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Body Confidence – We’re all on a journey

Body Confidence is a huge issue.

We live in a world obsessed with appearance. A world where teenagers believe they need a Snapchat filter to be presentable to the world. We are meant to exude confidence. Yet everywhere we look we are shown images of photoshopped people and told what we need to do to get that perfect beach body.

Striving for artificial beauty. Pressurised to not just look a certain way, but show the world how you look on Instagram or Tiktok.

In reality, of course, beauty isn’t a real thing. 

There are of course many things which the majority of people believe to be beautiful; a perfect rose or a perfectly symmetrical face. But there will always be someone who doesn’t find that beautiful at all. 

I can’t believe I am subjecting you to this photo again but it seemed like an appropriate photo to share given the title photo. This is me in all my bravery in Rome last year. I was on holiday with my husband. I was 42 years old and a size 16.

Do I think I look beautiful?

Honestly no, not beautiful. Does my husband think I look beautiful? Hell yes! He told me so many times how gorgeous I looked that day. It was the first time I had worn a bikini in 12 years because I felt so self conscious not even slightly confident.

My body has undergone a lot of changes. I have acromegaly so where as most people’s stop changing and growing, apart from maybe putting on or losing a few pounds, in their teens, mine changed dramatically in my late twenties and early thirties.

This has taken its toll on my confidence.  

On the one hand I LOVE my body. I am grateful every day that it doesn’t hurt as much as it did before my surgery and that I am able to do all the things I can do. On the other hand I get frustrated that there are other things that I can’t do easily any more, and that I know it doesn’t look the way it would have without this illness. 

There have been other dramatic changes in my adult life which have changed my body though, like two pregnancies. Both resulted in caesarians so I have a lovely “mum tum” and scar on my stomach. Then there are my tiger scars on my stomach (stretch marks to you!). I actually don’t have an issue with any of this at all because they are proof that I grew, carried and cared for my babies and successfully brought them into this world. I am almost proud of them… on the right day.  

On another day though, they are ugly and I hate that my belly wobbles and I totally lack confidence.  I may have believed I had many flaws with my body when I was younger but my stomach was always flat and toned. 

Why am I sharing all this? 

Well, at the moment, I am rehearsing for The Real Full Monty in Stafford. Yes I am stripping off down to my pants in the local theatre in front of over 1500 people. I will be joined on stage by 13 courageous women and 14 brave men. We will all be getting way outside our comfort zones and challenging ourr body confidence issues for some amazing local charities. Over the last 4 weeks I have got to know the other women and we are already an incredibly supportive group of sisters. We have every age, shape, cup size, height and personality represented on that stage. I am so proud to be dancing along side them.  

Are we ever happy with our bodies?

What upsets me a little though, and I am as guilty as anyone, is that every single woman on that stage is lacking body confidence. No-one feels confident about this process. We all feel as though everyone else looks beautiful and we are the ones that the audience will be repulsed by. The women who are a size 8 with an AA cup are worried that they look too thin, that the audience will be disappointed because they haven’t got anything to show. Our plus sized women are worried that they are too wobbly and no-one wants to see their tummies. The tall girls are worried that they stand out too much, and the short girls that they will be mistaken for teenagers.  

I could write a whole blog just with the comments I have heard over the first four rehearsals. We are all feeling self conscious. Some of us deal with it by making jokes and being as brave as we can. Others are hiding in the background and hoping it never happens.

Despite all our fears and beliefs about our bodies though, at only the fourth rehearsal 8 out of the 12 girls who made the rehearsal stripped down to bra and leggings during the rehearsal, even in front of the boys group. 

 

We weren’t even a little bit confident, some of us are still shaking now!

I would love to tell you that I have battled my body confidence demon and am now totally in love with my body 24/7! But in reality I have days when I am so grateful that I am alive and that I have managed to maintain a reasonable body weight despite growth hormone challenges.

