Some thoughts on the #10yearchallenge

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of days, you will probably have seen the #10yearchallenge doing the rounds on Facebook and Instagram. The premise is simple - you share a photo of yourself 10 years ago alongside a recent photo, and see how much you’ve changed within the last decade. Having had a chuckle at everyone else’s photos, I took a dip into my Facebook archives to see what toll the last 10 years had taken on me. And I was so surprised to find that my immediate reaction was this visceral nostalgic yearning for my youth.

Because as I scrolled through those albums (my god we uploaded a lot of photos to Facebook back in 2009, didn’t we?) I was greeted with a slimmer, prettier and more fresh faced version of myself. An undeniable reminder of the bright eyes, tiny waist and thick, glossy hair that I used to take for granted. Photo evidence of just how small my body once was, how tanned and toned and groomed to perfection.

And despite the fact that I feel more confident and at peace with my body than ever before, I still felt a small twinge of sadness knowing that I’ll never look that way again. That my face will never again be so smooth and free of wrinkles, that my boobs will never be so perky, that I’ll never be able to pick up a size 8 pair of jeans (or 10, or 12, let’s be honest) in Topshop and know with certainty that they’ll fit.

Because we’re conditioned as women to believe that how we look is the most important thing about us, aren’t we? Every marketing campaign, every magazine, every TV show serves to remind us that the skinnier we are the better, that the more effort we put into our looks, the happier and more successful we’ll be.

And it’s bloody hard work to rebel against that. It takes a lot of effort to unpick the misogyny and myth surrounding diet culture, to realise that being so focussed on how we look stops us from claiming the power and space we deserve in the other areas of our life. It’s so much easier to look at a photo of a skinnier version of us and idealise how much better life could be if we only looked like that again.

But that’s not the way it works. Because yes, I was thinner and more well groomed and more glamorous ten years ago. But I was also miserable. I weighed myself every morning and ran laps through the park because I worried that my thighs were too fat. I refused to wear anything that made me look bigger than I was, and I’d spend hours and hours getting ready for every night out. I spent a small fortune on fake tan and false eyelashes and new outfits, money that could have been better spent on, you know, actually living my life.

And I didn’t do any of that because it brought me joy. I did it because I thought that in order to get by in life, I had to. That I’d never find a boyfriend if I didn’t look my best, that my friends wouldn’t like me quite so much. I didn’t believe that studying for a degree in Economics and having interesting hobbies and just you know, being myself, was enough. I thought that for any of that to count, I had to be conventionally attractive too.

It’s no surprise really, when you consider that I grew up during the era when magazines were at their most toxic and reality TV was starting to infiltrate our culture. It’s no surprise that I thought being thin was a priority when every tiny bit of cellulite was mocked by Heat magazine’s “circle of shame”, and every celebrated celebrity was a size 8 or smaller.

It’s taken the best part of a decade to start to unpick that toxicity. Letting go that desire to be perfect hasn't been a straight forward revolt - it has required a lot of love and patience and care to start to heal those old thoughts and begin the process of untangling my self worth from the reflection I see staring back at me in the mirror. But I'm getting there. 

And so, yes, the girl on the right of my #10yearchallenge is heavier and curvier and softer around the jaw than the skinny 19 year old stood on the left. But she’s also happier, smarter and more content than she was 10 years ago. Life is better not because of how she looks, but because the way she way she looks is no longer the most interesting thing about her.

Because when you let go of that overwhelming need to appear perfect, you suddenly free up a hell of a lot more time for living. For me that has meant more holidays, more hobbies, more evenings spent drinking too much wine with friends. More time and energy to build a business, and forge a career, and nurture a marriage, and constantly grow and evolve as a person.

And I wouldn’t exchange any of that for a smaller dress size or bouncier hair. I wouldn’t trade in a single lesson from the past decade for that tiny waist or those toned thighs. Because the freedom and the joy and the confidence I have right now feels a million times better than size 8 ever did.