Did you know that only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful? That was the single fact that stood out most for me when I read through the findings of Dove’s global beauty study. I truly believe that how you perceive yourself plays a big role in your overall happiness and how you feel about yourself; I’ve found that when I spend some extra time on my makeup and wear a favourite outfit, I feel more beautiful and happier, even.
I was relieved to find that local studies showed that South African women are far more accepting and confident when it comes to their physical beauty, with more than half of the 470 South African women surveyed describing themselves as beautiful. But this still means that for every woman that thinks of herself as beautiful, there is another women that is unhappy with her appearance.
The local survey also revealed that 45% of women say that they are their own greatest source of beauty pressure (while 27% say that society is and 17% say that the media is). As shocking as I found these findings, I can completely relate. When Dove recently sent me an indulgent pamper pack full of some of my favourite Dove goodies (Dove Summer Glow Body Lotion, anyone?!), I immediately identified with the message in the frame Dove sent along with the beauty treats (on that note, the survey also showed that 48% of women feel beautiful when they treat themselves). I have always battled with keeping my perfectionist tendencies in check, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
I’m not quite sure where my need for perfection stems from, but it’s a character trait that has often resulted in a ridiculous amount of pressure and stress. Everything I do has to be perfect: I won’t leave the house without a face full of makeup (it may not look like a full face of makeup, but trust me, it is!), my copy must be absolutely spot-on and error-free before sending it to my editor, and my little boy’s outfit must be spotless (an enormous challenge when your 8 week old is battling reflux!) I tend to be quite hard on myself, and I’ve battled many insecurities and body issues along the way.
Not many people know this, but I did ballet for 15 years. I eventually gave up because I was tired; tired of dedicating hours every day to practicing over-and-over again, and tired of being preoccupied with my weight. Don’t get me wrong: not every ballet dancer has body hangups or watches her weight, but I personally found that, when you’re dancing en pointe and balancing all your body weight on the very tips of your toes, you feel every. single. gram. I certainly did, and it drove me to extreme measures at times. I used to obsess over every tiny morsel I put into my mouth, I tried every diet imaginable, and I often ran up and down the flight of stairs in our house, over and over again, in an effort to lose weight. I wouldn’t describe it as an eating disorder, but it definitely was an unhealthy preoccupation with my weight.
So, at the age of 18, I gave up my lifelong passion and hung up my pointe shoes. I moved to Grahamstown to study and didn’t give my weight a second thought; in fact, all I did for the 3 years at varsity was work hard, play hard, and eat and drink a little too much. I distinctly remember going for what my friends and I called ‘BP runs’ at 10pm at night to stock up on chocolate and snacks for the long night of studying that lay before us. Often, I’d polish off an entire slab of chocolate in one sitting. Before long, I was at my heaviest weight, but blissfully unaware. Instead, I used to flaunt my very abundant chest in very low-cut tops, and generally enjoyed my curvy figure.
Fast-forward a couple of years later, after I got my first job as the junior sub-editor at a leading women’s glossy: the pressures of a deadline-driven career, and having to buy and cook my own meals with my own money, meant that the weight all started to fall off.
Fast-forward to today and you’ll find that I’ve managed to lose even more weight, thanks to a stressful career, eating a fairly balanced diet most of the time, and having a baby that keeps me on my toes. Ironically, I weigh less after having a baby than I have since I was 16. The only thing that’s changed? I have a new-found respect for my body. You don’t go through 9 months of pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding and not realise the worth of your body. Not only does my body house my soul and ensure that I get around on a daily basis, it also grew a whole little person and sustained that growing being exclusively for five months after birth. That’s pretty big. So big, that it’s enough for me to put my hands up in the air and back down: I get it, body. You’re pretty darn amazing. You’re capable of so much. What does it matter how much I weigh or how many fat rolls I have? I’m healthy. I’m strong. I’m capable.
My body certainly isn’t perfect. I have stretchmarks, my tummy is as flabby as you’d expect from a tum that’s grown to accommodate a 3,5kg baby and been cut open to retrieve said baby, and my boobs are in a very sorry state, thanks to 9 months of breastfeeding. But my body gets me from A to B, my body grew a baby and my body still nourishes that baby, and that – to me – is beautiful.
What does #RealBeauty mean to you? Join the conversation and share your story, here.