What lies beneath? That is something that has been occupying my thoughts rather a lot since I wrote about my lifelong lack of body confidence in this magazine last year. And I don’t mean just thinking about my own situation, but also the many people who contacted me to say they had been living with it too – even those who, from the outside, I would have assumed were high on the self-assurance scale. But then that is a problem very much at the heart of this issue: it’s what’s going on inside, what our minds trick us into believing, that stifles the joy of life and inhibits so many choices, taking us down the road of Less Than when we should be opting for Plentiful.
What I have learnt is that this isn’t something I’m going to change overnight and I must be patient with myself as I make small but incremental shifts in my habits and outlook and gradually re-chart my course.
One of the first things I’ve tackled is clothing. For me, when I’m feeling at my lowest in the body-confidence stakes I refrain from buying myself anything new. Not that I’m a big shopper, you understand, but I do love clothes and expressing myself through them. So to abstain from that enjoyment is a way of punishing myself, of underscoring in my own head that I am undeserving of dressing in the way I want to ‒ it’s like sending myself a missive of hate. I don’t want to overstate it, and I questioned whether to use the ‘h’ word, but I realise, with sadness, that it is accurate.
I’ve already written that this issue isn’t just about weight, but certainly when I’m heavier my self-regard is lower. And after lockdown and the pounds I’d gained after returning to my default factory settings of comfort eating, it was at an all-time low. I felt unworthy of wearing anything that sparked joy, a kind of reverse Marie Kondo effect.
But when my original cover story was published, it was necessary to have some photographs taken to go with it (such as the one above). I felt dread, though the team made it as easy as possible. But our wonderful fashion director Shelly Vella insisted that I do one thing beforehand: get myself properly fitted for a bra. I cringed. I think I may even have pleaded for an exemption. However, Shelly is a wise woman and she told me that making a simple change like finding a well-fitting brassiere would make a difference to how clothes would hang on me, to my stature, and also, crucially, to how I felt.
If you’re thinking, ‘Gosh, I can’t afford such a luxury,’ please don’t despair. It doesn’t have to be an expensive affair. I went to my nearest branch of Bravissimo, where finding your ‘feel-good fit’ is a complimentary service and a nice bra costs around £35.
Going through the fitting process while maintaining social distancing is an interesting experience – you’re directed by an expert who can only stand at the changing room door (virtual options are also available) – but it was still useful, informative and very, ahem, supportive. I ended up with a very pretty lacy number from the brand’s own label ‒ but what you really need to know is that Shelly was absolutely right. Yes, clothes draped better but I felt more together, more worthy of feeling good about myself, and more deserving of wearing outfits that I actually wanted to wear – and of enjoying it.
And to be clear, this isn’t about underwear as something sexy to sport for someone else’s appreciation; it isn’t a passive approach to life. It’s positive action, it’s taking steps to change my own sense of self-value. The result of simply choosing a better bra is the beginning of being kinder to myself, of celebrating my body as it is. It is also quite literally what lies beneath in this photograph.