As a very young girl I never worried about how I looked; I had curly, messy hair, I used to love climbing trees, making dens and riding my bike so was constantly covered in scrapes and bruises, I liked to wear jeans or shorts and a t-shirt instead of dresses and nether makeup nor nail varnish was even on my radar. But this changed.
I had been living in Oxfordshire where all the children my age were just like me - outdoorsy and carefree, but when I was about 8 years old my family and I moved down to West Sussex for my dads work and I was moved to a new primary school. I went into the school expecting everyone to be the same as they were back in Oxford but it was like going into a whole new world! The girls all had their hair plaited or in some fancy style, they were interested in girly things like nail varnish, boybands and makeup and I'm sure you can imagine how much I was teased for being the girl who still just wanted to climb trees, hunt for fairies and ride my bike around. These girls were 8 going on 18.
Being around girls like this and being teased for my bitten down nails and my untameable hair was tough and I soon started feeling self conscious. This progressed even more when I went to secondary school. Yes, every girl between the ages of 12-16 feels self conscious at some point but I felt it on a whole other level. It started by me buying makeup and straightening my hair obsessively - I couldn't be seen without concealer or mascara and I wouldn't go out without every strand of my hair being straightened dead straight. I then started becoming more self conscious of my body which is where my self consciousness gets to be a serious issue.
I was so self conscious I wouldn't have been able to name one thing I liked about myself, not one single thing. I hated my legs and my arms, I hated my stomach, I couldn't stand my face and I didn't even like my shoulders...why? I don't know! I began hiding away behind baggy clothes and stopped getting my legs out, then I began covering my whole body from pretty much the neck down all day every day. Even on the hottest day of the year I'd be wearing jeans and a long sleeve top. I'd fake being ill every week so I didn't have to do P.E - the idea of getting changed in front of everyone made me feel sick and no way would I wear the P.E t-shirt, everyone would see my arms and don't get me started on the leotards we were forced to wear in dance. This got me in a lot of trouble at school, no-one knew what the problem was and I felt too ashamed and embarrassed to talk about it. I just wanted to cease to exist.
Today, as a 21 year old woman, I love my body. It's been the hardest struggle; I've had to build my confidence up slowly and I've had to have a lot of courage to push myself but I now really love my body. Yes, I have imperfections like a few stretch marks on my thighs, I don't have abs like Tash Oakley and my legs aren't perfect dancers legs but I'm okay with that. I've accepted I'm never going to have the sort of body you see in magazines (because they're not real!) and I've accepted I can't change the way my body is naturally. Sure, I have days where I don't feel very sexy and it's still a challenge to get my legs out in public but I can do it and when I do I've learnt to not care what anyone else thinks.
The other day I went swimming in a public pool for the first time since I was a little girl. I'd overcome wearing dresses in public but the big one was wearing a bikini. This might seem like such a small thing to some people but to me it was huge, if I could do it without fear or anxiety then I knew I was over this self consciousness that controlled my life for so many years. And guess what? I wasn't scared, I was excited! I put my bikini on and I walked out that changing room and into the pool without a care in the world. A few people looked in my direction but I didn't think "they're staring at me" "they're repulsed by me" or "they're thinking how fat I look" like I would have once done but I didn't think anything of it. They were looking in my direction, but it doesn't mean they were looking at me and judging me but even if they were I'm sure they were just admiring my pretty bikini!
My journey to bikini confidence has been a very long, painful, exhausting and challenging one but now I've reached a stage in my life where I'm body confident I can say it was all so worth it. How did I get here? A big part was learning not to care or worry about what other people think, the sooner you start doing that the better - it's life changing!
Looking after my body properly was a huge factor too; I started eating better and exercising more which yes, helped me lose weight and tone up but it just made me feel generally happier and less anxious. I started to feel a real respect for my body and the amazing things it does every day so instead of punishing it and treating it badly I wanted to love it, nourish it and nurture it.
I also started admiring my body for the strength it has and the power is has rather than focusing on how it looks; my arms are full of strength, my core has got stronger, my brain is powerful and my body fights hard against illness - those things matter more to me!
When I look back at that girl who'd lock herself away in her bedroom so no-one could see her, to the girl who'd look in the mirror and be repulsed and to the girl who missed out on so many opportunities just because she was that cripplingly self conscious it breaks my heart.
To all the girls suffering like I was, please know it will get better. Trust me, every day I thought I'd never have any confidence again, I thought I'd always have to hide away and I thought I'd never find someone to love me but I'm living proof things do get better even after these huge struggles. Learn about your body, nourish it don't punish it, tell yourself every day that you're amazing, strong and beautiful and never let anyone else steal your happiness. You can do this.