Self Love this Valentines Day

Guest Blog by Salty Seabird Claudine and embracing Self Love this Valentaines

Guest Blog by Seabird Claudine.

“Wow, she really loves herself.” It was a serious insult to others when I was growing up.  Conceited, cocky, arrogant.  Probably an offensive slur I had thrown at me at times, when the brash exterior self I showed to the world belied the insecure reality underneath.  “Self-love” was certainly not something I was striving to achieve.  I thought it was a bad thing.  It seemed better to be self-loathing, self-deprecating, self-conscious – all whilst being bubbly and confident, but not too confident, or else you loved yourself.  See the conundrum here?

That was back then.  Over the years, with all the personal development I’ve done, it slowly dawned on me that loving myself wasn’t an act of arrogance and it didn’t mean I thought I was better than everyone else. I realised that self-love was not only acceptable, but maybe even preferable for my mental and emotional wellbeing.
In 2017 I discovered the body image movement, when a friend suggested going to a screening of Embrace, that’s when it really struck me as more than “OK” to have self-acceptance. After a lifetime of dieting, striving for a smaller body, putting things on hold until I’d just reached that next size down, lost those last few pounds, hoping then I would feel more comfortable in my skin, I discovered it didn’t have to be that way.
The content of the documentary about positive body image hit me like a ton of bricks; a ton of bricks I didn’t have to diet-away.  I heard messages I’d never considered, and had a number of genuine light-bulb moments whilst watching the film, as well as some tears at the sadness of the time wasted on diet culture and self-criticism.  We can take for granted that we need to be slender to be attractive, have curves in the right places and not the wrong ones, and that the only way to be healthy is to be slim.  That our skin can’t show the signs of ageing, wrinkles or cellulite, and god forbid we have hair anywhere but on our heads!  We are told from a young age we must strive for the ideal of beauty that we see everywhere, but these days, that ideal is fake.  Big lips, bums and boobs, small waist, ankles and arms.  Photo-shopped, botoxed, filtered, surgeried, dieted, obsessively exercised, waxed, shaved, sat with a make-up artist and hair stylist for hours.  We can’t look like that and it’s not just young women thinking they can and should.

The beauty industry has told us we have flaws so they can sell us creams, exercise plans, diets, pills and even lollipops to fix them; and we fall for it, making them billions of pounds.  Restrictive eating is a slippery slope to eating disorders.  Living our lives striving to be smaller, fitter, smoother, creates a perfect breeding ground for anxiety and depression.  And putting our life on hold and waiting to feel happy when we’ve made that final change that definitely will be the last one, is a recipe for living an unfulfilled life.

I listened recently with sadness to a radio story about a mum whose daughter had stolen her credit card to get botox, fillers and even surgery to improve her looks at 16 years old, and her parents found out the night before she was booked in for a nose job.  The daughter begged her parents to let her go ahead with it, and they eventually agreed, as she was absolutely convinced that the surgery would sort her out, solve her problems, and make her feel good.  And it did: for a few days.  Her problems weren’t physical, they weren’t about the bump on her nose but she had been brainwashed to believe they were, and they’d be fixed by the surgeon’s knife.
What if we started to really believe beauty comes in all forms?  Because it truly does.
What if we saw getting old as something to be celebrated as not everyone gets to do so?  We should welcome each wrinkle as it shows another laugh we shared with loved ones.
What if we learned to value people for more than their looks?  We should realise that we are so much more than the shell that carries us around.
What if we stopped assuming we can tell how healthy someone is just by looking at them?  We should know that thin people get ill, so do fat people, and fat people get ill, and can be healthy.  Also, that people aren’t worth less even if they are unhealthy.
What if we weren’t glorifying obesity by being body positive, but recognising that the mental health crisis we have in society could be somewhat eased if we took this beauty burden off our shoulders.  We would still take care of ourselves, we would move our bodies for fun and to make them stronger.  What if we worked with girls from a young age to believe this, to value and take care of themselves and see beauty inside themselves and others regardless of the outer casing?


