New Life: Birth and Rebirth

Last Sunday, I wasn’t having a particularly great afternoon. The morning had started off pretty well, in all fairness. The weather was beautiful, a blissful, balmy 28 degrees, more tropical than typical UK weather. I’d gone to yoga for a particularly sweaty session and very much enjoyed it. The afternoon took a turn for the worst, however, when I learnt I’d been rejected for a job I’d been pretty confident I’d at least be elegible to be interviewed for. As usual when I feel inadequate, my thoughts inexplicably and uselessly turned to regulating my food intake and exercise levels. I felt uncomfortable – it was Father’s Day and we’d had a buffet lunch. I suddenly felt weak, out of control and greedy. I felt that I’d over indulged and old, restrictive thoughts started to swim menacingly, shark-like around the peripheries of my mental space. Altough I’d been lounging in the garden with my family, basking in the (rare) sunshine, I’m ashamed to say that I gave in to compensatory behaviours and sneaked off to excericse. My mother followed me and rumbled me in my attempts. I was embarrassed and annoyed with myself – as much as I feel I really have managed to forge a much healthier relationship with food on the whole, some aspects of my mentality surrounding my consumption and my body remain strange. Her calling me out on the ridiculousness of surreptitiously isolating myself in order to ‘burn off’ lunch when I should be enjoying relaxing family time made me realise how selfish I was being. It also made me realise how far I still have to go to feel ‘normal’ again in regards to my thoughts and behaviours. I let my insecurities get the better of me, yet again. 

So I was feeling pretty subdued, on the whole. Tired. Tired of battling with myself day in, day out. Tired of job hunting. Tired of being afraid. 

Things certainly got a hell of a lot brighter when my cousin casually informed me via text that she’d given birth, three weeks early, to her second child. A baby boy. She invited us to go and visit them in the maternity ward of the local hospital. We jumped in the car, eager and excited to do just that. 

I saw him and thought immediately: he’s perfect. He has a dent in his ear at the moment (forceps – ouch). Perfect. He has a slight scratch. Still perfect. He’s healthy. Beautiful. I watched his chest rise and fall, watched his hands curl into into little fists. I traced the oval shape of his tiny fingernails. Perfect. So alive. Babies are the opposite of tired. They are so awake, so raw. They are painfully, stunningly, beautifully fresh. New. I sometimes wonder if that’s why they wail so piercingly. Why wouldn’t they? Everything is a first – every sight, every sound, a sensory overload. Baby L was patient as he was passed around like a beloved, tiny, precious parcel from one adoring, cooing relative to another. I held him in my arms and as he blinked those blue eyes open, peering into mine, the afternoon’s feeling of being irreversibly tired just melted away. He was placid and strikingly peaceful while we held him. He was so content, and holding him, a bundle of purity pernsonified and encased in a teeny babygrow, I felt content too. I looked at my cousin, who’d been so brave in what was, by all accounts, a pretty horrendous birthing experience. I watched her smile down at her first son, and got a reality check on what’s actually important in life. Love. Family. 

Sunday was a day of gains, on the whole. I may have lost a job prospect. Lost some peace of mind, some perceived ‘progress.’ So what? Life is not linear. It has ups and down, and the day’s gains outweighed the losses. I gained a new member of my family. I looked down at him and saw the world through raw, fresh eyes. I gained perspective. I looked at him and felt love: I gained extra room in my heart, as corny as that sounds. A new person to love. 

Last weekend we welcomed 7lbs of joy into our family and into the world. I hope baby L soaks up life. I hope he looks around at the simpering faces cooing down at him (I imagine we look simultaneously idiotic and fairly menacing), and that he is able to sense how much he is loved. I’ve only met him once, in the three days he has so far experienced. He has already made my life better. He has already made me appreciate life more. He has already made me less tired. 

Life is precious. New life is the even more so. Here’s to living like the oversized babies that we all are – curious, soaking up new senses, surroundings, and experiences. Here’s to loving without limits. Here’s to family. Here’s to realising what the important things really are, and taking comfort in the fact that every day is a second chance; an opportunity to be born again. 