“Body Confidence doesn’t come from having the perfect body, it comes from learning to love the one you have”

But I would be lying if I said that there aren’t days when I get out of the bath because I don’t want to look at myself any longer. I’m definitely not finding revealing my body to a room full of people, and eventually a theatre full of people, easy. I’ll do it and I can do it because I have decided I will. I want to raise awareness of my condition. Want to show people that even if you don’t feel confident in your body you are still beautiful and you have a right to be seen. 

I am battling my inner demons and even finding new ones.

It’s hard to believe that you are sexy and confident as a woman, when you have to buy shoes made for transvestites to do it.  

When you spent years looking in the mirror and seeing someone else looking back it’s hard to even look in the mirror again, let alone without clothes on.  

Importantly though, I am finding the strength to overcome those inner voices and learning to love my physical form  and feeling truly confident for the first time in my life.  

It isn’t an overnight process. 

I had a major wibble yesterday, it felt like a big step. It took all my courage to wear that bikini in Rome and no-one knew me there, these were friends and some people I have known for years, others I had only met yesterday, but I have to see them again. It was very emotional. Realising that I wanted to take this next step. That I needed to. It was even more emotional when we got through it and we were all hugging and congratulating each other. Compliments are something I have always struggled with, I have taught myself to be gracious and accept them in most scenarios but accepting complements about my physical appearance graciously is going to take some more working on! 

 

The whole process is emotional and a little overwhelming. I am crying a lot and very, very grateful for:

  • the opportunity to go on this journey
  • the amazingly supportive people I am sharing it with
  • my strength of character to even consider stepping onto a stage and making myself this vulnerable

Most of all I am grateful for my body. Scars, wobbles, creaky joints and all.

It is coping with rehearsals, it is coping with wearing heels. It may not be a magazine’s version of beautiful. But I only need to look at the pride in my husband’s face, when he watches us rehearse, to know that he thinks I’m beautiful and that’s good enough for me. 

Beautiful Amazonian 

My friend and fellow dancer, Jacqui, keeps telling me I am “a beautiful Amazonian”. I honestly think that in a few weeks time, I may begin to believe it.  

Whatever we have been through in our lives; illness, mental illness, abuse, eating disorders, neglect, bullying… Experiences we have and things others have said can make us hide away and not want to be seen. Make us believe we don’t deserve to be seen even. Feed us lies that others are judging us. In reality, most people are too busy worrying about their own issues to notice other people. Those that do see you are more than likely marvelling at your strength, your beauty (inside and out) and even wondering how they can be more like you.  

If you don’t have a group of friends who build you up and make you feel beautiful and capable of anything, get in touch with me and I will be your cheerleader. We all need one sometimes. Better still, confront all your deepest fears and learn to be your own cheerleader. You don’t have to take your clothes off but find a way to fall deeply in love with your own body again. You owe it to yourself to love yourself. Not just some bits, all of you.  

 

“Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”

Louise Hay

Author , Hayhouse

Introducing my hero… my Gran

Why am I talking about my Gran?  Well, I believe it helps you to be your own hero, if we highlight the amazing every day heroes in the world. I will be writing about some of my heroes over the coming months, and also inviting guest authors to share their stories. These will either be their own story, which I believe to be truly heroic, or stories of their own heroes.

Choosing one person to write about is very difficult because I have many many heroes in my life, but perhaps the most constant was my Gran. 

My Gran was my best friend, my confidante, an amazing role model and my soul sister. We enjoyed doing the same things, we both had a silly sense of humour and loved to laugh and we both loved clothes shopping.

As a child she was always there with a treat or a cuddle to cheer me up. When I was a teenager she shared stories from her own youth to help me see that everything would be ok and what I was experiencing was normal. She was my number one fan whether I was singing, acting, speaking or just taking on a new role. When I became a wife and mother she shared her wisdom and whatever crazy decision I made she was always in my corner.

I’m sure many of you are thinking, “yes, my Grandma was the same”. That’s the magic. Many of us are blessed to have such incredible grandparents, I know my children are. 

