Learning body positivity - unlearning self conciousness online.
My body on the internet - a journey towards body positivity
You might think I’ve always been this body positivity advocate. Afterall, my face and my body are all over my website. All over my instagram. Daily, unfiltered on my Instagram stories. People often say to me ‘you are so confident! - I could never do what you do!’ and I kinda have to shrug it off because I certainly don’t feel like the person they are describing.
You might be shocked, if you look at my website today, to discover that I never had any ambition to put pictures of myself on the internet. In fact, I actively avoided it for the first couple of years of running Milk & Moon...
Selling T-shirts without me in them
My first T-shirt went on sale in the spring of 2018. I had wanted to add T-shirts to my online shop for a long time. It felt like a huge leap at the time - a bigger financial investment than enamel pins and I had no idea if they would sell or even how to sell them.
I could have exploded with nerves and excitement as I opened that first box of freshly printed tees. What would they look like? Am I going to be able to convince a whole 49 other people to buy a shirt? When I lifted that first shirt out the box I was SO happy. That ‘I made this’ feeling never gets old.
But my euphoria soon faded into something much more uncomfortable. I was used to taking photos of very small shiny things next to a window. I took pics of enamel pins on my phone, popped them on Instagram and bam- that was my business plan. With no model for my tee shirt the best I could do was pop it on a hanger and try and get the best light. I LOVED my tee, but I did not LOVE pictures of myself wearing it. Or any pictures of myself at all. I was so proud of what I had made but ashamed to draw attention to my own body – and the ways I felt like it was a failure- by sharing a picture of myself wearing it.
So self conscious that Milk & Moon was anon account
When Milk & Moon began one of the things I actually loved the most about it was how incredibly anonymous I felt. I was just quietly making badges and posting pics of them. I didn’t tell anyone my name, I didn’t share anything about myself, it was all badges all the time. I loved the freedom to nerd out about something that interested me, but part of me was always a little fearful.
What if the people that thought Milk & Moon was cool, who liked my posts and bought my pins found out that I, myself, am not cool; I am in fact incredibly ordinary and kinda sad? (OH MY GOSH who even uses the words ‘cool’ and ‘sad’ anymore? Absolute CRINGE! I couldn’t bring myself to even write more than a sentence captioning what I was selling in case people looked at what I wrote and JUDGED it as somehow BAD.) It was safer to be anonymous!
Feelings about my body = lifetime of dieting cycles
Like most millennial women (and probably men) and certainly like the generations before us, I grew up into a bunch of complicated feelings about my body. My relationship with my body - and how big or small it is - dominated my psyche for many decades. It feels strange using the past tense to write that, perhaps because improving this relationship is certainly a daily practice rather than ‘it’s fixed now’.
So, like most of us, I have spent many many years in a lifetime of dieting cycles, losing and gaining weight and allowing the size of my thighs to dictate my self esteem. This was a huge part of my reluctance to put pictures online.
I didn’t want to give anyone else the opportunity to judge my body as harshly as I did. Because the thoughts that I had about my own body, and self, were so mean, part of me assumed that what other people would be thinking would be even worse .
Selling tees for months before I put a pic of myself wearing one online
When these first t-shirts arrived my body felt like a distressing place to be. I was recovering from knee surgery and frustrated with my lack of mobility. Every part of my body hurt and the migraines I had been getting before my op seemed to be more frequent. Despite giving up dieting for weightloss, I had given up both dairy and sugar in an attempt to regain some energy as I felt so unwell all the time. I was on the waiting list to see a rheumatologist and was spending money I didn’t have on CBD tinctures, herbalist appointments, osteopaths that had no real impact on my pain. I didn’t know what was happening to me.
It was only 12 months before that I’d felt so good and energetic in my body. I had been rollerskating and going to exercise classes and enjoying moving my body around for fun. Things had changed so quickly and I was frightened. Chronic pain brings your body into your consciousness full time, and that familiar negative association between my body and my worth was looming large, and the things I had been doing before, that kept these demons at bay (moving around! Having fun!) were unavailable to me.
I put those tee shirts on my website with a photo of them on a hanger.
So what changed?
Kind internet stranger
So here I am a few years down the line. My face, my body, my thighs, are all over my website. I am currently preparing for the next Milk & Moon photoshoot and I am more concerned about whether I’ll be too hot wearing a jumper indoors than I am about how people think I will look in it on the internet. What has changed? Did I discover a mysterious elixir of confidence? Was I visited by a fairy godmother of body acceptance? How did I learn to just NOT CARE?
After that first T-shirt arrived, I knew I had to start putting my face to Milk & Moon if I wanted to make my business work. I had been made redundant and during that knee surgery recovery Milk & Moon had my full attention. Business was doing well enough that I could put off job hunting until my health improved. In all that time spent working on the business I was learning fast that people wanted to buy from small businesses that they ‘knew’ and that if I really wanted to keep doing this work that I loved I would have to get past my own issues and discomfort. Milk & Moon was a one woman show and if I made a tee shirt and I wanted people to see it, it needed to go on a body and my body is the only one that I have.
Time to step outside the comfort zone
When a box of sweatshirts arrived that winter, with no photographer and no models I really had no choice but to take my teenage son outside with the mobile phone and try and get some pictures to use on instagram.
THIS COMMENT changed so much for me. Internet stranger: thank you.
It had genuinely never occurred to me before reading this that my very ordinary self doing the very ordinary action of not being a model could actually be a positive choice? That I didn’t need to apologise for my own being online in a caption affirming that my body deserved to take up space? And that I didn’t have to preempt what I THOUGHT people would be thinking - because it turned out that I’ve actually got no idea?!
I wish this revelation had come from some deep soul shifting spiritual moment of my own. Some kind of Damascus moment where my inner beauty and self love were revealed. My ego would adore that story. Nope. A passing comment from a generous internet stranger interrupted the narrative I had been writing in my head about myself and handed me a spade. And I used it to start to dig out the foundations of a self worth no longer bound to how I feel about my body. Thanks, stranger!
I can only see the value in this story now I have been building this new place for a few years. I was very embarrassed about this story as to me it clearly pointed towards so many of my weaknesses: my self consciousness, my dependence on positive feedback, my very uncool desire for people to perceive me as cool. What could be less cool than caring so much about what people think?
But nestled in among all the shame is one moment. If I’m gonna stretch the analogy of building even further, I can see now that here is a cornerstone on which I have been building. Nervous, neurotic, self loathing - but preaching self-loving - past me did the thing.
I. Did. The. Thing.
I took the smallest, crappest, most apologetic step away from the things about myself that were holding me back. I stepped out of the ‘comfort zone’ and forwards into fear, not knowing what would happen. And nothing bad happened. In fact it was just the beginning of unravelling a whole lot of negative self belief that I had been holding onto for SO much of my life.
Neither of us is stupid, so let’s not pretend we can all feel great about ourselves all the time, or that a life time of hating on the way you look can be quickly undone and now I love to look at my body. Far from it. Most days I am neutral about my body. (And that has taken a fair bit of deliberate work.)
I didn’t write this post to be all “look at me now”
But hell! LOOK AT ME NOW!