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Getting Snap Happy – A Quick Update

This was initially intended to be a different, longer, more thoroughly researched post. I started a piece focused upon my belief that art – from contemporary pieces produced by artists today to work from the old masters – can help us to appreciate the beauty within ourselves and in the world around us. Art is, after all, a tangible record, a documentation and a visual depiction of an aestheticised subject. It’s an encapsulation of that particular artist’s version of beautiful. 

Portraits are particularly useful in considering the ever transitioning standards of beauty. Body goals for Rubens are quite different to the #fitspo that populates the Instagram feeds of 2017. Botticelli’s Venus probably wouldn’t make it down the runway come New York fashion week. Picasso’s painted ladies would need facial realignment surgeries, but I’m actually not sure that having eyes in the side of your face was a good look back then, either. The point I’m trying clumsily to make is this; there’s no one way to be beautiful – there really is just difference, and that difference should be celebrated.  I will write that piece eventually, when the time is right. It just isn’t right today.

Truth is, I started writing, and I felt like an utter fraud. I’ve been having a few rough days body-image wise, analysing my reflection in the mirror far too often. What kind of hypocrite was I? How could I possibly preach about the importance of seeing beauty in all things when I can’t even find peace or acceptance in regards to my own body? I haven’t weighed myself in an age, but I can see changes starting, slowly. As I’m trying to become less rigid in my eating habits and rules (I’ve documented my body/food issues in much more detail in an earlier post, in the unlikely event that you’re interested), allowing myself to eat delicious food with my family, and not documenting every single calorie that passes my lips, I’m slowly but surely becoming less bony, less fragile looking. The bones in my hands and feet are becoming less pronounced. I’m finding that I’m bloating in my belly after eating, but my rib-cage is still pronounced, giving me a shape that I feel is reminiscent of a pregnant stick-insect. Attractive. I’m still thin – too thin for my natural weight. I will undoubtedly gain more weight, and should. I know this, but these perceived changes, real or imaginary, unavoidably send me hurtling down a rabbit-hole of ruminations on my body fueled by self-doubt and insecurity. I find myself spiraling, ridiculously, annoyingly, for not much reason at all, into a pretty damn anxious state. I need to be drawn out of myself, distracted from my preoccupation with thoughts about my own looks. One thing that’s really helped these past couple of days has been photography.

My fabulous mum and dad bought me an DSLR Camera for my birthday, and they really generously presented it to me a little early. I really enjoy taking snaps while I’m out and about, but as of yet have been sticking with the trusty iPhone. Although a lot more cumbersome, there’s something just inherently more satisfying about hearing the click of a full-size, proper camera. I’m still very, very, very much an amateur photographer – I can barely even get the camera to focus. Yet it makes me happy. I’m finding myself looking at the world around me from a new perspective, thinking about something other than myself and seeing the beauty in the small details. Through a photographer’s eyes, I’m noticing the drops of dew on a spiderweb, the symmetry of a ladybird’s spots, the spectrum of colours in a magpie’s wings. I’m looking for beauty in places I wouldn’t have before and finding it. Although this is a slightly rambling, confused kind of post, (admittedly, I am often both rambling and confused myself), I hope it just conveys, in a kind of round-about-way, that we can find something lovely in just about most things. Photography is helping me to become less wrapped up in my own head – instead of wandering around outside, zombie-like and engrossed in thought, I’m actively looking at my surroundings, searching for a chance to get snap happy. Nature is awesome, and the universe seems to be generally pretty willing to provide some kind of photo opportunity. I’d encourage anyone to find an activity that keeps you mindful, even if it isn’t photography. It’s so necessary for our overall well being to be brought back to the present moment, distracted from incessant ‘what-if’s’ and worries. Sometimes, we just have to look up, view life through a rose-tinted camera lens, and appreciate a pretty goddamn flower. There’s so much beauty in the small things – we just need to be willing to see it.