Gran was a magical lady

Gran, as she liked to be called, had a real name. It was Betty. Which she hated because she felt it wasn’t a real name. She spent her whole life wondering why her parents hadn’t called her Elizabeth so she could choose to shorten it or not. it was also an issue that  both her siblings had middle names and she didn’t. She was genuinely put out by it (but in a good natured way!). The only other thing that annoyed her (apart from someone upsetting her family!) was Margaret Thatcher. She would practically throw her slippers at the tele whenever she came on!

She was calm, patient, loving and endlessly positive, on the outside. Internally she struggling with depression and anxiety most of her life, as her mother had before her. Very few people would have known that though. 

Small gestures, big impact

 I don’t think I realised the full impact she had had on the world until her funeral. She was 95 when she died and often when people reach such a good age their funeral can be quite an intimate occasion. Not Gran’s. The crematorium was packed and everyone went back to the Baptist church she attended afterwards for a celebration of her life. We had tea and cake (her favourite thing) and all talked about her and the impact she had had on our lives. Hearing people from the chapel community talking about how she always said something lovely and it would made their day. One lady said to me, “No-one every comments on my appearance, I’m not a very fashionable or glamorous person, but your Gran always commented on something I was wearing or if I had had my hair cut, it made my day”. 

Such a simple thing, but that lady will remember that forever I feel sure.

Gran always made everyone feel special. It was a real gift. 

I feel the need to qualify her attendance of the Baptist church. She wasn’t a religious person. When she started going to the chapel it was to help out with social events and while she could, she did attend the services, but it was for the community not for the religious content. We had many very long conversations about religion and the jury was definitely out. She believed, as I do, that if you are a good person and you are kind and thoughtful that whatever there is when we leave this world won’t judge you harshly for not making a decision about which building to pray in. 

 Gran was ahead of her time in many ways. I remember talking to her about marriage vows before I married Ian and she was very clear that I must not say “love, honour and obey”. Love and honour yes, but obey? Absolutely not! She married my Grandad (also a special person but that’s for another day!) in 1948 and refused to “obey” him in their vows. She thought it was awful! After my Grandad died in 1994 she struggled. He was her whole world. They rarely went anything alone after he retired. They were soul mates and she missed him terribly. But we kept giving her little reasons to keep going; weddings, great grandchildren, events… 

She had an inner strength and determination I have rarely seen.

She could be really tired and fed up in her later years but if she saw one of us struggling she would rally round and support us. It really was incredible to see, especially towards the end. She looked so frail and tired, but the minute she saw that one of us was feeling sorry for ourselves she would dig deep and perk up. 

 

When my parents went to America in 2014 I stayed with Gran for two weeks and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. We talked, I hired a wheelchair and we managed some days out, including a trip to Leeds. We covered all the places she had worked and went to see all the sights she hadn’t seen for years. New shopping centres, statues and of course we drank tea and ate cake!  I missed my little family like mad but it was worth it. So many amazing memories. 

I was blessed to have Gran in my life until I was 40. I’m lucky to have so many memories of her, it is impossible to even recall them all. I miss her every day and wear the ring she left me so that she is always with me. I have lots of silly momentos too but it is my memories that are truly precious. Thinking of her sliding up the supermarket aisles on the back of the trolley with her legs swinging. Her cheeky face when she told us we could have another cake, or to get the chocolate biscuit barrel down. 

The look of glee in her face when she would come shopping with me to Top Shop and Miss Selfridges when I was a teenager (she didn’t think she could go in and look by herself cause she was “too old”!). Trying on glasses and pulling silly faces together in The White Rose when I took her for her eye test. 

Lasting impact

More than anything else though, I get a feeling when I think about her. I know she is always with me. I have a notebook where I write to her when there are things I really need to tell her. If you had asked her she would have said that she wasn’t anything remarkable.

Just a girl from Leeds who did what everyone else did of her generation; went to school, cared for her siblings, went to work at 14 in the laundry, joined the WAF, got married, had a child, kept a home, went to work and retired at 60 and spent the rest of her life doting on her grandchildren and helping others in the local community. But the impact she had on so many lives was immense.

Although she may have had a tendency to wear too much grey later in life, she certainly was not in any way grey. She was vibrant. Full of so much love it practically burst out. She always had time for everyone and never moaned about helping anyone. 

