Love Flows: Mickey's Body Story

March 15, 2023

Love Flows: Mickey's Body Story

From tiny girl to a tower of strength, Mickey's uplifting Body Story is about discovering her identity and supporting teenage girls to do the same. Showing us that being small in stature doesn't make you immune from social pressures, Mickey talks about how seeking the discomfort and small acts of rebellion helped her grow.

Now leading teenage girls with her group Girls to the Front, Mickey tells about the power of female support, family and being active and playful for better confidence and wellbeing.

Imagine that you're standing in your swimwear on the beach. How do you feel about yourself in that moment?

When I'm stood on the beach in a bikini ready to get in the sea, I feel really proud of myself. I wouldn't say that the beach is my place of comfort, but I'm now finding that it's my happy place. It’s also this place where I seek discomfort. It's about the journey I’ve been on to become confident enough to get in the sea. If I was going to say to an 11-year-old Mickey, this will be your life when you’re 30 years old, I don't think she would have believed me. There’s this little version of me inside who is often like, whoa, I can't believe that you do this regularly. I can't believe you live 15-minutes away from a beach and this is the life that you've worked really hard to build. So, I always feel immensely proud of myself.

Tell us more about how you go to the sea to seek discomfort. Why is that important?

I don't think I've ever got fully comfortable with cold water; I go in and I have the initial shock and then I can hold myself in there for like, one or two minutes. I'm really tiny, so once the cold gets into my bones, I’ve got to get out.

That discomfort and challenging myself is huge. It’s about deliberately seeking out stuff by yourself to be like, you can do this like this, you can do hard things. It’s also thinking that the sea doesn’t care what your problems are right now. The sea is just going to exist, whether it's stormy or calm, and you just need to get in there and let go of whatever's going on inside your head. So that discomfort brings a weird level of comfort and soothing.

Deakin & Blue Swimcrop Bikini Teal

You talk about being tiny. How has that perception of your physical self affected your feelings about yourself as a person?

That's a really good question. I was always the small kid who didn't really say much or want to rock the boat. I had lots of feelings and emotions, but I never really expressed them in a constructive way. I struggled really hard with finding out who I was. I think being a little kid who wasn't perceived as strong and who could be invisible made me try harder to challenge myself and grow into a person who’s ok with being who they are.

It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve learned that it's totally ok to be yourself and to be super visible with that. It's ok to have your voice heard knowing that no matter what your shape, size, colour or background looks like, you have so much value and so much to contribute. That doesn't mean you have to do it in a world-changing way; it's just those little actions around friends or family that you do behind closed doors that makes you this human who can help other people.

I’ve been able to grow from someone who was invisible into someone with a personality that’s outgrown my physical self so that I feel like I'm now bigger than I ever thought I could be. And I try to work hard every day to be that embodiment. Going in the sea, being around the coast and being around people who are seeking out that as well has been huge.

So, when do you think you first became aware of your appearance?

As everyone would probably say, around secondary school. Your hormones are flying around and everyone says things that they don't mean or value just because we’re all trying to fit the status quo. We were looking at sources that didn’t give us good information. So, when I was younger, things like MySpace and Bebo were starting to emerge and we also had magazines. Looking back now, I cannot believe they ever published those ideas of body image. I'm of the size zero generation. I think there was a phrase at the time, heroin chic. I remember because I'm quite small people being like, you look like you've taken drugs. So it fed into that whole thing of looking unhealthy and this really harmful dialogue around your body.

But I was lucky that my family were super oblivious to all that. They've always celebrated how you are; I've never had any pressure to look or behave a certain way. That meant I had the comfort of coming home. My mum is the strongest human being I know and she has never cared how she looks in that she would allow me to take loads of pictures with her and would never say, don't post that, I look horrible. She'd just want to celebrate and document the fact that we have a close relationship. So, I grew up with that positive influence in my life which helped me filter through what was going on in school.

I hated school with a passion. I'm from a really small community where everyone knows everyone. That made friendships hard because those relationships predated you – your dad was friends with someone’s dad, so they knew you, so you couldn't influence it yourself. I think girls can be mean to each other because society wants to pitch us against each other. It’s not a time I’d like to repeat!

Deakin & Blue Long Sleeve Swimsuit Black

You now work with girls in that same age group. How do you help them?