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For more excessive pictures of flowers (and a few awkward selfies…), check out my personal Instagram account @lornsmae

Honey, I shrunk myself: A personal f**ck you to diet culture and the reign of the calorie count.  

SlimFast. Weight Watchers. Tea-toxes. We are bombarded each day with adverts informing us of the multiple sins our bodies are committing, and what exactly we should be doing to rectify these ‘problem areas.’ I am not saying that there is anything inherently wrong with diets, or with any of the methods I have listed above (the exception to this, in my opinion, is the ‘detox tea’ – as well marketed as these are, they are essentially laxatives in tea form, and are incredibly easy to abuse). If calorie counting, monitoring ‘syns’, or tracking macros enables you to feel happy and healthy, and helps you stay at a body weight right for you, then that is commendable.  It just hasn’t worked out for me.

I fell into the trap of obsessively calorie counting. I gained weight at university, as many of us do. I drank far too much and comfort ate out of boredom and loneliness. A very understandable, human thing to do. I was still the same clothing size as when I arrived, but was certainly much fluffier and wider than I had been. There was fat where there had been no fat before. I took to pinching it whenever I showered or looked in the mirror, disgusted, feeling like a stranger in my own body. I was revolted and uncomfortable that there suddenly seemed to be ‘more’ of me.  I’d always been insecure, with my body image and how I felt about myself varying from day to day. However,
things were becoming increasingly worse. The more I stared in the mirror, the larger I felt. I analysed my reflection, panicked, my heart thudding. Irrational thoughts would creep insidiously into my brain, spreading and taking root like poison ivy. What if I just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger? I imagined myself blowing up to gargantuan proportions, ballooning in Harry Potter Aunt Marge style. I felt that Something Drastic must be done. And quickly. I would gain back control of my rebelling body.

So I turned to the unfailingly reliable source of information (ha!) Google, and started scrutinising Instagram ‘fitspiration’ accounts for tips. Most advised a strict diet of no more that 1,200 calories (what I now know to be the recommended intake for a six to eight year old child). I gleaned that I must exercise intensely as much as possible in order to achieve maximum fat loss. I must record everything I consumed on a calorie-counting app, so as to keep myself ‘accountable.’

I went about it with a vengeance. I lost my tiny little mind. I had dreams about vanilla cheesecake. The low-calorie aisle in the supermarket was my kingdom. Everything I ate was now low calorie, low fat, low flavour. This new ‘healthy’ lifestyle resulted in making me the most mentally and physically unhealthy I have ever been. I became fearful and stressed around food, and was undoubtedly a nightmare to live with. I can only give a sincere apology to my parents. It must be unnerving to watch your child, once not adverse to following an entire takeaway pizza with generous scoops of Ben & Jerry’s, almost cry when necessity dictated I must eat white bread instead of brown. Today, I still hear the tension in my own voice when I am faced with a food choice I am uncomfortable with. I anger and frustrate myself. I hate that I seem unable to just enjoy delicious food without worrying about the impact it will have upon my body. It’s irritating, and representative of everything I do not want to be as a person. I sincerely hope that the day will come soon when I can truly feel free in my food choices.

So, following this new punitive regime, the weight fell off. Sure, I was miserable, exhausting myself with hours of exercise and for a particularly dark weekend subsisting on unseasoned salad and reduced Sodium Covent Garden soup, but I was getting skinnier! I was also really f**cking miserable. I isolated myself on the off-chance that this sick regime might be noticed and challenged. I had panic attacks alone in my room. Even to the very few friends I eventually confided in, I found it difficult to be honest about how much I was struggling. I continued getting smaller. I was losing the love handles I’d loathed, the ample chest I’d been embarrassed by. I was hooked. My previously large chest was flatter, so looking down at my body, I only saw more fat that I felt needed to be erased. I couldn’t see how thin I was getting. I whittled myself down to a clothing size that wouldn’t have fit me at thirteen years old. I certainly didn’t feel any more attractive than I had previously. On days that I had a clear perception of what I truly looked like, I just got a sick sense of  achievement from noting that the fragility I was feeling on the inside was finally being reflected in the mirror. I felt lost, and so my food intake became something I could control at a time I felt increasingly powerless.

