The Mental Health Foundation created Mental Health Awareness Week in 2001. Each year focuses on a different theme. In the past they have covered topics such as loneliness and stress to friendship and relationships. This year it’s all about body image:
‘Body image issues can affect all of us at any age. During the week we will be publishing new research, considering some of the reasons why our body image can impact the way that we feel, campaigning for change and publishing practical tools.’ Mental Health Foundation
But this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t embrace our bodies! We all have bad days, when we don’t feel or look our best and our bodies have been through a lot. Confidence isn’t an overnight transformation and we want to show you how other real women have overcome body image demons.
6 lovely ladies joined us from Zebedee Management, a specialist modelling agency representing diversity and disability. We want to celebrate what they love about their bodies and encourage other spoonies to do the same!
“Being diagnosed with a chronic illness, such as MS, can completely change how you see yourself. It can have a massive impact on your body image. Your own body can go from feeling like your best friend to your worst enemy in a matter of moments. Even with an invisible illness you become aware of the outward signs, such as being unsteady on your feet, dropping things and looking sleepy all of the time!
Over time though, this does begin to change. You realise that you’re still the same you, and actually it doesn’t matter if you don’t look or feel quite the same. It’s part of life, and all part of learning to love yourself and who you are.
Also it is also learning to accept each day, whether that’s lazing around in your pyjamas, or dressing up for a little adventure. It’s still your body, we’re all 100% unique, and that’s something to celebrate.”
“When I was diagnosed with secondary progressive Multiple Sclerosis a few years ago I was assured I probably wouldn’t end up it a wheelchair. But sadly my MS is a rare aggressive form. I’m now fully wheelchair bound as well as bladder and bowel incontinent.
At first I pushed my husband away as I felt unattractive and struggled with how I’d changed. But I quickly learnt to appreciate things in life I’d not noticed before – simple things like the sound of birds and the waves at the seaside. I took things for granted before and now I can notice the beauty in life itself that we take for granted. This made me do some soul searching within myself. True beauty is not how a person looks on the outside, true beauty radiates from within a person.
I’ve learnt to adapt to the new me and my new body, I am worthy of being loved. I can’t help how I am. Although there is no cure for my MS, it won’t ever be the most interesting thing about me. I’m so much more than my illness.
I’ve learnt to be kind to myself. Self love is so important in helping you to keep a positive mindset. Life is for living and I love my life. I’m a strong confident woman. My journey has helped me find inner strength, courage and beauty inside myself that I never even knew I had.”
“Ever since I was a young girl I have always had problems with my legs, knees and ankles. From the age of 10 I started using crutches because of a bad knee dislocation. Since then, I have been using crutches for 8 years and diagnosed with Osteoarthritis, Joint Hypermobility and Chronic Pain Syndrome.
As I got older, I started to notice the change of appearance in my left leg. I developed stretch marks on my knee from swelling for long periods of time. My left thigh was noticeably smaller than my right, due to muscle wasting. After having surgery when I was 14 years old, I was then diagnosed with Valgus Deformity which completely changed the appearance of my knee/leg once again.
I never felt confident showing my legs so I would shy away from wearing shorts, skirts and dresses. Wearing these types of clothes that exposed any part of my leg would always give me anxiety.
I’m now a fashion student and have always been a big lover of fashion and styling. Despite not having the confidence to show my legs, I found experimenting with different types of clothes allowed me to be able to wear things that I wouldn’t have worn when I was younger.
A big part of embracing my body was accepting. Accepting that I will always have scars and stretch marks. Accepting the fact that my legs will always look different from each other and accepting myself has allowed me to live my life without worrying about my body.
My legs are now one of my favourite parts of my body. The scars and stretch marks from surgeries are beautiful to me because they tell my story.
Since signing to Zebedee Management and becoming a model, I’ve become more confident within myself, but most importantly proud. Proud of my disability and differences.”
“When I was younger (especially at the start of my teenage years) I used to be extremely self-conscious about my back as I’ve had scoliosis since the age of four, as a result of my genetic nerve condition. The scoliosis caused my back to look misshapen and after my spinal surgery in 2013 my back developed a hump. To be honest I was very embarrassed of my back and I did not think it looked pretty in anyway. I used to try and hide it with my hair or outfits.
In my late teens I decided to start modelling. I made a public Instagram account in the hope that I could work up the confidence to share my experience. That’s when things really started to change. I started to realise that beauty is not defined by size, shape or ability. It is defined by personality and mindset.
A couple of months after I started my public Instagram I got signed to a major disability modelling agency called Zebedee Management. This improved my body confidence even more. I am now no longer hiding my differences which is why I chose to wear this ASOS blue strapless dress which is one of my absolute favourites. I lived for 18 years not knowing my condition but very recently I’ve been diagnosed with a very slow burning progressive nerve condition which is why I use a wheelchair. Being diagnosed has only made me happier in my own skin, but also made me realise how unique my body is. This is not something I ever want to hide and I hope that in the future I can help other girls with their body image so they can realise that everyone’s body is beautiful inside and out!”
“Ever since I was a young girl, I’d notice big stretch marks appearing on my thighs all the time. Once I’d been diagnosed with Joint Hypermobility Syndrome it started to make sense: my skin is stretchier than others and this meant my legs were prime candidates for stretch marks!
Also due to my knee pain, I constantly have purple swollen looking knees. As a teenager I hated my legs and felt they looked really unattractive, which affected my body image. But last year I decided to get a tattoo on my left thigh. I wanted to feel confident about my thighs. And now the thing that I used to hate is one of the parts of my body I love!
Looking in the mirror now makes me smile. Even though I still have stretchmarks and purple knees, the floral moon crescent inking shows me that beauty and confidence is in everyone.”
“Growing up I always had mobility issues and chronic hip and back pain which was generally explained away as growing pains. Already lacking in confidence and self-conscience in my mid-20s, my condition got worse and I became a wheelchair user, with no really understanding as to why.
After 2 ½ years as a wheelchair, overweight and suffering from depression, I was diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS) Type 3. My depression became deeper as I grieved for the abled-bodied life that I once had. It was nearly 5 long tiring years after becoming a wheelchair user, before I had the strength to take control of my life. I decided I wanted to live not just exist and to be happy and healthy. I made small goals and when I achieved those goals, I then made new ones.
As I accepted my condition and my new way of life as a wheelchair user, I became comfortable with who I am, and with that my confidence grew. 14 years on and I am now more confident, and happier than I have ever been in my life.
Yes, I am still in constant chronic pain and suffer with fatigue. But I wouldn’t change any of it because, I truly believe I am living my best life.”
“I used to hate my body and felt let down by my own abilities, struggling with Joint Hypermobility, fatigue and collapsing. I also struggled with weight issues which affected my self esteem.
However that has all changed now. I have found confidence regardless of my disability. I use fashion and makeup to enhance my look and to express myself.
Since becoming disabled my style has changed slightly, as I have to think how an outfit looks sitting and it’s a lot harder than you would think. But you bet I can rock my look just as good in a wheelchair!”
All photography by Natalie Panton