I like to think I inherited more than just her nice nails and thick calves and that we are quite alike, but only time will tell I suppose. One things for certain, I couldn’t have had a better role model. Love you Gran x

I wrote a blog about role models a few years ago that ties nicely with this post so if you would like to have a read you can find it here.

Hero or Shero

I keep hearing people talking about  being a hero or shero. I had never heard the word hero until a few months ago. Is it a necessary word?

Before I start this blog I want to make it clear that I believe in equality. I believe men and women are equal, that they have strengths and weaknesses and that for the most part they complement each other. I also believe that throughout time women have been dominated by the patriarchy. Intelligent, opinionated women have been branded as witches, crazy and trouble causers. 

History really has been His-story. 

 

When we think about the key characters from the past there are very few women.

As a teacher I loved to highlight women in history but they weren’t included in the curriculum when I was teaching.

I have been trying to think how many women I learned about at school, or indeed taught about at school, this is the list I could recall: Boudica, Florence Nightingale, Cleopatra, Elizabeth I, Anne Frank and the wives of Henry VIII (who, as anyone who has seen the musical SIX will know, are only famous for being married to a king and we know very little about as women).

I can’t even begin to list all the men we learn about.

Does this mean that women haven’t contributed anything to our advancement? 

Absolutely not. 

The woman pictured above is Hedy Lamarr. She was a beautiful actress. She was also an incredible scientist who developed a radio guidance system without which we may never have developed bluetooth or wifi technologies. She died in 2000 and wasn’t recognised for her contributions to science until she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.

The film “Hidden Figures” highlighted the story of the the female mathematicians and engineers working at NASA in the 1960s without whom the moon landing may never have happened. 

There are countless examples of women having a massive impact but many we are only just learning about now as people sign deep into history to unearth these amazing contributors.

We need to be teaching our children and ourselves, about these key female figures. Young girls need to be shown these role models to help them to see that they can achieve anything boys can. This article from The Guardian in 2017 shows that we may be making headway in the equality stakes but we still have a long way to go. 

We have to show our girls and young women that they have just as many opportunities and they are equal to their male counterparts. However, equality is what I would love to see achieved. I don’t want women to have a greater chance of getting a job, being paid more etc, just to be given the same chances a man would.

Equally I don’t feel that words which are coming into common usage such as “Shero” and “Herstory” are necessary.  I can see how the words hero and history can be seen to be male focused but creating another feminine equivalent seems unnecessary. Let’s just claim the words as our own. The same way we now have actors rather than actors and actresses. Let’s just have heroes and know that women can definitely be heroes. Let’s start discovering more women who had an impact historically. Let’s learn more about people like Anne Boleyn and make them real women with personalities, hopes and dreams, not just “wife of Henry VIII”.

Most importantly, let’s make sure that future history books are filled with women doing amazing things. Women inventing things, changing the world for the better. 

We don’t need men to stop achieving, to step back. We have always been equal in reality. Working together is the answer. Helping each other, supporting each other. Men and women can change the world for the better, together. They can be paid the same amount for doing the same job. They can be given equal opportunities, equal benefits. Men should be able to take extended paternity leave, they should be able to go home if their kids are sent home from school ill, just as women do. It should be up to the individual family to decide who takes on these roles, not some ancient belief. 

The right to choose

It is all about choice. We have to stop shaming women for not being ambitious too. Choosing to stay at home and care for your children is just as challenging and valuable as going out and earning a fortune or inventing something life changing. We all deserve to be happy. To make our own decisions. All we need is for the world to provide equal opportunities for everyone; male, female, old, young, black, white, artistic, scientific…

We are all people. We all have a role to play. We change the world every single day, just by being in it. We impact others every day.

Whether we are heroes because we visit an elderly neighbour, or because we discover a cure to a terrible disease, we are all heroes. Whether you are happy with being a hero or shero. If you like to be an entrepreneur or a mumpreneur. Whether you are happier reading History or Herstory.

Be yourself.

Be the best you that you can be.

Be your own hero or shero but be happy.

