Instagram, fashion, body image and me

ice cream flake

Yesterday I ordered a bikini. Obviously I am aware that the current heatwave won’t last forever, and that the last few years of Cornish seaside holidays have been more likely to require welly boots and a fleece for beachwear so this really is a triumph of optimism, but nonetheless I have ordered it, and I can’t tell you what a big deal that is for me. You see, I am thirty-seven, and the last time I wore a bikini I was about 6 years old and in the paddling pool in our back garden. A couple of times I’ve ventured into tankini territory, but by and large I’m a one-piece girl all the way.

Why? Well, even in my early twenties, before two full-term pregnancies and two c-sections and two extra stone of weight, I was self-conscious about my tummy. It wasn’t flat, it wasn’t toned, it wasn’t tanned, I wasn’t a size 10 and therefore a bikini was out of bounds to me. It breaks my heart that I had so little self-confidence, that I had been so brainwashed by unrealistic expectations of what a woman’s body should look like, that I honestly believed that exposing a curved stomach to public gaze was offensive to others and embarrassing to me. And then this week I had a lightbulb moment. I was looking back and regretting that I didn’t appreciate that slimmer, younger, fitter self and why I didn’t enjoy wearing a bikini when I ‘could’, when I suddenly realised I was doing the same thing now. Yes, my tummy is very far from flat or toned, I am a size 14 mother-of-two with scars and stretch marks galore, but doesn’t my poor beleaguered tummy deserve a bit of sunshine? It’s carried my two amazing daughters, and the precious babies I never got to meet, it’s been sliced open to deliver them, and it’s been poked and prodded within an inch of its life through pregnancy, miscarriage, delivery and all the rest of it, and I’m going to stop being ashamed of it. Or try, at least.

Where has all this body confidence come from? In a word, Instagram? It’s funny,  because social media in general, and Instagram in particular, come under a lot of criticism for making people miserable through their unrealistic portrayal of perfect lives, but nothing could be further from my experience. It was mainstream media, particularly women’s magazines, which fed my neuroses and insecurity. Headlines of ‘get bikini body ready’ which were inevitably attached to an article which advised giving up pretty much everything I enjoy made me feel miserable and inadequate, whereas now I am exposed to quotes like “How do you get a bikini body? Choose a bikini and put it on your body” or “How do you get beach body ready? Have a body and go to the beach” and this drip feed of body positivity is slowly but surely having an effect.

It’s not just the bikini thing, either. It’s fashion in general. I’ve blogged before about how I lost my fashion mojo in the throes of being pregnant or breastfeeding or running around after small messy children and never getting a chance to go shopping. How ‘fashion’ meant seizing an hour when somehow the children were either asleep in their buggy or temporarily being cared for elsewhere, diving into the nearest shop, grabbing an armful of clothes in an approximation of my size, and going home. Sometimes they fitted and looked nice…to be honest, more often they didn’t. But the chasm between my life being splattered with carrot puree or poster paint whilst crawling round the floor pretending to be a donkey, and the images portrayed in fashion mags was so great that it didn’t seem worth even aspiring to. I was a thirty-something mum, and my time for fashionable dressing had passed.

Now, though, I get my fashion inspiration from an array of fabulous and very real women I follow on Instagram. People like Alison Perry (@iamalisonperry), Clemmie Hooper (@motherofdaughters), Molly Forbes (@mollyjforbes), Helen Thorn (@helenwearsasize18),  and Candice Brathwaite (@candicebrathwaite) post a lot about body confidence and body positivity (amongst other things!), and also just about the clothes they like and look incredible in. Many of the women who inspire me on Instagram have young children to crawl round after, a lot of them have bodies that differ from a fashion model size 8, a lot of them have a limited budget and/or time for shopping, but they look amazing. One by one I have been galvanised to drop self-imposed rules on the inadvisability of wearing things like bright colours, prints, skinny jeans, red lipstick, slogan t-shirts, or dungarees and have embraced the lot. I’ve discovered non high street brands like MonkiMonki, Joanie Clothing, and of course a passion for charity shops, following my buy nothing new year.

I’ve stopped telling myself I’ll buy things when I’ve lost weight, or that I’m too old for certain looks. I’ve stopped worrying about what the size label says – if it fits well, and feels comfortable and looks good then it doesn’t matter, and I’ve started buying bikinis. Whether I actually start wearing it, well, that depends on the vagaries of the Cornish weather.

