Reimagining Beauty: Ellie's Body Story

August 17, 2022

Reimagining Beauty: Ellie's Body Story

Meet Ellie, our fourth Body Story in our Reimagining Beauty series. Queen of cocktails, jewellery maker, fashionista and year-round outdoor swimmer, we chose Ellie because she’s a rare example of someone who's mastered self-love. While so many of us strive for body positivity and would be happy to achieve body acceptance, Ellie has nailed it. And, while adversity or negative body image shapes so many of our body stories, she's carved out her own story, making the beauty and fashion industries work for her.

Because she has confidence in her body, a gift that she says was given to her by her mother, she understands how to use beauty products, clothes and even cosmetic surgery to support women’s self-confidence. She tells us how.

What do you feel about the word ‘beauty’?

I think that while my idea of beauty is far broader than it has been in the past, it’s still very much informed by beauty standards. I suppose what I mean is that it’s no longer the very narrow image of beauty that was fed to me from pages of magazines like Mizz, More and Just 17.

I have tried to educate myself to broaden that view. So, looking at people from different races and with different body types, and by following influencers who don't fit that very thin, white physicality of beauty that we were taught to believe in as small girls and teen. Now, if a fashion brand shows a narrow beauty standard in their models, it actually makes me less inclined to buy those clothes because I don't feel that they will fit or suit my particular body type.

But even though I’ve tried to educate myself, if I really think about it, I still struggle with some images of people who are ill, or who are different because of illness. I still find those images shocking and often struggle to find beauty in them because that link between beauty and health is so deeply ingrained in me. This is absolutely on me – it’s a reflection on what I’ve learnt from a society about what beauty means. And I know I’ve got to work quite hard again to realign my sense of what is beautiful. Because actually, there is a lot of strength and power and beauty in people exposing their vulnerabilities and in showing that there’s beauty in difference.

If you’re asking me what beauty is, I would tell you that it is something that radiates and something that you can't necessarily put your finger on and it is absolutely unselfconsciousness and comfort in your own skin.

Deakin & Blue X-back swimsuit zoo

When did you first become aware of the concept of beauty?

I had a really lucky upbringing in that my mother always told me that she thought I was beautiful. She was really clear that I was beautiful to her and my dad, and I believe she said the same things to my sister so that there was no comparison. It was just, you're beautiful to me. That was quite boosting to my self-esteem. And I think that was a really wonderful gift because it meant that I wasn't compared with anyone. So, I didn't have that idea that I was labelled – it wasn't just that she said I was beautiful, she also said that I was clever and I could do anything and I had choices – it was this gift of positivity and confidence that she gave me.

I’m quite careful with my children to try and give them that same thing, to not put them into boxes. I tell them that they're both beautiful, clever and funny and infuriating and all those things because they are, because they are whole human beings. So, hopefully I’m passing that gift on to them.

So, my idea of beauty probably came from all those magazines that were directed at young women and girls who were just coming into themselves. Some things about them were positive, you know, like ‘position of the fortnight’, which was actually teaching people about safe, enjoyable and consensual sex. That was a wonderful thing, but also, it was about sex between a man and a woman who both conformed to a certain body type. So, even if they weren't overtly saying, this is how you lose weight or make the best of your assets, the images of very homogenous, white, thin, small breasted and long-haired young women weren’t terribly diverse at all.

So, that’s what I would have seen as beautiful. But then the gift that my mother gave me was that I didn't compare myself. I could look at these people and say objectively, yes, you're beautiful but that doesn't make me any less of a person.

Deakin and Blue Swimcrop bikini Plum

How has your relationship with your body changed as you've got older?

I definitely give less of a fuck now. I think that there are lots of reasons for that – partly because of cold water swimming. There's no dignified way to get changed on the edge of a lake. You just have to remember that no one's watching you and if they are watching you, then they’re the problem because if they're looking at you and care what your body looks like after you just swam in freezing cold water, then they’ve got too much time on their hands!

I definitely give don’t give a fuck now, but then I never really gave a fuck before. I think there were times when I felt less attractive, and I suppose those were times when the fashions of the day didn't echo what looked good on my body and I followed them because I was a child and I didn't know any better.

Whereas now, I really target my searches on things that I know will suit me. And if I can’t find anything, I just don't buy it because there's no point in trying something on and feeling miserable about how it looks because it doesn't fit, or it doesn't look good.

I also avoid following any preachy people on Instagram because I don't think it serves anyone to make you feel bad. You can't make those date energy balls to replace chocolate so that you can look like an incredibly rich young woman who’s had every advantage that the world has thrown at her. Instead, I follow people like Ateh Jewel @atehjeweland Anna O'Brien @glitterandlazers who I find are more interesting, but also who have different bodies.

