In today’s world, we are constantly bombarded with images and slogans that perpetuate a very narrow idea of what is ‘beautiful’. Summer is just around the corner and many of us are bracing for the damaging ‘beach body’ narrative that will no doubt prompt dips in self-esteem, confidence and self-love. There is never a more important time in the calendar to combat self-doubt and negative self-talk by learning the art of body love.
Elisabeth Nicholson has battled a complicated relationship with her body throughout her 40 years. As a technician in a hospital in her hometown of Nottingham, Elisabeth is used to caring for others. However, she has learned that to experience the joy of body love, she must also care for herself and her body.
Elisabeth told Centre of Excellence, “I come from a background where people would make fun of my weight, make me feel fat, ugly or encourage me to eat when I was trying to lose weight, and this greatly affected my confidence and self-esteem. I have had issues with my body for many years, especially as I’ve been in abusive relationships and made to feel fat, ugly and weak.”
Aside from the emotional duress, Elisabeth also had to have surgery on her leg which left her with a big scar that, she recalls, people would stare at if she wore shorts or dresses. Likewise, surgery on her wrist left Elisabeth feeling conscious of further scarring. “My weight has fluctuated so much over the years mostly because I never loved my body the way I should and I didn’t look after it well. I’m also curvy and paranoid about my arms, so I always covered them up,” she added. So, Elisabeth began to ditch the clothes she wanted to wear and cover up for fear of judgment.
After all this trauma, the lifelong learner took Centre of Excellence’s Body Love Diploma Course. She said, “It made me think about how I look at my body differently. It’s not been an easy thing to do and it’s not been an overnight change but I’m now back to wearing shorts and dresses when I want to.”
Elisabeth was named Centre of Excellence’s Learner of the Year in 2017, having studied an inspiring 86 courses, primarily with a focus on holistic health and spirituality. The Body Love Diploma Course also taught her something invaluable, however. Elisabeth explained, “The course taught me that my words and even my thoughts will cause my body to have a reaction, because my body does not understand any different.”
She added, “The body love course was such a beautiful course and taught me that I really needed to love myself more. I needed to make each part of me feel loved and appreciated for everything my body does for me.”
Elisabeth has been able to put this into practice in many ways. “For example, my body has carried and given birth to five children. That is an amazing thing that my body has done and as such, it has left stretch marks — or Tiger Stripes as I now call them. After the course, I realised that I need to take care of my body. Exercise, eat well, have treats, and let my body know it’s doing an amazing job of keeping me going every day. This means helping me to go to work, run a household and raise five children. I’ve earned my Tiger Stripes!”
Elisabeth’s outlook has changed for the better and she is “now at the point where I don’t care what people think about my body.” The mum-of-five tells CoE that she has recently joined a gym and is now thrilled to wear skinny leggings and vest tops which, in her own words, can be daunting in a gym. “But I am working towards making myself a better person and letting my body know that it deserves love and attention as well and that has to come from me, not someone else. If someone has an issue with this, then that is their issue, not mine. I’ve been through a lot in my life and I’m proud of the woman I have become and proud of what my body has endured,” Elisabeth said.
Looking to the future, Elisabeth wants others to learn the art of body love. She concluded, “If I had the chance now, I’d tell my younger self to love her body and look after it. Ignore what anyone else thinks about it as people will always judge. They can walk away but my younger self will have to live with her body. So love it, get to know every curve and appreciate everything your body does for you. Love yourself!”
Elisabeth isn’t alone in suffering from damaging societal beauty perceptions. Her fellow Body Love student, Karen Appleyard, had spent most of her 58 years in a self-critical cycle of comparison. Even at her peak fitness, the mum said, she would criticise her legs, her arms, and her weight. A few years ago, Karen was dealing with anxiety due to a stressful work situation and was feeling very low. She started the Body Love Diploma Course in the hopes it would help her to address the lack of body love that had plagued her and become an undercurrent of discontent in her life.
Karen told Centre of Excellence, “The course made me take a long hard look at myself and why I was so critical.” The Financial Services Administrator from Leeds utilised some of the course's practical techniques, such as body scanning, to help her reassess her negative self-talk. She recalled, “I went through every part of my body from head to toe in my mind and wrote down what I didn't like, why I didn't like it, whether I could change it, and if not, what could I do to make myself love it more or what could I do to make it look or feel better. By the time I had done this, I realised there wasn't actually a lot I didn't like about my body and felt I had wasted all those years since my late teens being so critical of myself.”
These helpful aides have now inspired Karen to also take up daily journaling and gratitude affirmations. One of her affirmations is that she is beautiful and loves herself for who she is, and not what she looks like. It’s certainly something we all need reminding of from time to time. Sharing some final words of hope and advice, Karen said, “I no longer look in the mirror and look at what I don't like. I now look at what I do like. Don't compare yourself to anyone else, your own body is unique to you and only you need to be happy with yourself. It does not matter what other people think or say, you are beautiful in your own right.”