 

The Benefits of Singing

Singing is good for you. 

 I know, it might sound ridiculous but when I read a study a few years ago that actually stated that singing can even prolong your life, I wasn’t even a little surprised. 

I have been singing all my life. I could have written the Abba song “Thank you for the Music” I think I was singing before I could talk. I love it. As a child I sang all the time. As a teenager I sang to pop songs, I was in the choir at school and I was always in the school productions (which at our school were always musicals). 

If I was happy I sang, if I was stressed I sang, feeling lonely, sing and I never get on a dance floor without singing along to whatever I’m dancing to. I’ve even been known to sing along to theatre shows! 

 

Why is it so good for you?

Well, there are many biological factors at play. We know that one of the best ways to calm our nervous system is to control our breathing, this reduces the production of cortisol and calms us down. In order to sing we have to regulate our breathing, even slow it down. So it is physically very calming.

It is an incredibly mindful activity. It is very difficult to sing and be thinking about other things. We have to be completely present and concentrate on the words and tune we are singing.

Socially it lifts our spirits to sing with other people. It builds a sense of community and belonging. We even synchronise our heartbeats with others when we sing together. It builds our confidence. When we sing we release endorphins that help us feel positive and boosts our energy levels. The more we sing the more we want to sing. 

Singing even boosts your immune system!

By calming our body through singing we strengthen our immunity and we are less likely to become ill. Not just that but it reduces pain. 

By singing regularly you not only strengthen your lungs but also your heart health is improved. This is another reason I have always done a lot of singing because I am asthmatic and it really helps by breathing. 

There has even been research done which proves that people who sing regularly have better balance and posture! 

 

Are you starting to see how dramatically singing could change your life?

In studies conducted with people suffering chronic pain, singing has been shown to alleviate the pain symptoms for not just immediately afterward but for up to 6 months later. The studies have also shown that singing could have a real impact on the amount of pain relief medication used by participants.

Sing Up Foundation

Singing has been shown to be really beneficial for people with alzheimers. It improves your circulation, increases the amount of oxygen in your blood and improves your mental alertness, concentration and memory. 

 

But I can’t sing! 

 

Who cares? I know it’s easy for me to say. I’m not even going to pretend that I can’t sing, I have done a lot of singing in my life, and people seem to quite like listening to me for the most part. I feel very fortunate but I have had my own struggles though. My acromegaly means that my throat tissues can become enlarged and when I was really ill before my surgery I couldn’t sing and it made me really depressed. When I say I couldn’t sing, I don’t mean it wasn’t good, I mean it was physically difficult. But it isn’t about performing. It isn’t about being a singer. It is about singing for health and enjoyment. You don’t look beautiful and composed when you go to the gym or take part in sport, but you feel better afterwards and your body and mind are healthier. It’s time to start seeing singing the same way.

 

There are lots of opportunities to sing whether you believe you can sing or not. You don’t have to join a choir or singing group (although if you can I can highly recommend it!). Why not sing in the car when you are traveling alone?  Sing in the shower, while you are cooking, put the radio on and sing while you are cleaning. I sing while I work in my office a lot (apart from when I’m writing because then I write what I’m singing instead of what I should be writing!). I also sing while I’m on my rowing machine. It passes the time and that way I am getting even more exercise.

 If you don’t like listening to yourself sing turn the music right up. But I’m fairly certain that your singing is no where near as bad as you believe it is! 

 

In summary

 

Singing is good for you because it:

 

  • calms you down  

 

  • boosts your immune system 

 

  • improves your memory  

 

  • benefits your heart and lung health increases your confidence  

 

  • can help with alzheimers

 

  • improves balance and posture 

 

  • reduces pain

 

  • helps you to be more mindful

 

 I’m even going to be brave and upload a song I have sang at weddings recently. I believe in walking my talk and if I am going to encourage you to sing, I should be brave enough to let you hear me sing. I would love to hear your singing and your stories about how singing has helped you. 

 

Be the change

As the new year approaches it is always good to take time to reflect on the change in your life over the previous year. Every new year brings change and we all start to focus on the what we would like to have achieved by the end of the coming year.