I’m particularly drawn to this age group. I have a nine-to-five as a Research Officer researching children's health and well-being, in particular physical activity and play. And then I have a five-to-nine, where I founded and run Girls to the Front. It’s a community that helps young girls feel empowered, gives them a voice and helps them see that they have value. I think it comes from those experiences of me growing up and seeing first-hand how you can be made to feel invisible and you want to shrink and make yourself very quiet. I’m now trying to show girls that their thoughts, feelings, emotions and opinions have so much value and that they can help their peers. I use a phrase, being a lighthouse. So, you shine just by existing and it helps other people navigate rough waters and know there’s a point of safety. It's just the idea that you can just exist on full volume and that will help you and others become really strong, incredible humans.

We run physical sessions in a gym where we do functional fitness style training. That’s lots of carrying big, heavy things, climbing and swinging. We do lots of play-based activities. I believe in the value of play because I think it's really important for our development, not only when we're younger, but also when we're older. I think we lose the ability to play and we put up loads of barriers because we think it's just messing around. But it's so fundamental to everything that we do. Like, going in to the sea and splashing about, doing doggy paddle and diving under waves is play and it’s so valuable.

The girls range from aged 13 to 16. We play and we get used to failing and not feeling silly. I also run an online community. We have a discussion channel where the girls can talk and I post questions, and I've got a podcast and Instagram page to go with the forum. I post about being a lighthouse and how you don't have to be perfect, you can just show up and exist on good days and bad days. I also share knowledge around period health because we have to break down barriers and stigma around talking about women's health and sex education.

It’s interesting how you use physical activity and play. Have you always been physically active yourself?

I've always sought out some sort of physical activity. When I was much younger, I used to do a lot of risky play. Again, I'll go back to my family. Like, I'm so grateful that I had so few barriers. My mum used to be outside all the time, which meant that I had the privilege of being able to make dens, climb trees, fall out of trees, get stuck up trees, need rescuing, and come home absolutely filthy. My dad would help me build stuff. I had this really cool childhood where I was allowed to play and hurt myself. I was always covered in cuts and bruises and scratches and I still always have a massive bruise somewhere.

So, I've always sought out play-based, non-traditional physical activity. I played a lot of sports in secondary school. Then, when I went to university, I doubled down on playing rugby, which I really loved. A big part of who I am now is down to being in a rugby team and having to navigate the barriers of playing a minority sport. I went to Bath University, which is a really big sporting university, but even so, the women’s rugby team was seen as a second-class thing. We had to navigate funding, attracting players and facilities being booked out for the men's teams.

Then, when I left university, I found the gym. I started off by doing CrossFit and now I do more functional fitness. I've been lucky enough to be surrounded by people in the gym environment who have helped me believe that I’m strong and capable. I now prioritise having fun and play is a huge part of that. A lot of the stuff I do in the gym myself and with Girls to the Front is based around jumping, climbing, spinning over bars, just having fun and playing around.

Deakin & Blue Long Sleeve Swimsuit Black

So, have you always knowingly pushed out of your comfort zone or was that something you did instinctively?

That's a really good question. I think I knowingly try to challenge myself and unknowingly that comes with a lot of discomfort. A lot of it is proving to myself that I am capable, which goes back to when I felt tiny and invisible. What I was doing outside in terms of climbing and building dens was proving to myself that I had some value, that I could do stuff. Then, I think rugby was about challenging myself and making a new friendship group that I hoped would pull me out of my shell and help me see how much value I have.

Rugby is such a discomfort on so many levels. But because I was so used to falling over, being hit and thrown around was no problem for me and I could use my small size to my advantage. Now that I'm not playing a team sport, I'm seeking that challenge and discomfort in other places. The big one for me is cold water exposure. There’s something tribal about it as well. Like, I'm always seeking little sub-communities that not many people know about. Rugby was a sub-community of women rebelling against a male-dominated sport, and now I’ve found a sub-community of women who go in the sea and don't care what they look like.

I'm a huge advocate of tiny acts of rebellion, for doing stuff to rebel against what is expected of you, especially things you can do personally and individually for yourself. For me, it’s leaving work and going in the sea. I'll often ring my partner and be like, hey, I'm driving to the beach, and he'll be like, what? It's 5pm and it's January, what are you doing? And to me, that feels like a good act of rebellion.

How did you discover outdoor swimming?

