‘Your legs look great. I can’t believe you’re still going on about them. You haven’t changed. Just get them out and be done with it!’
This is one of my friends berating me in a Whistles changing room. She’s an old friend and one of the people that always inspires me image and fashion wise (and every other wise too – she’s got three kids and is a proper, functioning woman with all her shit in order). As teenagers we’d go to Spain every year and my main preoccupation was how to cover myself up. I’ve always hated my legs and devised a way of getting into the sea that involved dropping my towel at the last minute (often ending up with a soaking wet towel). The sad thing is I look back at photos from that era (we actually got them printed up in those days) and realise that I rock! (if you screen out the perm and dodgy stone wash shorts).
Nora Ephron, the American writer, once famously said, ‘How I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was twenty-six. If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini, and don’t take it off until you’re thirty-four.’
And she was right. I should have worn a bikini and ran straight into that sea like a dancing love pony. I should have been on TV wearing one. I should have run up and down outside my school with a giant flag strewn with bikinis.
It’s a cruel joke that sometimes you’re equipped with the best physical attributes when your body confidence is at its lowest. For some women this hopefully improves in their thirties (some feel great in their twenties but I haven’t met any). Then pregnancy and birth happens and the whole apple cart is overturned.
Being pregnant was great because I started respecting my body more (instead of seeing it as configuration of erroneous elements). I got REALLY big but for the first time I felt good. All I cared about was the fact I was carrying this precious person inside. Bikinis weren’t even on my radar.
But now two years later I’ve swung back into low body confidence again. If I have a holiday planned the first thing I start looking for is kaftans. I’d swim in a kaftan if I could. Pregnancy, birth and breast-feeding have all taken their toll. There’s something alien about my stomach. And I have to pick my boobs up tenderly each morning and place them into my bra (like two sleepy dormouses being returned to their nests). And yes I know there are many of you out there thinking – Celebrate your saggy self! It’s the miracle of Motherhood! But I know if you saw me out of my kaftan you’d be critical too. We all secretly felt happy when we saw the photos of Nigella in her ‘burkini’. Women are often their own worst enemies.
So how do I start to feel better about the way I look?
There have been a few positive signs. For a start being a Mum has given me a lot less time to think about my body. The last holiday we went on I found myself racing after my daughter without a thought about my wobbly arse (apart from a strong desire to sit down on it). The physical side of parenting has also meant I’ve lost weight just getting up at five and going at it all day. And I have an obsession with not passing this issue on to my daughter. There is enough body paranoia in the wider culture without her having to absorb it at home too. I relish the fact that she has no real awareness of this shit and want to keep it that way for as long as I can.
But I know it sounds trite but I still wish I’d worn a bikini more often (there’s loads of other regrets too like why I didn’t become a prima ballerina or go on a date with the singer from ‘Curiosity Killed The Cat’). For now a calm stoicism has set in.
This body has done an amazing thing (and may do it again but I doubt it, I’m getting on now). The fact that it wobbles a bit isn’t really a big deal.