I think that's been my journey. And it was definitely accelerated by having a breast reduction. I didn't really hate my breasts, but they were uncomfortably large.

I think that everything came from society. So, if I wore vest tops, I was flaunting my breasts and that brought me unwanted attention. But actually, I was just wearing the vest tops that my friends were wearing, except I had more breast than they did, and therefore got more attention, like people just assumed that I was up for something. If I stood up straight, I would be sticking my tits out. And they would be the first thing to enter a room and therefore, always the first thing that people saw and that would be immediate judgement right there.

By the time I had the breast reduction, I didn't feel like that anymore, but I think when I was younger, there was an idea of me as a pair of breasts. And if you can't beat them, join them, right? So, I’d just say, yeah, that's what I am, what massive tits, look at them. You know? I didn't really know why more than a handful is a waste, but apparently it is. I think that kind of definition of me definitely informed quite a lot of my formative sexual encounters.

I didn't have them reduced until after I'd had my two children. I only wanted two children, and I wanted to be able to breastfeed them. Then I got to the point where I'd had enough of my boobs. And actually, by that point, I wasn't two tits walking into a room, I was just really uncomfortable and my body had been physically changed by carrying these things around. They were really heavy. I lost six pounds of flesh when I had the operation, which is an awful lot to be carrying on the front of your chest.

There are people who've written much more eloquently than I can speak on the subject. So, the journalist Sali Hughes has written about her breast reduction and the way she writes is the way I feel. She says that she would do it again in a heartbeat.

It's not even the best thing that’s ever happened to me, it’s just made me able to inhabit my body completely. I no longer have to think about it when I'm buying clothes or swimming costumes; I don't have to wear a bra all the time. So, you know that image of the person who takes off their bra when they get home from work as a relaxing thing? That’s almost hilarious. It wasn't relaxing, I almost had to sleep in a bra because it was so uncomfortable with these things, like, flopping around.

The other thing is... I'm hot. Like, I think I'm beautiful. Those neural pathways were formed by my mother telling me I was beautiful and not saying you'd be more beautiful if you did this, and letting me live with my body, letting me cut my hair and letting me wear utterly ridiculous clothes.

Just as some people are hard-wired to think they’re not beautiful, I think that I am and no one's ever going to persuade me that I'm not. So, even if I'm maybe larger than the norm, and I have shorter legs than a supermodel (who doesn't?), nothing’s wrong with me. I work fine and I look good doing it. I wear nice clothes. I care a lot about being stylish and often I use clothes to detract from the bits that I don't want people to see – got greasy hair? Put in a fucking awesome hair band. Maybe I'm vain. Maybe I'm just beautiful.

How have you protected yourself from negative self-image and negative self-talk?

So, I haven't always been perfect at protecting myself. I have done a couple of diets. But I now try and be nutritionally sound rather than being diet-y. And my weight is pretty much stable. But then I don't go out partying and eating nothing but pickled onion Monster Munch the following day anymore. So, I’m a little bit more stable in my life - as opposed to my diet being a conscious decision to change my body, it's a conscious decision to be a fucking adult and get food on the table for my kids.

As for negative self-talk… I think that the way I can most accurately describe what my mother gave me is like that spell from Harry Potter that his mum weaves over him that protects him from Voldemort. So now, when I look at myself in the mirror and I see my scars on my breasts, gallbladder and c-section scars and I see my c-section overhang, I just look at my body and I accept it for what it is.

I do look at it. I think it's really important to demystify it, to not hide from mirrors because what's the point? It's done, it’s doing its job, it fed me, it created two children, it's able to experience a lot of pleasure. It's sometimes a bit sad. But it's a human body and it is fine.

So, I don't really have masses of negative stuff. And when I do, it's just a thought, it just flits in and flits off again, and then I'm like, oh, I've got nice eyes or let's just put my clothes on and go and start dinner, go onto the next thing. I suppose the negative thoughts don't outweigh the positive ones, but also, and I don't know why this is, I give more credence to the positive ones.

What do you do to feel good about your body?

Actually, maybe this is why the positive outweighs the negative – I like my body because I like myself and I try and be nice to myself. It’s not the self-care bullshit that people are banging on about all the time, it's just that I’m nice to my kids, I’m nice to my husband, and I’m nice to myself.

And so, I make time for myself. Pretty much every night for the past 10 years, I have washed my face twice with really delicious cleansers, I put cream on my face, serums and moisturisers. I do this because it makes me feel that I am worth it and I want my face to look nice. You know, I've got some melasma and I've got some lines that I'm not going to be Botoxing the bejesus out of, but I want to look after what I have.

