Until I was about ten years old I'd always been happy taking my clothes off. Then puberty hit and that was taken from me. Gradually my body became a loaded space, protruding with curves, inciting cat calls from strangers, inciting uninvited hands on me. The gaze and comments of strangers sexually objectified me long before I was a sexual being. My body no longer felt like a safe home.
As a teenager I hated how I looked. I assumed this meant I hated myself. I had heavy thighs, pronounced breasts and hips, a not-flat belly, big hair and eyebrows. My reflection in changing room mirrors made me want to disappear; to run away from myself.
I used to chase some unattainable beauty ideal. If only I could be more like the women in magazines and on television, I thought I'd feel better, happier. The face and body I saw in the mirror didn't resemble them. So I aimed for invisibility. I was a really neat cultural product: taught to feel bad about myself; convinced I was not enough.
I am thirty years old. I don't suddenly have a perfect sense of self-image, but I work on it. I don't read beauty magazines and I tune out when people discuss dieting. (I find nutrition interesting, but I'm interested in working with my body, not against it. No fad diets for me, please). My hips are still really big: a pair of brackets. I like my thick eyebrows, my messy curls.
I've learnt I feel best when I'm inhabiting my body as fully as possible. So I swim, I dance, I partake in bodywork classes, I walk barefoot in nature. For a time I kickboxed, revelling in my own strength.
The more I'm aware of how it feels to be in my own body, the better I feel and the more my body becomes a neutral space to me. I've been a life model. My relationship to my own naked body interests me. Naked, your skin holds no secrets. I believe there's something to be said for this.
After years of trying to learn healthy self-image in a world which teaches women to dislike themselves, I'd like to share five pieces of advice I wish someone had given me when I was a teenager.
1. Your body is sacred. You don't need to believe in a single damn thing but if you can, believe this. Your body is amazing. It's carried you this far. Your story's written all over it. That story matters.
2. You don't owe your body to anybody but yourself. Not to society, not to every or any person who desires it. If you don't want to be touched, state this, however it needs to be stated. You are your own property.
3. Prettiness lingers on the surface, much like niceness and sweetness. Be real, be truthful, be deep and soulful. Laugh from the belly as much as possible. Prettiness is irrelevant. Like most things, it passes. Be memorable.
4. It's good to be naked sometimes, even if this is terrifying. Your skin deserves to feel. Just like you do.
5. You're only you (and this is enough). You're probably not a woman in a magazine or a face on the television. You're not your friends or lovers. So live your self-ness and carve out a fierce space in this world: for your body, your being, for yourself.