When Brook – the sexual health and wellbeing experts – asked me to talk about how to be more body confident, sexual identity and self-esteem I hesitated. Just kidding… I made a YouTube video all about my own experiences my tips for dealing with self-confidence issues and body dysmorphia. I also cover the incredible work that Brook does and the questions you should be asking yourself every day in order to address and work through your own issues with self esteem and self love.
In the video I list these questions and also briefly touch on ways to deal with and address body image problems. Body Dysmorphic Disorder is something that I’ve struggled with since my teens – it’s a mental health disorder that distorts the way we perceive our own bodies often influencing us in negative ways. Body dysmorphia is also often linked with disordered eating – something I’ve had my own brushes with too. It’s especially common in teens and young people, especially those who identify as LGBTQ+.
My experience with body confidence
I must have been around 11 or 12 when I started feeling negatively about the way that I looked. Before that I hadn’t cared, in fact I hadn’t really ever thought about it that much, it wasn’t important to me. I think I was also around 12 with my mental health issues started to take effect. I would feel sad and anxious, but didn’t really know how to express those feelings or how to give them a name. I didn’t know how to be more body confident because I didn’t know that I was struggling with low self esteem – it all just seemed normal to me.
I began to feel that my body was disgusting and this negative relationship continued to develop through my teens. I skipped PE and swimming and wore long sleeves and baggy jeans. By the time I was in relationships and having sex, I had an incredibly warped relationship with the way I looked. I would never ever take my bra off in front of anyone I was seeing and I always insisted on having sex with the lights off, I sucked my tummy in and wouldn’t eat in front of other people. This carried on through my early twenties until, finally, I admitted to myself that I was probably struggling with body dysmorphia, food and self confidence issues and that I wouldn’t feel happy until I did something about it.
How to be more body confident
Obviously there is no formula for success when it comes to mental health issues, but there are things you can do to break with negative thought processes and to champion your own health.
I began by looking at my relationships – to other people, to food, to exercise, to social media, sex, beauty and skincare. I researched healthy habits and kept a mood diary of how I was feeling.
I practised mindfulness and considered every decision and the impact it would have on my physical and mental health. This was a tough one for me because I can be quite impulsive.
I started doing regular yoga and therapy sessions to strengthen my relationship with myself. I began to like the way I looked and worked with my therapist on strategies to acknowledge, understand and curb my anxious and negative thoughts and feelings.
I did things like modelling for underwear brands, signing up for dating apps, going to sex-focused events and investing in quality sexual wellness products.
I read some great books on identity, mental health, confidence and happiness. I also listened to some wonderful podcasts and filled my social media feeds with positive accounts that made me feel good. This affected the algorithms on my accounts and I began to see more content that helped me to feel good about myself rather than like I wasn’t good enough.
I also started ‘me-time’ rituals – skincare routines and long baths in the evenings, naps and audiobooks at the weekends, half an hour eating bread and butter in a cashmere dressing gown, twenty minutes on the phone with my mum, an hour cooking something really delicious, 30 minutes in the garden. These things helped me to like myself, my own company. I learned how to be body confident and to see what other people see when they spent time with me.
How to love yourself better
I would also stop, breathe deeply, look hard and ask myself these questions whenever I looked in the mirror. Then I’d think about the answers.
Am I dissatisfied because I’m comparing myself to other people? Why?
Do I really wish that I looked more like someone else than myself? Why?
Do I think I may be exhibiting signs of body dysmorphic disorder? Why?
How do I feel when I look at my body in the mirror? Do I feel good? Do I feel sad? Do I feel disgusted? Do I feel happy? Do I feel nothing? Why?
How do I think other people see me? Why?
Would I benefit from being able to talk to someone about the way I see myself? Why?
How often do I tell myself: you look good. Why?
Do I change my lifestyle because I think it will benefit me and the way I look? Why?
Am I comparing myself to my friends? Why?
Am I photoshopping my images or using apps to change the way I look? Why? Who for?
If you don’t feel like asking yourself these things when you look in the mirror, you can write the questions down and answer them on paper. Try doing this once a week and see how your answers vary. This exercise can be really helpful if you want to identify the source of any negative feelings you have about yourself.
You can also find plenty of tips, resources, self care, sex and mental health exercises on the Brook website. Brook is the UK’s sexual health and wellbeing charity for people under 25, promoting healthy lives for young people. Find more information about Brook and the amazing work they do at brook.org.uk.