Fat is not a four letter word. As much as our culture demonises being overweight under the self-righteous and dubious campaign of concern that ‘it’s just so unhealthy!’, the underweight body is just as unable to function optimally. My current lack of body fat ensures that I am permanently freezing, when others are shrugging of their jackets. I am embarrassed to shake hands with strangers because my hands are always icy. The health risks of being at a weight too low for your body’s comfortable ‘range’ are numerous and vastly frightening. Skinny is not always glamorous.

As a society, we need to work to stop the labelling of food as ‘good,’ or ‘bad’, and to stop proclaiming that we are so ‘naughty’ for eating that biscuit and that we must ‘work off’ that slice of birthday cake. I am trying to re-learn that food is just that – food. Calories are not insidious shadow demons. They are units of energy, designed to keep us alive. I deserve to eat whether I do a ten mile run or sit in bed all day, and you do too.
Lately, I have improved vastly, and am eating so many foods I would have deeemed ‘forbidden’ this time last year. I am attempting to regain to a healthy body weight. I will find it uncomfortable. I have become used to the protruding bones, the angled shoulders, the stick-like thighs, the lack of padding when I sit down. But I must, and I will. I am slowly learning to silence warped thoughts that whisper lies into my ear: that I must be small to be worthy of love, that I must control every aspect of my food and exercise regime or else I am a failure. They are not true. I would not hold anyone else to such an evil, f**cked up standard, so why do I punish myself with such unforgiving thoughts?

I want to be healthy, in its true, balanced sense. I want to get my period back, be more fun, more spontaneous, and live life to its fullest. I want to stop uncomfortable toe cramps from constantly numb feet. I want to stop feeling the chill that comes from the inside. I write this post not out of any desire for pity, but rather as a form of therapy. I must drill it into my psyche that I am more than a number on a scale or clothing tag. I deserve to be defined by more than my gravitational pull towards the Earth. As the end of my university degree will hopefully herald a new era of descreased stress levels, the easier I imagine it will be to gain, and to build a life and mentality that does not revolve around worries about the way I look. My new motto: Healthy = Happy. Happy is the new skinny.

In conclusion: I’d rather have a life over a thigh gap, and happiness over dizziness and fatigue and irritability and heartburn and lack of menstruation and all the other delightful things that come part and parcel of being at an unhealthily low body weight. If you’re reading this and struggling: please know that people don’t love you on the condition that you’re skinny, or that you can do ‘x’ number of minutes on a treadmill. They love you for you. For your laugh, for your kindness, for the light in your eyes that may have been duller, lately. Your life is for living now, not when you’re down a clothing size. Food is not something you earn, it’s a requirement to function. Love yourself now, as you are, and do what makes you happy. You deserve to. For the first time in a long while, I feel that I may be able to start following my own advice and live a life that reflects my beliefs. Life is precious, and we must make the most of it.

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#Unfiltered: Lily Collins, autobiography, and why we all probably need a #realitycheck

The news often vaguely ominously informs us that we live in the “Age of Social Media.” I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what this actually means, about the impact of social media upon all of our lives, and particularly about its impact upon Generation Z – those of us born from the mid 1990s to 2010. At the risk of sounding like I’m playing the world’s smallest violin over here, I actually think us Z-listers have it pretty rough in a few respects. First of all, unlike our parents before us, we do not as of yet have a Spice Girls song named after our generation, which I feel is a problem. Spice Girls gripe aside, I also notice that the creeping encroachment of social media in every aspect of our day-to-day experience is something that older generations (understandably) struggle to comprehend. Instagram, Facebook and Twitter can actually prove as damaging as they are connecting. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming, as though everyone else’s life is picture perfect. Sometimes your life can feel like a bad night-club photo. All of your friends look beautiful and perfectly poised, whereas you’re not looking at the camera, have accidentally shut your eyes, and half of your head has been cropped from the photo frame. Unfortunately, real life has no ‘untag’ option.

