City: Wyoming, NSW, Australia
Occupation: Executive Officer/Owner and Manager of BWR Tuition.
Please describe how YOU see your body in general, when you look in the mirror.
Every day when confronted with the mirrored image of my body my eyes go to the part of me that have always caused me grief. My nose, that is too pointy with a bump from falling off my bike multiple times as a kid; my hips, which jut out way too far from my waist; my upper arms, which haven’t seen the light of day since my wedding; and then I stop. I have to stop cataloguing my faults because otherwise I would never leave the house. For years I would put my head down, continue getting ready and try to banish the snapshots of images from my mind. But lately, I’ve forced myself to take a good look. Forced myself to see myself the way that I view other women in my life. Celebrating the parts of them that I love that remind me of how beautiful they are. Their smiles, dimples, strong collarbones, petite cuteness, tall goddess-like beauty, long legs, short legs, tiny waists, rounded waists…I am more forgiving of others than I am of myself, so I try to forgive the bits that I feel aren’t up to scratch and find instead the bits that I love. I am still learning how to do this. Some days I can and leave the room with my head held high, not grimacing when my husband tells me I look beautiful. Other days, I’m not so good. But the fact that there are good days tells me I am changing.
What do you consider beauty to mean? What is beautiful to you?
The old adage that ‘beauty is as beauty does’ is something that I believe in wholeheartedly. There are people in my life that don’t fit a conventional idea of beauty but to me, they are radiant. They celebrate life, don’t allow themselves to get caught up in the little things, take each moment of their life and make it a good one whenever they can. They are open, honest, their face is a reflection of how they feel, even if it is sadness or disgust. Every emotion deserves acknowledgement and challenging where possible. It is these women that I aspire to be, not the facades made up and dressed in women’s magazines, telling me to be something I never can be. I can’t lengthen my legs, can’t shave my bones down to fit the desired shape, so why assign my value to an image that will never eventuate? It is putting myself in a position of constant disappointment and dissatisfaction with myself, when I am more than the sum of my body parts.
What does a healthy body image mean to you and what are your body image goals?
For a long time my goal was to be a certain size, being able to wear certain clothes, but turning 30 really changed my mindset on this. I don’t want to put forward a body that outwardly looks good but doesn’t pass the test on the inside. I now want to have children and I want to raise them in a body that is the healthiest it can be. That means for me that my goal now is to remove the impurities from my life, both literally and figuratively. I am not going to define myself by a number, whether it be on a scale, or on the tag of my clothes, but instead by the good things I do, and how I have taken care of myself that day. Eating food that nourishes me, staying hydrated, moving my body in the way it is meant to, sharing moments with my husband, friends and family that will give me great memories to pass down the line, and touching the lives of others in positive and meaningful ways.
Have you had issues or challenges with clothing in regard to body image?
It took me a really long time to understand that everybody is different and there are some things that I would never achieve regardless of diet or exercise. After a significant back injury when I was eighteen and years of trying to do the ‘right’ types of exercise, I finally found a physiotherapist who took the time to explain to me how my body was composed, how I can work with it so that it works for me, and what I should avoid because it will only bring me grief. It also gave me a lot of awareness of what my shape is and how to dress it properly. We’ve all had fashion fails and unfortunately the way I’m put together means that I’m more likely to have them than others. I often joke that I’m a bit of a mish mash of body parts that someone had left over. I’ve got the long torso of my father but the short legs of my mum. A long neck, a short waist and wide hips: put it all together and you get hours spent in change rooms trying on pants and having a moment of ‘self-talk’ as I try and not cry at the sheer frustration of it all. But I’ve tried to turn that around and learn what works for me. I now know not to bother with pants that are anything less than medium-rise. I (ironically) seek out skinny leg jeans but the kind with a bit of give in them otherwise they never go over my calves, regardless of the size of the pants themselves. I don’t bother with drop waist dresses, body-con dresses, spaghetti straps, shorts, etc. because I’ve never had success. I stick to A-line, maxi-dress, anything that gathers under the breasts and then skims the rest of the body. In a way it is liberating once you know what to avoid because your focus becomes smaller and there is less chance for a fashion fail.
Does your body image affect how you eat?
If I am around people my size I am more likely to eat whatever I want because I feel safe. When I am with someone who has a clear food goal/mantra I often try and mimic their eating patterns but feel like a fraud as it would be fairly obvious that I am not following that in my own time. I know what works for me, I have educated myself on what is best for my body, but the moment that I am overworked or have an opportunity to stray from this, unless I have a clear plan in mind or I’m in the middle of a food challenge, then I usually give in, finding some way to justify it to myself.
When do you feel best?
As I’ve gotten older I’ve learnt to focus my energies on people in my life who are incredibly positive and don’t have a tendency to focus on the appearance of others. These are people who have their own fitness goals or eating motivations but I never feel judged in their presence. Being with these kinds of individuals inspires me and makes me want to be better but not in a way that makes me hate myself. I want to rise up to be with them rather than focusing on the perceived distance between myself and them in terms of worth. The person that encourages this in me most is my husband, Grant. He fills my day with compliments, unforced, un-encouraged, small moments where he takes my hand and tells me that I’m beautiful, when he puts on a song and dances with me in the kitchen, reminding me how much he loves me, and the way he patiently listens to a rant filled with negative self-talk and then simply says, ‘you’re being too hard on yourself. Remember all the things that you do achieve rather than the things that you think you’ve failed to do.’ Exactly the words that I would say and have said to my own friends. He reminds me to be kinder to myself. Those are the moments that sustain me and makes me want to avoid moments of self-doubt altogether.