It was random. It must have been January 2018, and I got a phone call from a friend being like, let's just go get in the sea today. I was like, what the hell? But I'm always seeking out challenge, so me and another two friends went down the beach. I remember pulling up and it was snowing. At that time, I was not prepped for swimming outside; all I had was a towel and an extra hoodie. So, I just ran into the sea and then ran back out and then had to run back to the car and just sat there hoping that I hadn't got hypothermia.

That became the challenge, to get in the sea at least once a month no matter what the weather. I'm not doing it with the same group of people anymore. I kind of switch between a few little communities. My relationships ebb and flow just like the sea, but I can see how I've grown as a person through those relationships.

Deakin & Blue Swimcrop Bikini Teal

So, from the camaraderie of rugby, through your work in the gym, to outdoor swimming, how important are those relationships?

When I left university, I moved to Swansea and it was uncomfortable because I had to completely establish a brand-new group of friends. I moved here because this is where my partner Ceri’s from, and he has the biggest, most outrageous group of friends. They're all so close and they love each other so much. I hadn’t known them for very long but they were super welcoming and lovely and made me feel so at home. But, I hadn’t found them myself and there was always that dynamic of being Ceri’s girlfriend. So, I struggled with finding my own thing.

And then, when I started cold water swimming, I started feeling like Swansea was my home. I found groups of friends who were almost not friends, who were like family. With my friend Kerry (pictured), I can’t pinpoint the moment it happened, but I just became like her fourth kid. I ended up being part of her family. During Covid, that was huge because I was isolated and I couldn't see my own family. That came hand-in-hand with getting into cold water with them.

I feel like you have this relationship that is much deeper than being friends because the sea can be super scary and dangerous. I'm not a strong swimmer and this discomfort I'm seeking is because I need to prove to myself that I'm capable, and because Kerry knows that, I feel that she's always looking out for me. I think that my relationships based off that have been huge and I now feel like I have two families.

So, how did it feel to do the photoshoot with Kerry?

Again, I did it because it was challenging and uncomfortable. Also, because I love Kerry so much, like, I cannot articulate how much I love her and how much I think she's an incredible human. So, really selfishly, I wanted to document that. I also wanted to share this challenge because I knew she would also see it as out of her comfort zone.

It just seemed like such an incredible experience with an incredible brand, so I’d be silly not to. And I need to prove to myself that I can do these things. Because also I have a group of young girls who are looking to me, and telling them that they have value so if I don't see that in myself, I can't authentically say that. I'm going to say to them, you have so much value, document everything, take on opportunities if you think that they're going to play out in your favour in the long run. Or, if you want to document this amazing relationship you have with another human, you've just got to.

I love the swimwear so much. I do not treat myself ever on any level. I'm someone who will go in the sea in an old sports bra and a pair of bikini bottoms that I found. So, wearing the D&B bikini and swimsuit makes me feel so special. It feels like such a treat. And little things like that really matter to me. And then the photoshoot itself was just amazing. I almost felt a bit fraudulent halfway through because I was like, this isn't actually that challenging, this is really fun. I loved every second of it.

You said that when you first saw Kerry in her swimsuit, it was like seeing her in a wedding dress!

She was like, stop looking at me like that. And I was like, I can't stop looking at you – you look amazing. I think there are so many things that come with going in the sea, like this whole feeling being empowered and those tiny acts of rebellion, so if you feel like you look incredible at the same time, you just unleash a whole superpower that you never knew you had. It's just magic and there is nothing on a par with not only feeling incredible, but feeling like you look incredible at the same time. It's a scary combination for everyone outside of you!

Mickey wears the Long Sleeve Swimsuit in Black and Swimcrop Bikini in Teal in size 10 Hepburn.

If you're inspired and uplifted by this post about love of water, the sea, your swimming or surfing sisterhood and your body, why not read more from our Love Flows campaign?

"Like, it's not good for us to just gaze at one another. You have your friends, they have their friends and you have your shared friends, but then you have your shared thing that you gaze upon together... For us, it's the sea. The sea is the thing that we gaze upon together, that we appreciate together." Read Rachel's story

"There are all those dynamics of sisters in the family sense, and then you have that in a friendship as well. I think the thing that has been really nice is this idea of sisterhood and how it transcends blood relations... In a way, we’re all sisters. It’s why we have stickers with sisterhood on it. We want to spread that feeling of unconditional love and comradery." Read Tirion's story