Something that actress Lily Collins explores brilliantly in

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#Unfiltered but still, presumably, filtered. Taken from Lily Collins’ Instagram @lilyjcollins

her autobiographical book ‘#Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me’ is the value of transparency in the age where Instagram reigns and no post is complete without a smattering of hashtags and a flattering filter. I related to a lot of the issues she explores within the novel, as many others within my age bracket will undoubtedly do so. Collins tackles everything from relationship issues to eating disorders, body image struggles, and articulates that gnawing feeling that you’re just plain old weird. She does so with a tact and wittiness that came as both a surprise and pleasure to me. The book was courageous. There’s an incredible bravery in laying yourself bare. Sure, some of the sentiments were slightly saccharine, but the book was ultimately inspiring and uplifting. It made me smile. It made me cry. It was jarring to see some of the feelings I struggle everyday to express articulated clearly on the page by a celebrity that I had admittedly previously admired more for her beauty and style than for her emotional intelligence.

All in all, I think we (myself included), need to unplug and appreciate the value of living #unfiltered. Like Collins so brilliantly says,  “We all want to feel part of something greater. But sometimes, though we recognize this shared instinct to connect, we get stuck in our own heads, convincing ourselves that no one else could understand our problems, that we’re outsiders.” Scrolling  through an infinite feed of posed photographs, it is incredibly easy to get caught in a spiral of self-hatred and to just feel utterly at sea, wondering if everyone else has been given some kind of manual on how to succeed and yours has gotten lost in the post. ‘I’m not enough,’ we sometimes tell ourselves, getting trapped inside our own minds and giving in to crippling waves of insecurity. In a concluding chapter, Collins lays out a stark sentence that I absolutely adore. “I will never need anyone to complete me,” she states. “I am enough on my own.” This simple mantra is so empowering, and one that we often forget. You are ‘enough’ without any validation from anyone else. You are not a number of ‘likes’. You are not as worthy as your best selfie. There is beauty in the unposed. There is beauty in your ‘bad angles’. There is beauty in you, as you are, even if you cannot quite see it yet.

When someone is brave enough to be transparent about their thoughts, feelings and life experiences, we can often see facets of ourselves reflected within others. To me, there is a complete purity and comfort in looking at someone else and feeling slightly less alone. There’s a serenity that comes with knowing that our dissatisfaction, our problematic behaviours and our insecurities are not unique. And not only that, but knowing that they are common. No-one is permanently living a life that is #instagood.

So, I’m going to follow Lily’s advice, take a chance, and be a little more #unfiltered. As she so rightly says, if no-one acknowledges the inherent artificiality of social media, and the problems tied with the construction of our lives as a roll of staged ‘best-bits’, the more people will grapple with feelings of unworthiness in private. “A conversation can’t start unless someone speaks up,” writes Collins. I will freely admit that for every selfie I post on social media, there are twelve others on the camera roll that I’ve rejected, mercilessly looking for any visible flaw. Each picture is filtered, blemishes blurred, red-eye corrected. I might post a picture of myself smiling in a hot tub on holiday in a bikini, but the day before I was crying in the mirror, feeling lost and completely alien in my own body. I am far from perfect. I am deeply flawed. Sometimes I smile and mean it, sometimes I cry and mean that too. This is true of every other single human being on the planet. We need to be mindful when engaging with Instagram and Facebook. We need to remember that those that we follow are likely only posting the snapshots from a ‘highlights reel’, and that a smile is easily faked. Perhaps we all need a little (or a large) #realitycheck. Social media is not a true representative of reality. So glory in your perfectly imperfect self. To quote Dr. Seuss, “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” Be true to what you feel, and I firmly believe that magic will happen. Self-love and gaining confidence is a slow process, but I truly hope it’s possible to achieve, even in an age where self-esteem is easily shattered and appearances are deceiving. I firmly believe that when you’re truly happy, filtering your life will become unnecessary and redundant, and Instragram will feel a hell of a lot less important.