How has your body image changed over time?
The pressure to be perfect in appearance, behavior and attitude is constant in my life but my response to its influence has certainly changed. Every day I try to achieve something that ‘future Kathy’ will high five me for, having reaped the benefits. Whether that’s playing music, learning a language, hitting a milestone at work, meeting a new and important contact, helping a student through a difficult time, renovating or fixing our house, spending time with my loved ones, these are now the measures of my success, not whether or not I fit into a specific size.
Who do you feel influences your body image most?
The most pressure certainly comes from the media given that it infiltrates our lives in so many ways. Examples of who you should be and what you should do are on social media, newspapers, spam emails, magazines, television ads, billboards. I am constantly bombarded with images of women that I can never live up to so it is difficult to remind myself sometimes that there is more than one way to be and no single way is better than another.
What pressure around body image do you feel?
The fashion industry is incredibly fickle as to what is now trending as ‘the perfect body’. Sometimes the message will be ‘embrace your curves’, other times it will be achieving a slim, toned stomach. Sometimes it is seen to be better to be going against the trends than embracing them, so it’s no wonder that people turn themselves inside out trying to meet some perceived ideal. I believe that from every situation you make the decision to walk away with a positive mindset or a negative one. If someone makes a nasty comment about my image, that’s a reflection on them, not me. If someone encourages me to join them in physical exercise, I can either choose to see that as a snub about my weight, or I can look at it as an opportunity to engage in social exercise rather than working out in isolation. Mindset is really important in terms of happiness but it doesn’t come easy. You have to work on it every day and sometimes deliberately stop the negative tirade and turn it around. It’s not easy but it’s worth it.
What are your thoughts on the media/advertising/social media and how they affect body image?
As an educator, I see the impact of the media on young men and women in Australia every day. I watch how they present unattainable versions of men and women to adolescents and the resulting impact this has on their ability to develop identities that are in line with their own needs and interests rather than internalizing these desires and trying to fit in with what the media is telling them has value. The thought of bringing a child into that kind of environment terrifies me because there is so much to fight against. The media brings itself into our homes in so many ways and you risk being seen as a controlling parent or a hippy (depending on the restrictions you put in place) or even worse, your child rebelling against you rather than against the beast that puts these thoughts in their head that they’re not good enough. I’d like to see the media take responsibility for their very significant roles in the lives of individuals by being less influenced by the money/power that advertising companies offer them and putting their customers first. What angle could they take on a news story that would empower people to make good decisions? What products should they support that could offer health benefits to individuals? What advice will help people take control of their lives? This shift in mindset can only be achieved when someone is brave enough to stand up and point out the source of the problem and be willing to provide a solution that isn’t easy, isn’t simple, but is the best way to improve the lives of others.
How do you feel about altering appearance through cosmetic surgery and applications like Photoshop?
Having a husband who is a photographer gives me some insight into this issue and I’m proud of the way that he handles this particular problem. Some women that he photographs want him to make them skinnier, taller, remove the bump on their nose, the curve of their hip, the mole on their upper arm, the list is literally endless. His response to this problem is to show them the beauty that he finds in their photos in order to force a change of mind. He talks up the way that the light has fallen on their face and how it makes their dimples pop or gives them ‘smile lines’. He shows them how the shadows falling over their bodies accentuates the curve of their waist and the fullness of their breasts, making them beautiful. He tries to capture natural movements, natural expressions, in environments that people are comfortable in so that they are not trying to replicate someone else; they are simply celebrating themselves. If push comes to shove and the mindset can’t be changed, he will choose images that don’t contain the problems that these women have identified but he will always throw in a few more in the hope that they change their mind. In terms of cosmetic surgery, I prefer to have an ‘each to their own’ approach. I’m not ashamed to say that there are things I’ve considered before but haven’t gone through with (mostly because of the money side of things!) but I also have friends that have had procedures and it has boosted their confidence immensely. My concerns mainly fall with those who have multiple surgeries seeking a result that can’t be found via the scalpel. I would hope that cosmetic surgeons would have the appropriate procedures in place to identify when someone is looking for a physical solution to a mindset problem and provide help in other ways.
Do you have any advice/tips/suggestions for other women who would like to improve their body image?
The book that was most influential in educating me on the role of food in health was ‘It Starts with Food’ by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. I use this every now and then when I want to remind myself of why it’s good to focus on whole foods rather than going for the easy option of processed or manufactured items. The book does read a bit like an infomercial but I try to focus on the message being sent rather than the way it is being communicated. My main source of inspiration however are the women and men in my life who have found their own paths to happiness, most of them having nothing to do with food or exercise at all. These are simply the tools they use to fuel their success, but the success itself comes from finding meaning in their every day and focusing on the good. I hope that one day I can be a source of inspiration for someone else as they have been for me.