 

 

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All quiet on the blogging front

I realised this morning just how long it is since I blogged here. Life has very much been getting in the way. Some of that has been positive – I’ve done a bit of decorating and enjoyed a beautifully relaxed half term with my family, and some hasn’t been quite so good as I’ve had some ongoing health issues. There is also the undeniable fact that it is really easy to get out of the habit very quickly!

So, this is a bit of a round-up post.

Anna had an INSET day at the beginning of half-term, so we thought we would take advantage of a day when lots of schools were still in to head to Brighton when it would hopefully be quieter. Brighton is one of my favourite UK cities (others, if you’re interested, being Liverpool, Oxford and Edinburgh), and we always have a lovely time there. Unfortunately I was feeling incredibly tired. I have a kind of inflammatory arthritis called Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), and fatigue is one of the symptoms. Thankfully it isn’t all the time, but when it hits it is that kind of stop-you-in-your-tracks exhaustion that  is normally associated with a bad attack of flu or early pregnancy.

What that meant in practice, however, was that I was forced to sit in Choccy Woccy Doo-Dah’s amazing cafe (a place so awesome I had to include a scene set there in my first book, Two for Joy), and imbibe a mountain of melted chocolate with delicious dippy bits while my husband took the children to play on the beach.

chocolate extravaganza

It’s not often I am defeated by chocolate, but I couldn’t manage to finish this, much to the children’s delight when they came back to meet me and got to hoover up the remains! We had a laid-back meander through the Lanes, some Lebanese flatbreads for lunch, and then Sophia fell asleep in her buggy and napped while I sat with her on the pier and gazed at the sea, and husband took Anna on the fairground.

The next day wasn’t quite so pleasant, as I spent a large part of it in Moorfields Eye Hospital A&E. Another delightful element of AS is that it can cause serious eye problems which need immediate treatment to avoid your sight being damaged in the long-term. I had had a niggling ache in my eye for a few days, which suddenly got worse, and so off to A&E I had to go. Thankfully it was only a relatively minor infection, but it took a while, several examinations and some rather painful eye drops to reach that conclusion.

After that we were off to Liverpool to stay with my parents for a few days. For once, heading Up North meant that we got the best of the weather, escaping the horrendous thunderstorms and torrential rain in London, and getting some lovely warm sunshine. We had a really nice few days, taking the children to Southport to the miniature railway village and to the newly refurbished playground and soft play extravaganza at Otterspool, and going out for a proper afternoon tea, as well as just hanging out in the garden. I also got the chance to have dinner and a catch-up with two of my lovely school friends.

S water play

We came home to have a fairly quiet weekend relaxing at home and doing some gardening, and then it was back to school for what is always one of the busiest half-terms of the year. The few weeks before Christmas are always chocca, but I think this half term with its school trips, sports days, summer fairs, and so on gives it a run for its money. Anna has a fortnight of daily swimming lessons with school, so I actually feel like I’ve spent most of my time in the last week washing and drying towels and swimsuits!

I’ve also seen my rheumatology consultant, and there is a possibility that I could be suitable for a clinical trial of some drugs which he believes could really help with my AS, both in controlling symptoms now and also mitigating some of the longer term effects it can have. It’s a bit nerve-racking, and I might end up spending rather more time than I’d like going back and forth to the hospital for blood tests and so on, but it is also potentially very positive.

I’ve had quite a few people ask me recently what is happening with my writing, and when my next novel is coming. There isn’t really a short answer. I have been working on a book, the first draft of which is now finished, parts of which I love, and which has characters whose story I really want to tell. However, it needs a lot of work and editing to get it where it needs to be, and at the moment I am in a kind of limbo as my literary agent is retiring soon, so I will need a new agent, and my editor at Hodder has a new job, and her replacement won’t be starting for a while. I’m definitely at the point where I need some team effort with my book, and so I am hanging on until my new agent is in place and can give me some strategic (and hopefully metaphorical) kicks up the backside. In the meantime my brain is teaming with ideas and stories, and my biggest problem is  finding the time to actually write them down. Writing, and therefore working for myself, is in many ways an ideal career for combining with looking after the children, but the downside of no fixed working hours is that it takes an awful lot of determination and focus to carve out protected time for writing and then stick to it come hell or high water. I have struggled with that a bit recently, and my mission for September, when Sophia starts nursery, is to well and truly get myself back in the writing saddle.

And in my final, and possibly most exciting, piece of news: My peony plant flowered! Aren’t they just exquisite?

peonies

So that’s where I am as we approach the halfway point of 2018!