There is something in the air as we approach the new year, we are all filled with hope that any challenges we have faced during the previous year will pass and better things lie ahead. It is the perfect time to sit and take stock and check in with our progress towards our dreams and make sure we are still on track.

Those of you who know me will know that I LOVE planning. I love everything about it; the dreaming, the possibilities, the challenge and of course the stationery! But this year I am planning big changes.

When it comes to planning I’m old school. 

I like a notebook and pen. I use an electronic diary so that I can sync my diary with my husband. He is also self employed so work routine is not something we understand! Everything else is done on paper. 

I know it’s old school but there is solid scientific evidence that our brains process writing and work on paper differently to the way it processes screens, and it works so much better for me, it’s so much more flexible. Paper also allows your mind to wander and it lets you tap into your unconscious more I find. 

At this time of year I use dotted paper and various pencils and pens to plan. I plan everything I intend to create and achieve in the coming year. I sit and reflect, I breathe deeply and allow my intuition to take over and make sure that everything I plan feels right. It is so important that everything we do adds to our happiness and contentment. If something doesn’t feel right then there is a reason for that. It doesn’t mean that it isn’t a worthy cause, it  certainly doesn’t mean that it is something that shouldn’t be done, but maybe someone else needs to do it. We can’t do everything after all.

 I also like to take the time to look back on everything I have created and achieved over the previous year. This year however, I went a step further and looked back over everything I have achieved over the last 10 years.   

Wow! What a change!    

In 2009 I had a newborn, I was just doing all my Reiki training, I had been self employed as a childminder but hadn’t started any of the work I am doing now. When I stop and look at all the work I have done, both with individuals and schools over the last decade I am genuinely shocked. When 2010 started only a couple of years had passed since my tumour surgery, I was just starting having my injections to control my acromegaly and I had spent most of my recovery pregnant and caring for a baby. I wasn’t even sure I would be able to function fully as a mum let alone run two businesses. 

Why not take a few minutes to think about everything you have achieved over the last decade?  

Grab a notebook or piece of paper and write down everything you have done, holidays you have had, friends you have made, all your professional achievements, all your personal achievements… You will be amazed at everything that has changed over the last decade.  

One thing is for sure. The coming year, and indeed decade, have the power to be whatever you make them. We can decide that this is going to be our best year ever. Why wouldn’t it be? We can get up every morning determined to make the most of every minute. Choose to be kind and thoughtful. Be dedicated to making the world we live in a better place in whatever small way we can. You don’t need to have money to change the world. Maybe you help someone out, pay someone a compliment or just smile at them.

Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.

Helen Keller

It is so easy to think that it is someone else’s job to make a difference. That someone else will step up.

Why not you? 

Why wait for someone else?

Get out there and do what you have seen needs to be done. If you can’t physically do it yourself raise awareness and encourage others to come together and do it. 

Life is amazing. Make sure you are living every moment. 

 That doesn’t mean that you aren’t allowed to have a pj day under a blanket watching Christmas films, of course you can. No-one can be on duty all the time, even heroes need a day off to recharge their batteries, but I implore you, stop and think about what you can do to make a positive impact on the world this year.

There is so much negativity in the world at the moment, lots of people despairing about decisions that are being made and the way things are being handled by those in power but we need to come together and create a movement of light and positivity. If we do then we are unbeatable. Are you ready to “be the change that you wish to see in the world”(Gandhi)?

If not now then when?

 Write down all the things you would like to change this year in your notebook or on your paper. Whether it is getting more fit, decorating your bedroom, sorting out your finances, maybe volunteering for a local good cause, whatever it is you want to change, write it down and commit to it now!

As another decade passes and I am reminded how much my life has changed, I can only imagine what the next decade will bring.  Honestly, I don’t like looking too far forward. I’m very much a “live in the moment” person. Just knowing that my children will be adults and I will be in my fifties makes me realise that I don’t have time to mess about. This year I am going to make big changes so that I am firmly on the right track for the rest of the decade and I cannot recommend enough that you do too.

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