I have totally changed my attitude towards exercise.  I do the kind I like as there isn’t only one way of being fit and strong.  I don’t have to force myself to run when I hate it.  I don’t have a marathon in me, or a half, or even any more 10k’s, but I can swim 4km and can yoga like a yogi.  I don’t always do as much exercise as I’d like, but I don’t beat myself up when I don’t, then turn to the biscuit tin because, “well, what’s the point now?”
Since seeing the film, I have felt so much more comfortable in my skin.  The road to self-love, of which a positive body image is just one part, is a journey, and body neutrality is on the way.  For some, that’s where they will get off the train and where they’ll stay, and that’s good enough.  Feeling neutrally towards one’s body is far better than loathing it, and it will give you so much more freedom.
Since seeing the film I discovered outdoor swimming, now in my second winter, and this helped on my body image journey.  It’s pointless worrying about how I look when I’m trying to get dressed and it’s blowing a gale.  I’ve come to respect my body for what it can do, that not everyone’s can, such as walking into 4 degree water and having a swim.  I truly believe this body is worthy, I value my health and wellness, and at times even love it.  There, I’ve said it, some days I love myself, and whilst my 14 year old self still cringes a little inside, my 43 year old self knows that’s OK.  So this Valentine’s day, if you haven’t already tried saying it to yourself, go on, have a go.  You might even believe it.

I hope you can join us for our next screening of Embrace: 13th Feb, 7.30 at the Walrus pub in Brighton.  Tickets on Eventbrite, here:  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/embrace-the-documentary-hove-tickets-90587253915

claudine8

Finding my inner Mermaid

Guest Blog by Amy. Beautiful honesty, a true Seabird

Guest Article by Salty Seabird Amy

I first started sea swimming in 2013 when I dipped my toe into the world of triathlon. I’d run a few marathons and had my eye on completing an Ironman for my 30th birthday (because that’s what you do for your 30th right?!). I got into the water, and HATED it! Running was always my strength, I was OK on a bike but swimming, swimming was my absolute nemesis. I had never learnt properly as a child and despite hours and hours in a pool I just didn’t seem to get any faster or better. Despite loving being in the water I never found the love of chasing a time or covering distance. I just never felt good enough despite my desperate attempts to become the mermaid I knew I was inside.

After Ironman I carried on swimming despite my complaining, not wanting to lose the hard work I’d put in to my swimming fitness. I even entered some long distance events including the Dart 10k and swam round Comino Island in Malta. I wanted to be the streamlined graceful dolphins that seemed to be part of every group I swam with, but I still just never felt like I found my inner mermaid.

 

Fast forward to 2017 and all thoughts of sporting events disappeared as I started to suffer with my mental health. Throughout 2018 I fell into a black hole where I didn’t want to live anymore and was hospitalised twice consumed by the hideous monster that is depression. Running had in the past been my salvation, but even the enjoyment of my favourite trails wasn’t improving my mental health and so I looked to the water.

It was during this time that I started just going in the sea for fun. I have some amazing, caring friends who would literally drag me out of bed and off onto the Downs for a run or into the sea to watch the sunset. Being in the water I realised was the place I began to feel at peace. Long gone were any worries about chasing a fast time or covering a certain distance, just the peace of floating around, feeling the water on my skin was the only thing that stopped the incessant chattering of the racing thoughts in my head that I suffered with the rest of the time. I ditched the wetsuit and fell in love with cold water.

As the year wore on and the temperature started to drop there were less people willing to get in the water with me and my friend Claire suggested I look up the Salty Seabirds. This amazing group has allowed me to continue with my winter swimming and has become a valuable part of my journey towards recovery.

amy 5

There is always a friendly face or 17 to chat to in the water and everyone is so supportive of each other with no competitiveness. Last week I even found myself setting my alarm for 04:30 am to swim under the Blood moon at 5am with 17 other brave seabirds. The thermostat on my car showing -4 degrees as I drove down to the seafront wondering what the hell I was doing! It was one of the most magical experiences, organised by seabird Sam, made even more special to share it with such a lovely group of people.

Although the waves of depression still get me, they are getting smaller and I am getting better at staying afloat. Maybe I have become that mermaid after all, or seabird. The future feels brighter, and definitely salty!

To Swim or to Gym? That is the Question

National Women’s Health and Fitness Day falls on the last Wednesday in September. i.e. yesterday. This is an American concept but one that the UK seems to have adopted. My Social Media streams were full of positive images of women keeping physically fit. Lots of references to introducing exercise into your life and healthy living particularly diet and super foods. But still a disproportionate lack of advice, images, suggestions to promote Women’s Mental Health.

Mental and physical wellbeing are intrinsically linked. If you focus on physical health, i.e. diet and exercise, there is a positive impact on mental health . The WHO states that “there is no health without mental health.” Nowhere is the relationship between mental and physical health more evident than in the area of chronic conditions. … People with chronic physical conditions are at risk of developing poor mental health.

In the past I have prioritised my physical well being over my mental health. I was your typical gym bunny. Always doing the school run in Lycra and headed off to a gym class as soon as I had dropped the little darlings off. The sweat was addictive and the endorphins kept me coming back for more. As with open water swimming, there was a supportive gym and school mum community too. But it was a double edged sword for me. It brings out my  competitive nature and I found that it was never ‘enough’. I hadn’t trained hard ‘enough’. I hadn’t gone to ‘enough’ classes. If I didn’t sweat it wasn’t ‘enough’. My focus on my physical wellbeing was beginning to have a detrimental impact on my mental health.

So I changed my approach and looked for balance. I reduced the gym classes and mixed them up with more gentle classes that focused on strength, flexibility and relaxation. Much needed for 45+ year old joints and a frazzled brain. Slowly I weaned myself off the sweat addiction. But the hardest activity to change was my swimming. Open Water swimming has always been part of my life but in recent years I have introduced pool swimming into my routine. Not indoor pools….that would be a step too far! I applied my standard discipline approach to this activity. The number of lengths I swam each time and the time it took to swim distances. It was hard to be a seabird swimmer, free from swim drills in the pool. The lane ropes almost dictate swim drills to me. So I headed for the sea and ditched the pool. Luckily there was a Seabird flock waiting for me to join them.

Over the last 18 months, since the Seabirds were formed, I have swum in the sea all year round and there has been a marked improvement in my mental wellbeing. However, as soon as the water warmed up enough to be safe,  I found myself setting swim distance targets all over again. Round the pier, counting the groynes or using the iconic yellow swim buoys to measure the distance of my swim. I even swam solo, which was as much to do with a confidence goal as the need to pursue physical goals. If I didn’t swim front crawl without stopping and get up a sweat (yes you can sweat in the sea) it wasn’t ‘enough’.

Vanity played it’s part too. Ditching the gym and the pool changed my body. And not in a way I liked. It didn’t stop me from stripping off on the shingles and showing half of Brighton my bare bum. But lots of my clothes now don’t fit and even the most resilient woman would struggle in seeing the positive in that. Without knowing it the Seabird Community brought me back to balance. Listening to their pre and post swim conversations I distinctly remember one Seabirds saying at school she wasn’t ‘sporty’ and now she is proud of what her body can do after months of sea swimming. Others have talked about being role models for their children, showing them that there’s life in the old Seabird yet. All of them talk about how happy they feel in the water and for hours sometimes days afterwards. The running theme throughout was always that getting in the sea was ‘enough’. It didn’t matter if you swam out to the buoys, lay in the shore dump or floated in the waves. It was ‘enough’

Health and Fitness is and always will be a very personal choice. Alone or in a group. In a gym class or in the outdoors. Dry land or in the water. If you don’t enjoy it and if it doesn’t make you happy it won’t be ‘enough’ and you won’t keep doing it. And your mental health is as important as your physical health. For me finding a balance is a challenge. But I think I am finally there. A mixture of gym classes as I like routine and encouragement. A daily dog walk on the South Downs as I love solitude and fresh air. A seabird swim free from arbitrary goals that leaves me feeling happy.  So the question isn’t really Swim or the Gym. A balance of both is ‘enough’.