Alice Liveing: ‘Mum gave me the space to make mistakes’

Top fitness influencer Alice Liveing’s path to success hasn’t been a smooth one. She’s survived an abusive relationship, battled body issues and copes with online bullying on a daily basis. Throughout it all, she says, her mum Sarah has been her greatest support.

Alice’s story

Alice Liveing, 27, first found fame on Instagram as Clean Eating Alice. She is now one of the UK’s top fitness and health influencers.

Whenever I get a particularly nasty comment online, my phone will beep with a message from Mum. ‘Just checking you’re OK?’ she’ll ask, and I always reassure her I am. Online bullying is a sad reality of life as an influencer and, although I’ve learnt to be resilient, knowing that Mum is in my corner really helps me cope with it.

It’s hard to take criticism, I have to make a conscious effort not to engage with trolls and challenge every horrible comment. If I did, I’d be constantly angry and that’s not healthy. I was bullied at school, but Mum taught me that bullying is a reflection of the bully, not the victim. It’s their problem, not mine. It’s a lesson I draw on almost daily having a career in the public eye.

When I was growing up, there was a time when Mum was very big [around 18 stone]. I remember, aged nine, us going to a Hear’Say concert and a man yelling, ‘Get out of the way, you fat b****’ at her. I felt so bad for her.

Alice Liveing and mum Sarah
On holiday in Italy with mum Sarah, 2017.

I could see she was bigger than my friends’ mums and she couldn’t do things such as jump on the trampoline with me and my siblings. I could also see she was desperate to lose weight, and was unhappy about how she looked. All her language around food and exercise linked back to being slimmer, never about simply being healthy and active.

I think Mum’s generation had an all-or-nothing approach to diet and exercise, but mine has questioned and challenged how we look after our bodies.

How Mum was definitely had an impact on me, particularly when I was a teenager. As
I became aware of my own body, I’d think, ‘Do I need to change myself, too?’ There was a time when I didn’t do things in moderation and I’ve had to learn to have a sense of balance – for example, it’s OK to strive to be healthy and strong and go out, indulge in food and skip the gym.

Over the past decade Mum has worked hard to change her mindset and behaviours. As a result, she’s more grounded and calmer as a person, and happier, which was always what I wanted for her. My job may be helping strangers change their lifestyles but Mum has done it all on her own, which is great. I think it’s healthy to have a degree of separation between my work and family life – I don’t want to go home and scrutinise the contents of her fridge!

When I was 15, I found myself in an abusive relationship. We met through friends and it started as coercive control, although I was too young and inexperienced to recognise that. He wanted to know where I was and who I was with all the time, messaging me constantly, undermining me. Boundaries kept being pushed, then it escalated to physical violence. I felt trapped, silenced by both shame and also a fear no one would believe me because I was a smart girl who came from a good home.

After 18 months, I ended the relationship and that was when Mum found out what had been going on – she’d had to call the police when my ex turned up at our home, and I broke down. I’d expected her and Dad to be cross with me for hiding it from them. Instead, they showed me nothing but love. And when my ex assaulted me outside school, they supported me through the court case where he was found guilty of common assault and given a restraining order.

That was the lowest time of my life and my self-esteem hit rock bottom, which was reflected in the lack of care I took of my body. I lived on crap food, didn’t exercise and this carried on when I left home and went to theatre school.

I spent my first year there surrounded by slimmer girls in leotards. I had my stomach poked and watched as fellow students developed eating disorders. When one of my favourite teachers told me I wasn’t physically strong enough at my end-of-year appraisal in 2015, it really resonated. I knew I was never going to be the best dancer or singer there, but my physical strength was something I could improve. I began exercising, then changed my diet and – to make myself accountable so I didn’t slip back into old ways – I charted my progress on Instagram. That was my first foray into the influencer world.

I met my boyfriend Patrick, 32, in 2016 through a dating app and we now live together. My abusive ex had left me with a legacy of trust issues but, with Patrick, I’ve been able to let my guard down and be myself. When someone loves you for exactly who you are, it’s amazing.

I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome two years ago but am still optimistic I will have a baby one day. And when that day comes, I want to emulate Mum’s hands-off parenting style. I’ve made so many mistakes but Mum recognised she had to let me, so I could find the right path, while always being there to help me pick up the pieces.

Alice Liveing
Alice in her workout gear. Image: Instagram/@aliceliveing

Sarah’s story

Sarah Liveing, 59, lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband of 30 years, Chris, 62.

I always knew Alice’s personality would open doors for her. From a young age, people warmed to her because she was so friendly and fearless.

It’s not always easy having a daughter in the public eye. Caroline Flack’s death has taught us that there are very real repercussions to the online abuse people such as Alice endure daily.

Of course, Alice and I talk regularly, but I love seeing what she’s up to on Instagram, too. However, when I read some of the horrible things people post about her, it’s difficult. Like Alice, I’d never engage, and I have to trust her resilience and hope that if she needs me, she’ll say.

Alice’s honesty makes me incredibly proud. She’s an antidote to social media’s culture of perfection and is open about her struggles. She strives to project a normal image, even when that means going against the tide.

I had an eating disorder from the age of five until my 50s. My own experiences made me extremely aware of Alice’s behaviours, and I did worry – not just when she was binge-eating and not looking after herself but also when she began exercising and changing her diet. I was concerned at first that it was almost obsessive, especially as I knew she was comparing her body to other girls at theatre school.

I was blindsided by Alice’s revelation that her boyfriend had been abusing her. Looking back, perhaps I should have picked up on some of her behaviours, such as shutting herself away in her room, but what teenager doesn’t do that?

Alice five years old
Alice as a friendly and fearless five-year-old.

It broke my heart to hear that when she’d been on holiday with this boy and his family, he’d assaulted her. Alice had shown his mother the bruises, but she’d dismissed them and done nothing. The idea that another mother had let my daughter down was extremely painful.

After the relationship finished, Alice had panic attacks at night and I’d lie in her bed trying to comfort her. I wished she’d sought my help sooner but I understood that the fear of what he might do had stopped her. Abusers isolate their victims and Alice has since learnt the importance of a strong support network. Not just her family, but friends and Patrick.

I have been very conscious of not being an overprotective mother. I haven’t scrutinised other boyfriends and worried – I can’t wrap up Alice in cotton wool. She has to live her life. She was in a vulnerable place when she met her ex but she’s a different person now.

My role as a mother is to take my children to the precipice and teach them how to jump and how to fly. They know I’m always here, and always will be, watching from the clifftop
as they fly on their own.

Alice and Sarah in four

Describe each other.

Alice: Strong. Opinionated. Supportive.

Sarah: Fearless. Bubbly. Stubborn.

Their worst habit?

Alice: Replying to every single Instagram story I do.

Sarah: She worries too much about me.

When you’re together…

Alice: We bicker but we love each other really.

Sarah: Alice walks so fast I can’t keep up with her!

Favourite memory of each other?

Alice: On holiday in the South of France, just the two of us. Mum’s always been great at making time for each of her children.

Sarah: Dancing in a Cinderella dress with a head full of curls.

Series two of Alice’s Give Me Strength podcast is available now on all platforms.

As told to Eimear O’Hagan.