There is something I don't usually talk about in my blog posts. There is something I don't usually talk about to my friends or my family or even my husband. Hell, I very rarely have a conversation with myself about this particular thing. Why? Because I'm kind of ashamed.
And no, it's not how much I spend on shoes or my tendency to stick the Lads in front of a screen or even how prickly my legs may or may not be in this particular moment. But I'm 41 now and I can't ignore this thing any longer.
It's body image.
I must have first become aware of my body 'needing' to look a certain way at about aged 9. Now that's young. But even then, when I got my clues about the world not from social media but from comics, TV programmes, toys, billboards and hanging off the words of the adults around me, I knew there was some magical and wondrous worth in 'skinny'.
As far as I could see, this was happening everywhere around me. My childminder dieted constantly. Talked about her weight constantly. And binged on her own delicious home-baking constantly.
My mam worked for the women's section of a regional newspaper and brought home free beauty products, interviewed glamorous local women and took me to fitness conventions.
All the girls at school worried endlessly about their appearance. And 'fat' was (inexplicably) the absolute worst thing somebody could call you in the playground.
Even my Barbie doll, god love her, never appreciated the amazing plaits I put her hair in - she just gazed back at me with her huge, accusing eyes, potentially asking me why I didn't have a waist like hers.
I probably don't need to go on about this. Chances are if you are a human on this earth (especially one of the female variety) then you know all about the warped concept that how much you weigh is somehow more important than what you do. But what I've been staggered by recently, is just how deep these cunning little rivulets of self-doubt flow.
Thankfully, I'm not somebody who has ever got to the point where my weight has become so much or so little that I've been ill - I've never been hospitalised because of it and it hasn't majorly affected my relationships or the world around me. But it has been a constant backdrop in my life and it has stirred my mental health with a relentless ferocity. I have dieted, I have obsessed, I have cried, I have binged, I have prodded, I have poked, I have wished away my body, I have pounded it at the gym, I have let it take over my being so craftily to the point that very few of my friends or family even have a clue.
I started waking up to this when I discovered mindfulness and yoga - when I learned how to allow my self-doubt to absorb into the mat or the cushion as well as my full, conscious breaths. And more recently, to continue all of this good work (and it is work) I've dived head-first into the world of #BodyPositivity on social media. This is chiefly because I met the amazing Hayley from Sparkles and Stretchmarks and she steered me gently in the direction I needed to go. Thank you Hayley, to you and your lovely underwear. You are an angel.
I've read the totally eye-opening 'Body Positive Power' by Megan Jayne Crabbe, as well as the effing brilliant 'Happy Fat' by Sofie Hagen and mentally fist-bumped the two of them the ENTIRE way through reading their books (and I've met both of them too - they're so lush!). My social media feed is now full of beautiful women of every goddamn shape and size doing incredible things - all loving themselves exactly as they are, not for what they could be if only they could stick to the latest diet. I LOVE this and I am trying to feel it as if it is me. And perhaps therein lies the problem.
Because I've made this leap into Body Positivity I am seeing A LOT of women in underwear and bikinis. Because that is one of the ways they are able to get their body-loving message out there. And they look INCREDIBLE. Folds, wrinkles, ripples, dimples, creases of all colours and textures and it really is a beautiful thing.
So, as the hubby and I had booked a holiday to his native Turkey, I took an afternoon off work to go . . . bikini shopping. How could I not?
I stood in a Matalan changing room with a good six or seven bikinis of all styles and colours and began. I was going to totally nail this. I was going to strip away every last bit of resentment I had for my own folds and dimples and become a fierce, sun-loving beach babe with all my best bits on show.
However, anyone who has ever stood under the harsh glare of a strip light in a Matalan changing room will tell you exactly how unlikely it is that you will become a fierce, sun-loving beach babe in that situation. My best bits were clearly not on show, I realised, as I sighed at my glistening white bulges protesting away from tight seams in some places and regrettably failing to fill other places with the luscious femininity I had imagined.
This was shit.
As I drove home that afternoon, with not a Matalan shopping bag in sight, I wondered what the #BoPo babes on Instagram would have thought of all this. Could I really be truly body positive on my upcoming holiday without donning a bikini? Shit. I felt like I'd let myself down here by not adoring what I'd seen in that Matalan mirror. Why couldn't I be like the Bo Po girls?
Hah! That's when I saw the light.
Why couldn't I be like the Bo Po girls? (You have to say that bit in an incredulous tone or it doesn't work)
Had I learned nothing? That was not the bloody point! It's not about being like somebody else. That's just furthermore comparing and contrasting and hoping and praying and trying and failing to be something other than what I already am. Points to the beauty and weight loss industry right there.
In what part of the Body Positive rule book does it say 'thou shalt wear a bikini and thou shalt like it'? It doesn't! It never would! If there was a rule book it would say: 'forget the rules! There are none! Just wear what makes you feel good and go out unapologetically into the world as nobody other than yourself!'
So, you know what? That's what I did.
And I hope you do too.
And don't worry - this isn't over. I'm only human and I will falter. I've got some serious neuron-firing-up to do to ensure all of the negative messages I have received about my body since I was a darling little 9-year old are first neutralised and then radicalised. But I'm in it for the long haul and I'm taking you with me. You don't even need to pack a bikini.
If body image issues affect you then the first thing is to know you are not alone. Reach out to a loved one if you can (I know the words are hard to find), or perhaps speak with somebody you know has had issues themselves and will understand. You could also go to see your GP and ask to see a specialist or a counsellor. Otherwise, try these websites, which have some great information to help: