14 Jun Teejay Dowe chats to Chloe about body image and how she overcame low self-worth as a teenager
As part of our body image series, this week’s blog follows Chloe’s story, a beautiful young lady who knows from experience that comparing yourself to others is despairing with negative consequences.
Hearing the story of someone who’s struggled with body image and come out the other side is empowering because, when you’re stuck in such a situation, it’s tough to see light at the end of the tunnel.
Before we get stuck in, I should add a little warning that Chloe’s experience involved eating disorders and self-harm and that these issues form part of our conversation. I have paraphrased Chloe’s comments for the purposes of this blog but you can listen to the full podcast here.
“You define beauty yourself. Society doesn’t define your beauty.”
Where it all began
At the time of the interview (autumn 2020) Chloe was 23 years old and, in many ways, a similar person to when she started having trouble with body image.
“I’ve always loved reading, films, I love the cinema and I really love the gym and fitness. Healthy eating – not so much and I enjoy being around my friends and family too. I really value those relationships.”
Chloe’s struggles began at the age of 13 or 14 when she remembers getting dragged into social media. The platforms at the time included Facebook and Twitter but when she joined Tumblr (a blogging platform) she started seeing damaging content around bodies and body image.
“I think it put a seed in my mind, and when I started to consume other media, that triggered an issue with body image. I was seeing Tumblr posts which kind of romanticised eating disorders and having issues with your body image – pictures of girls wanting to be skinny and thin and have the perfect body.
I read a couple of books that were meant to be helpful depicting how eating disorders and body image issues can develop in young girls but I think it was a triggering point for me. All this stuff was building up and I had no idea that it would eventually end up in me having an eating disorder and having problems with my body image.
I look back now and think how it was ever allowed to be on the internet, it wasn’t regulated and it’s really difficult to regulate still. I look back and I feel so awful for myself just because I got swept up in this cycle of people romanticising body image and negative body image.”
A choice in how you act on information
Chloe makes a great point in that books, articles and some content sources have good intentions to raise awareness but actually, they can have the opposite effect.
“I struggled a lot with self-harm around that time because I got into a cycle of self-loathing. I didn’t know how to deal with it so I took it out on myself. I ended up actually having a side blog on Tumblr that was dedicated to harmful images and that was all that I would post because at the time it would make me feel at home that people were feeling the same as me, when actually it was just making me worse and worse.
I think that consuming the books and the film stuff it sent me into an eating disorder. I started off very slowly, being careful about what I ate and then it got to the point where I would be skipping meals, trying not to let anyone else notice.
Experiencing low self-worth as a teenager
I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone about it, I just thought, you know, my parents would never understand, my friends will never understand, because I think it was a struggle going through an eating disorder and I’ve always been very slim and that’s just how my body naturally is. All my life I’ve had the comments like ’you need to put a little bit of weight on’ so I thought ‘how can I talk to anyone about wanting to lose more weight when people tell me to put weight on!’ I get skinny-shamed so much but actually I don’t think I’m skinny at all, I think I am fat, and genuinely I thought I was fat.
I think as you grow up you realise that everybody is fighting their own battles with body image, so some of the girls I looked at when in school, who were very skinny, and I idolised were probably having the same issues as me. I fell into anorexia then I think people started to notice.
A cry for help
One thing I remember really vividly is being at the dinner table at my dad’s house and my grandma was there. It was the first time I had refused to eat anything in front of anyone. My dad was like: ‘What is wrong with you? What are you doing?’ And my nan was like ‘just eat your food’ and I was like ‘no, I don’t want to, I can’t’ and it got to the point where, I’d been restricting my food intake so much that my appetite had decreased.
I remember running upstairs from the dinner table and my nan followed me, crying and was like: ‘What are you doing to yourself? Why are you doing this to yourself? Is it because you think you need to lose weight?’
I was fighting a battle with everybody who was trying to help me.”
A turning point
“Nobody is perfect. I just don’t believe in perfection. But I do believe in saying, ‘This is who I am and look at me not being perfect!’ I’m proud of that.”
A turning point came when Chloe’s mum sat her down and said she needed to get counselling. Chloe had a boyfriend at the time who took her to CAMHS sessions and held her hand.
“It was nice to have someone like him, who held my hand through it all and wouldn’t tell me ‘ohhh you’re so skinny, you don’t need to…’ He just took me to the appointments and helped me out and was there for me.
I saw [a lovely lady at CAMHS] a few times and one day she said, ‘How close do you think you are to be needing to be hospitalised to force you to, you know, eat some food and get some nutrition into you’ and I was like ‘I think I am just teetering over the edge’.
I realised how close I was to going into hospital, I was like ‘I don’t want to be in hospital, I’ve got a life, I’ve got a boyfriend’ and this was when I was about to take my GCSE’s. I think that, despite the counselling not being very helpful for me as a whole, because I did still struggle afterwards, I think that was like the eureka moment.
I am very lucky because I think a lot of people suffer in silence.”
Negative behaviours as a way to stay in control
Self-harming and self-loathing when you feel isolated is often a form of connecting back with yourself and your feelings. You don’t know how to meet your needs for love and connection and certainty. Self-harming can be a way to be in control of something. Even though it’s negative you are in control.
“I remember reconnecting with food and slowly started to get back into eating properly. I hit a few bumps in the road but thankfully I was in a good mindset.
I think skinny has been quite a harmful word for me. I feel like it’s quite aggressive. I prefer slim – it’s a bit of a kinder word isn’t it?
So, what would Chloe say to young people struggling with body image based on her experiences?
“Firstly, I would say that a good relationship with the people you are close to is probably the most valuable thing you can ever have. Being honest with people and having a good relationship, even if it’s just with one person, to be able to talk about things, be open and raw and honest with someone and say, ‘Hey, I’m struggling with this’ or ‘I’ve had this thought’ or ‘I’ve been doing this’ – I think that’s valuable.
In terms of social media, it’s a difficult one because even I find myself falling into the trap sometimes. Nothing is ever as it seems”
Chloe has trained herself when scrolling Instagram to know that much of it is not as it seems. It’s all filters and photoshop and people are good at it!
“I’m pretty comfortable with my body. I’m imperfect. The imperfections are there. People are going to see them, but I take the view you only live once.”
“Comparing yourself can become really toxic, so I think that building a good relationship with social media at an age where it can really consume your life is really important.
It’s good to appreciate how people look, appreciate that everybody else is going through their own battles so maybe they’re making a few tweaks to their pictures and stuff but its never a reason to be hateful or to be jealous or spiteful. I think its all just a big learning curve that we are all under the same pressure and that society has got us all under its thumb.
It’s all about having the right balance.
I got swept up in thinking beauty was a size and a way that you look but its not. Now that I have grown up I realise that beauty and valuing someone is all about how that shines out to other people. You can be beautiful on the outside but that doesn’t mean that you are beautiful on the inside and its just like appreciating someone as a whole human being instead of looking at them like as a body or as a facial structure or that sort of thing.”
It’s an inside job, not an outside job
“Just enjoy your life. Once you realise that life is valuable and it can be so short, it’s so important to take every moment as it comes and to just appreciate it.
Don’t let yourself get into a place you can’t return from and is really difficult – and make sure you can talk to someone.”
“I realise everybody wants what they don’t have. But at the end of the day, what you have inside is much more beautiful than what’s on the outside.”
Choose the life you want to lead
I’m on a mission to reverse the damage done to self-esteem and confidence that online body images and ‘unspoken’ pressures are having on young people.
Remember, you are beautiful exactly as you are.
Please do share these episodes with as many other people as possible to give them the gift of insight and feeling great too.
Let’s flip those feelings of low self-worth as a teenager and positively impact as many lives of young people as we possibly can.