‘What makes my body feel most alive and happy’: How we learnt to love ourselves03/06/2020
Georgie Abay, 38, with daughters Lottie (left) and Arabella.Credit:Julie Adams
I was a shy teenager, introverted and creative. I was far more comfortable processing photographs in the dark room at school than I was talking to boys. I loved the smell of the developer and fixer, the dim light, the creativity. I felt safe and happy there – it was an escape from many of the issues young women face.
When I was 18, I set off with one of my friends on a year-long adventure around the world. During that time I learnt to love myself and decided to become a journalist, as I’d developed a passion for storytelling. I discovered how much I loved other cultures and returned to study media at university, majoring in anthropology. I was fascinated by how other people lived.
I also realised there was more to life than school, parties, boys and any nasty comments that had been thrown at me as I was growing up (too flat-chested, too tall … there had been plenty). School often kick-starts our self-love journey and those nasty comments niggle at us throughout our lives.
I have friends who have been on antidepressants since they were 14. I look at them and can’t comprehend why women so beautiful, inside and out, need pills to make them happy.
Each year, around one million Australian adults battle depression, while more than two million adults deal with anxiety. Social media isn’t helping those statistics.
I was bulimic in my early 20s. I don’t remember the first time I threw up or what made me do it, all I know is that I had no control over my binge eating.
When one of my best friends called and said she was going to Europe, I quit my job as a junior at a publishing company, broke up with my boyfriend and got on a plane with her. I stopped throwing up the day I left and have never contemplated it since. Through travel, I healed. Just as I had when
I was 18, I fell in love with myself again. Travel will always heal me.
Gratitude is one of the most important things we will ever practise in life.
My mother taught me to be grateful and that it is normal to be both happy and sad. She also taught me that we can’t feel happy all the time, even though society makes us feel like we should always be happy, just like the people on our Instagram feeds.
Working on this book has been a powerful insight into the hearts of women from all over the world.
I’ve learnt that no one is immune from self-love issues, not even models. In fact, some of the prettiest girls are often the most insecure.
I’ve also learnt that living with a grateful heart will make you a happier person. Most of all, listening to their stories has taught me the strength of women.
“I think I just took cancer in my stride rather than fight it – it was completely out of my control and very much in the hands of the experts.
Being on the younger side of the population to get rectal cancer was very challenging, as society is very bad at talking about poo! It still has a stigma attached to it and is a silent killer, with little or no symptoms. Cancer teaches you to live a day at a time. My relationship with myself is more accepting and I am amazed by how my body has dealt with all the shit it has been through – excuse the pun!
I have been given two amazing children, dealt with domestic violence and cancer, and I can still stand here and say I’m trying to live the best life.
Keep on keeping on, smile through pain. It’s the only way.”
“I had a very unhealthy relationship with my body as a teenager. It all began with one comment. My brother mentioned to me that a friend had said to him, ‘Soph has put on weight.’
I was distraught. I thought, ‘Okay then, I’d better show him.’ I stopped eating and lost weight rapidly. I developed an eating disorder after that – I had a very unhealthy relationship between eating, my body and my mind. I thought if I could be skinny, then people would like me.
Thankfully, I developed a love for literature and started filling my mind with beautiful words instead of negative body-image thoughts. Over the years, I have also realised what makes my body feel the most alive and happy: hurling myself into the ocean and downward dogging! Having children also made me appreciate how incredible the female body is.
When he’s ready, my son hopefully will read about my experiences as a teenager. And that other boys and men will, too, and get an insight into how one very insensitive comment can totally derail someone. I’ll do everything I can to ensure my son values and respects wonderful company, kindness and a cracking sense of fun and joie de vivre!”
“I don’t pay much attention to social media, so I’m not letting it affect my confidence. I appreciate the convenience and the beautiful imagery, but I know how contrived it can be as well. I am appreciative of what my body can do and becoming a mother has reinforced that feeling. The strength and resilience women have is heightened in pregnancy and continues into motherhood.
My advice? Learn to embrace your body now, as it will continue to change. You will see a picture of yourself in five years’ time and realise you didn’t look that bad back then. Body confidence comes from within.”
“I was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer at 36. It was completely out of the blue. At the time my children were only nine months old, four and six.
I was in shock, but I immediately went into practical/pragmatic mode and decided I would have anything removed that would give me the best chance of staying alive for my kids. It took me about three seconds to decide whether to have a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. I chose the latter and asked to have both breasts removed, even though cancer had only been detected in my left breast. The surgery was followed by chemo. Suddenly I had no hair, which was quite liberating. Then I had my ovaries removed as well.
That was a tough time, as it sent me straight into early menopause. But I knew it gave me the best chance. I was absolutely terrified to think of my own mortality. I look back now and don’t regret any of the decisions I made.
I spent many nights crying and feeling very afraid. When I got diagnosed, my goal was to be alive to see my son Archie start kindergarten. He is now in year 4.
I grew up with an inspirational dad who had horrific skin cancer (he had more than 3000 tumours removed) and was very facially disfigured. But he was extremely optimistic and would always say to me, ‘I’m not embarrassed about how I look, Belinda. I’ll win people over with my brains! And if I can’t, well, they’re not my people.’
Having that kind of role model has been a blessing. Thank you, Dad.”
Edited extract from This Is Me (Bauer Books) by Julie Adams and Georgie Abay, out April 16.
This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale March 8.
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