Hello and welcome to the very last blog post in our D&B x The Bluetits Body Stories series. What an incredible ten weeks of Body Stories we have enjoyed. I've loved each and every conversation: from laughing out loud with Sian on week one, to swallowing lumps in my throat as these remarkable women share some of their most challenging lived experiences, to feeling inspired listening to their reflective wisdom and the advice they would give to their younger selves.
We've discussed eating disorders, breast cancer, illness, loss, abuse and more, but mostly we have talked about the journeys these women have been on to rediscover their bodies and learn to appreciate and love them, sometimes after years of struggling to do so. Most of these women admit to being 'works in progress'; they tell us that they find loving themselves every day hard, but that appreciating what their bodies can do (rather than what they look like) has been key to recognising their worth.
If this series has prompted one woman to feel more compassion for her body and what it can do for her, then I think we've done a fantastic thing.
We end our series with Natasha, a This Girl Can ambassador in Suffolk on a mission to inspire other women to get active, whatever their shape or size. It's a brilliant mission - one that we share with her - so it feels like a perfect conclusion to this fantastic series.
Grab a cup of tea and enjoy.
Tell us a bit about you
I’m Natasha, I’m married to Kevin, have three children (Millie, 12, Lucas, 9 and Logan 7) and three dogs. We live in Hollesley in Suffolk – right near the sea and the forest – and we have a very busy life which we love. We love spending time outdoors as a family. I work in marketing for the University of Suffolk and I’m a This Girl Can Suffolk Ambassador. Over the years I’ve learned to view my body as something special which can enable me to be active rather than feeling ashamed of my scoliosis scar on my back or feeling a bit overweight.
Where did your body image journey begin?
My scoliosis, curvature of spine, was picked up when I was five at school and wasn’t corrected until I was 15 and had stopped growing. At 15 I had a 9 inch long, steel rod inserted into my back to straighten the curve. Before the operation I was five foot five and afterwards I was five foot seven. The operation has changed a lot nowadays but back then I was in hospital for 2-3 weeks, in a plaster cast for and then in a plastic cast for a further six months. I used to wear the cast under my school uniform. It was completely solid, reaching from my boobs down to my bum and I was paranoid that people would notice it or feel it. That’s when I started to feel ashamed of my body.
Once I had the plastic cast removed I didn’t feel the embarrassment any longer. I was a fairly normal teenager, holidaying in Ibiza, wearing tiny bikinis, getting tattoos and my bellybutton pierced. In fact, after the operation I became more confident in myself as a teenager and began experimenting with my style and looks, remaining confident throughout university.
It was probably when I had my first child that I started to feel conscious about my body again. With pregnancy and then looking after children it is so easy to put on weight. It’s harder to sleep and it’s easy to eat badly - I think I’ve always been a bit overweight since having children. I lost weight for my wedding but it’s often come back again. Since having my children I’ve always felt a bit ashamed of my body.
Then, a couple of years’ ago I saw an advert for the Great East Run Outreach Programme which was looking for inactive volunteers. The programme promised to help you get fit, slowly teaching you how to run until you could run a half marathon. That sort of challenge was something I never thought I’d be able to do but I signed up and went along with many other women and men. We started off very slowly and over the weeks we increased the distance and duration, until we could run 5k, then 10k, then 10 miles until we could run a half marathon distance. I formed a real bond with the other people and soon we were regularly running long distances together. My husband would drive me out to a village 5 miles away for example, and I’d run home. I think it was at that point that I started to view my body as something which could do great things. I didn’t enjoy the day of the race – it was really hot and I felt sick throughout but I completed the distance. There were lots and lots of tears of happiness and it gave me the confidence to enjoy being active.
After that we moved out to the countryside to a little village near the sea and forest. I soon made friends with local women who were into nature and being active and we started meeting up on a Sunday morning to go for a five mile hike. I became an ambassador for This Girl Can Suffolk and became really passionate about inspiring other women to get outside and be active. As part of this I set up a wild swimming group, the Shingle Street Bluetits. I’d swum in the sea before when it was warm but this was proper cold water swimming. Today we have over 100 members. I also love stand up paddleboarding and have been doing that throughout the winter. So even in the cold of December I was still hiking and swimming and paddling. And through This Girl Can Suffolk I regularly post about what I’m up to and women get in touch to tell me that I’ve inspired them too, which I love.
I would say I’m more determined than I am naturally athletic. When I do park runs or races I am nearly always at the back but I don’t care: I just finish it. And I might be really slow but I think to myself ‘at least I am doing it.’
What makes swimming with other women special?
Usually I just swim with one or two others, so taking part in the Bluetits shoot was the first time that I have swum with lots of other women. I found it amazing. In the sea the waves were so big, coming over our heads, so there was less swimming and more jumping about – but it was exhilarating. I felt awesome. We were a little tribe of people all loving the same thing, brought together by our love for being in the water and we bonded immediately.
Swimming is about being together with a group of like-minded people. A lot of people take up swimming because they enjoy being in nature and it can help you feel connected to the outside world – lying under the sky, feeling the water on your limbs. And it helps people with emotional problems too because you are so in the moment. You are so mentally consumed by the shock of the water when you first go in that it numbs your pain away. Once you’re in and swimming it’s absolutely lovely and you quickly warm up again.
My scoliosis gives me regular back pain and I can’t sit or stand for long periods. Before the shoot I’d been suffering from sciatica and hadn’t been swimming for a few weeks. But the cold water really soothed my leg and helped me forget about the pain – more so than the painkillers. I came away from the shoot feeling so inspired and exhilarated. It made me feel alive.
What do you love about your body today?
I love that my body can do a lot of things in an active way. I love that I can get up and go on a 10 mile hike before breakfast. I love that I can enjoy sport and to be active for my family – keeping up with them when they’re running about doing things. My body also allows me to bond with other like-minded people and we can share these activities together. I have found a lot of my best friends in this way – who I meet to walk to the beach, go for morning swims or sunrise paddles. I wouldn’t have bonded with them if it wasn’t for my body allowing me to do these activities.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I’d say ‘your back is going to hurt, but it’s also incredibly strong. It will enable you to have children and go on and do whatever you want to do, so don’t worry.’ Having scoliosis and sciatica makes me incredibly grateful that I have a healthy body that can be active. Having lived with some pain, I can’t imagine what it’s like to have a chronic debilitating illness. So I may be a little overweight but the fact that I’m able to get outside and do activities I love makes me so incredibly grateful for the body I have.
Natasha wears the X-Back Swimsuit in Teal
Want to read more in our D&B x Bluetits Body Stories series? Have a read of all the conversations in this series with Bluetits Founder Sian and fellow Bluetits Ali, Sophie, Lisa, Nic, Tracie, Wendy, Fran & Kelly. Their stories discuss breast cancer, eating disorders, loss and more, so if you're not in the right headspace to read them today, why not bookmark the links for another time?
If you've read along every week with the D&B x Bluetits Body Stories series - thank you so much for staying with us and I hope you've enjoyed these pieces. We're kicking off a new series of Body Stories very soon - watch this space and join our community to be alerted when new stories go live.
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