a week. No big deal, right? Lots of people do. Sure, but most people don’t also run and cycle for miles on top of that and team their activity with a diet strictly composed of salad and fruit.
No carbs. No protein. No substance.
It’s unsurprising to me that in a lot of the photographs taken in my early to mid-twenties, I look gaunt, tired and generally unwell. It was about that time that I was insisting on doing two hundred ab crunches a day. Until my mother found out that I was bleeding from my belly button and forbid me from doing any at all.
When I slowed down on the exercise I became even stricter with my food. So strict that I couldn’t maintain it and gained a lot of weight in a very short period of time before yet again finding ways to restrict myself in a bid to regain control of my eating, exercise and body shape. It was, for many years, a constant yo-yo of punishment and rebellion and the only casualty in this inner war, was me.
It got better over time. I started prioritising my health over my looks but I still didn’t think there was anything beautiful about me. I just couldn’t see it. And I only see now how deeply that affected my confidence. Because confidence, I believe, comes from embracing all parts of who you are. And I just wasn’t able to do that.
Is this embarrassing to admit? Yes. I’m ashamed of the way I have tortured my body to extremes, physically and psychologically, because I didn’t think it good enough. When in truth, my body was a gift I was given without even having to ask for it. As too was my life. And isn’t it ungrateful not to make the most of what we’re given? When presented with any gift, for us to say: ‘that’s not good enough.’
I’m not suggesting that I won’t try to make healthy food choices or that I’m never going to do any exercise ever again. I’ve always walked for miles; explored the countryside. The rivers. The hills. The hidden pathways. And I want to stay healthy; I want to look after the gift I’ve been given. But anything in excess, even exercise, can be damaging.
Of course philosophising about body issues is all well and good but how do those of us who suffer from them stamp out the lies we’ve told ourselves for years? Well, here’s my next embarrassing confession: I did it by taking a few photographs of my body… you know… not wearing all my clothes.
I get that it’s 2016 and that almost everybody on the planet has photographed their body for one reason or another. But though historians will tell you I was born a Millennial, I have an old-fashioned heart. The images could be deleted with one digital click but the idea of photographing my body was still frightening, completely alien and in many respects, absurd. Even so, pushing through this personal limit changed my perspective on my body, and in turn changed my life.
When I looked at the photographs, I couldn’t believe what I saw… where was this hideous monster I’d been imagining in my head? No really, where was she? I had some questions for her…
Nerve-wracking though it was, taking this step helped me realise my body was beautiful. For the first time in 35 years, I was seeing what was actually there. Not some grotesque projection in my head. And I don’t mind telling you that when I really saw myself, I cried.
It was relief. Relief that I’d been so wrong. Relief that I no longer had to torture myself and deem myself less worthy just because I didn’t fit into the size zero box society had constructed for me. That I could find beauty in what I looked like without that. My tears were also down to gratitude for the body I have and how lucky I am to have it.
Mam bought me this necklace for my birthday. It’s a quote from Jane Eyre and when we picked it out, she told me it was me. This is how people see me. A completely free spirit. Ensnared by no net. And though in so many respects that is true, I have kept this secret: that I have been caught in a net of sorts. The net of my own negativity. My own refusal to see anything beautiful when I look in the mirror.
But now, I’m done with that. The truth is, if you look for beauty, you find it.
I’m so grateful to all the people in my life who told me I was beautiful before I could see that beauty for myself. And I apologise to you for taking so long to come around on this one.
I promise the next personal epiphany will not be 25 years in the making. Probably.