I wash my hair every day because having greasy hair makes me feel grubby all over even if I'm not. And I really love clothes. Even if I’m wearing tracksuit bottoms or leggings and a t-shirt or sweater it makes you feel so much better if that sweater is leopard print or if your leggings actually fit and aren't really baggy and crappy.

When people say, I love your dress or I love your sweater, I love that. When people compliment me, I think it's brilliant. I don't spend heaps, I just spend an awful lot of my life window shopping the internet and searching for specific items of clothing. I care about what my clothes are made out of and that they fit really nicely. I love colour. I just think that when you find something that suits you and looks good, then the comfort and confidence that gives you shines out of your face and makes you more beautiful.

So, the way that I look after my body is by honouring it with creams, perfumes and clothes. I exercise it too. Swimming is one thing which has always made me feel better inside. And that kind of shines out of me as well. Yoga is really good for me, and just little bits of exercise, using my body for fun rather than for competition or team sports where no one's relying on me, but me.

Deakin and Blue Swimbra Bikini Plum

How has swimming outdoors made you feel about your body?

I think the fact that I can swim through the whole winter, which I did for the first time this winter, has made me feel good about what my body can do and I’ve definitely got braver. I no longer have a panic attack about weeds, and I can comfortably swim out of my depth in the sea and not feel sick with worry about what’s underneath.

But I can't remember a time when I didn't come across a large body of water and hurl myself into it. I remember being in Newquay and I couldn't stop myself from running into the sea in my bra and my pants. And then the lifeguards came and said, would the girl in her bra and pants stay between the flags please. Safety was never really a consideration, so that's definitely got better since I started doing it in a more focused manner.

The thing is, it makes me feel free. I think that swimming while being able to see the sky makes you feel much more a part of the world than swimming indoors. I've always just felt that swimming outdoors is a really natural thing to do, and it hasn't really affected my relationship with my body other than going, oh wow, I swam in five degrees.

Your body confidence is probably quite unusual. What advice do you have for someone who feels negatively about how they look?

It's really hard. I don't think it's helpful to simply say 'you look fine' because if someone doesn't feel good about themselves that isn’t going to make them feel better. All that's going to do is make them think that they should feel good about themselves and that’s just going to make them feel worse. I think it’s about asking more specific questions rather than almost dismissing how they feel.

I used to be full of advice and possibly a bit judgemental, but I have tried to calm down and listen to people first. I’m really clear with people who struggle with their looks that I haven’t experienced that and I try to explain how I feel – not in a ‘you should’ way. I just hope they’ll see that I’m not special and it’s just thoughts, only with me, it’s the positive ones that stick. Like, my tummy is wobbly, but my youngest son loves to cuddle into it and him telling me that he loves my tummy means way more than the thought that someone I don’t know thinks I should lose weight.

I’d also love to take people shopping who feel crappy about their body. Clothes shopping makes lots of people feel crap about themselves, but I really fervently believe there's something out there for everyone and that the right clothes will make people feel good about their bodies.

Deakin and Blue X-back zoo

Ellie wears the X-Back Swimsuit in Liberty Zoo Print in a size 16 Monroe and the Swimbra High Waist Bikini in Plum in a size 16 Monroe top and size 16 bottoms. 

Read the other Body Stories in our Reimaging Beauty series:

"At 72 I can do most things. I can still dance; I can still have fun and that's really all that matters. Everybody can do something – it doesn't matter what your limitations are, what you have to look at is what you can do." Read Lindsay's story

"I don't see beauty as being traditional beauty. I think that's because I live with a quite obvious physical difference, so I don't conform to any of the so-called normal beauty standards." Read Mary's story

"It makes me really angry and sad that we live in this culture where we’re told that fat equals unhealthy to the point that people don't want to do the things that will make them healthy because they think they have no place there." Read Rowan's story

"It's not often what I look like that makes me feel good or bad about my body, it’s how it feels like it's working. Has it been used and do I feel fit, do I feel capable? I think that I stand up straighter when I'm feeling accomplished like when I’ve swum a cold kilometre." Read Lucy's story

“We, as grown-ups, have a responsibility to young people today… to show them that beautiful isn’t what they see on a curated, filtered phone screen. Beautiful is a lust for life. Beautiful is freedom from the shackles of media driven expectation. Beautiful is taking up the space you deserve. Beautiful is running into the sea in your pants.” Read Vix’s story

"I know that overcoming mental health is not to be sniffed at, as it were, but it's quite hard to quantify how difficult a struggle it is. You can't see it." Read Hannah's Story