In a world where skinny coffees and detox teas reign supreme, endorsed and promoted by celebs and the media, loving yourself can be the hardest thing of all. To have your idol promoting a “bikini body” with the use of what is essentially a laxative, the ideas of self-care and self love (in my eyes) have been completely distorted. Self love should be a face-mask and a hot bubble bath after a long shift at work or getting your hair done. Self care is doing the things you love because they make you happy, not buying into a diet culture that ultimately spreads the idea that to be beautiful, you have to be skinny.
I think back to when I was 17. I would’ve spent all my wages on getting that ‘perfect body’ through these celebrity endorsed products because I thought this was what I needed to look like. At that age I was obsessed with looking a certain way: Flat stomach, peachy bum, bigger boobs, being tall etc etc… The list was endless. I would deprive myself of certain foods and exercise too much because I thought it would give me the satisfaction and self worth I needed to be seen in this world. But all this hard work was never going to be good enough; another fad would be released and I just had to jump on that bandwagon to be - what I thought was - perfection.
Since then I’ve been through a complex journey with my body and getting to a place where I do love myself hasn’t been easy. At the age of 20, I was diagnosed with IBD and suddenly my whole world was thrown upside down. I couldn’t walk, let alone go to the gym; I lost two stone (12kgs/28lbs) in two weeks and was being wheeled in and out of hospital for scans and medication therapy. Constantly in pain with medication side effects taking over my body, I had burning acne, crippling joint pain and more hair down the shower plughole than on my head. I was a shadow of my former self with a grey complexion and suitcases under my eyes from sleep deprivation; I couldn’t look in the mirror for months. I didn’t love myself - I couldn’t even look at myself.
Almost one year to the day of my diagnosis, my body was once again, changed forever. I had an organ removed, my intestine poking through my stomach and a bag of poo permanently attached to me. But as I was lying in bed, a week post surgery, I had an epiphany; all those years of dieting and working too hard on my body along with the years of illness made me see strength, not weakness. I wasn’t weak for being unwell or lying in a hospital bed. My scars, stretch marks and ostomy bag weren’t a symbol of abnormality, they were a testament to strength- to being powerful enough to undergo surgery at the age of 21 and coming out stronger than when I went in both mentally and physically. I gained weight instantly, my hair grew back, and I wasn’t in pain anymore. I found so much happiness in eating the foods I’d deprived myself of and went back to the gym, but with a different mindset this time: I was doing this for me and only me.
I have scars, stretch marks and wobbly bits. I have lumps and bumps, but they aren’t parts of me I pick apart anymore; these scars and stretch marks, lumps and bumps, and my ostomy bag make me who I am today. They gave me strength and confidence that I could overcome anything. I might have a very ‘abnormal’ stomach where the media and society are concerned, but that doesn’t make me any less worthy. Loving yourself is a voyage; it’s a trek of self discovery that takes time to come to terms with. It’s full of peaks and troughs that come and go throughout our lives. Loving yourself comes in so many forms, but one thing is for sure, it is that moment - whether you notice it or not - when you look in that mirror and can say hand on heart, “damn I look good today”. Because let’s face it - you definitely do!
Billie Anderson is a 22 year old student from the U.K. In 2017, she was diagnosed with IBD and then almost a year to the day after the diagnosis, had her colon removed to give her a stoma bag. She works hard to raise awareness of both IBD and ostomy bags through charities in the U.K. alongside her Instagram and writing work.