Welcome to Body Stories. In this blog series we speak with different D&B customers about their relationship with their body and body image. In doing so, we hope to demonstrate how universal a complicated relationship with body image can be.
In these conversations we ask each woman about her relationship with her body - how it has changed over time, the influences and pressures, and what she loves about it today. Each conversation was candid, poignant and thought-provoking. We left each one feeling inspired by their story - and hope you do too.
In today's feature we talk with Brazilian-born, Brighton-based sea swimmer Deb.
Tell us a bit about you.
I’m Deb, I’m 40 and I’m a product analyst. I am Brazilian but have been living in Brighton since 2005 – 15 years! I absolutely love Brighton, it’s very much my home and my sea swimming group is my family. I live with my partner Tom and my adult son. We go to a lot of gigs, we enjoy eating out and travelling and I absolutely love sea swimming.
What is the earliest memory you have of body image?
My relationship with body image involves an incredibly sad story. I lost my mum when I was 15 - she died tragically after a liposuction procedure. Like me, my mum was full of life: she loved to party, to eat great food, to socialise, to drink and to be a phenomenally present person. But she struggled with the way she looked and was always very unhappy with her body image. I had always seen her struggle, even though to me she looked amazing. She had been very skinny when she was young but as she grew older her body changed and she really struggled with it. She decided to undergo liposuction surgery and died a week later. Because of that, plastic surgery has always been a big no in my house.
When I was young I was also very skinny. I loved the sea, I surfed, I was always active in the water and I had the shape and physique of the boys I played with. I was a tom boy, I suppose. Then my hormones arrived, I went through puberty and my body completely changed. I went from looking and feeling like a little boy to putting on weight and struggling to fit in. I always felt that I wasn’t beautiful enough.
I fell pregnant at 19 and gained a lot of weight after my son was born. It was the first time I really hated my body. I was also in a relationship where my weight was an issue – my partner didn’t like my weight. He was vain and narrow-minded and I remember thinking “fuck you, I am not my weight”. But still, I struggled to love myself. My weight has fluctuated throughout my life and I have struggled with body confidence for most of my adult life. It has never stopped me from doing anything, it was never a hatred to the point that it stopped me going to the beach, for example. But I have always felt very self-conscious.
Have you managed to change how you feel about your body?
I think changing how you feel about your body sometimes comes with maturity and knowing yourself. Last year I was thinking a lot about needing to change the way I felt about my body. I remember thinking ‘I need to love and embrace myself’. I’ve never religiously followed fashion but I find that the messaging in fashion marketing, advertising, magazines and so on still really impacts your ideas about body image. I decided that in order to be the best version of myself I needed to learn how to love myself, to learn how to leave the negative mental self-talk behind.
So then the Deakin and Blue photoshoot opportunity came up and a friend from my swimming group encouraged me to apply. I never thought that I would be chosen but it felt like a huge achievement even to put myself forwards. When you contacted me to invite me to take part in the shoot I just remember thinking “Oh shit”. The day before the shoot I sat down and cried, I felt so vulnerable. But I also wanted to get these feelings out, to clear myself of the negativity and to try to start feeling differently. And then it was actually incredibly liberating doing the photoshoot. It was amazing to drop all the bad feelings and just try to love myself the way I am, to show the world that I am beautiful the way that I am. I love the photos from the day and I love that they haven’t been retouched or edited. I came home so happy.
What have been some of the biggest influences on your own body image and body confidence?
Of course – my mother and her experience. But also, more positively, my friends and my partner have been some of the biggest influences in terms of loving myself and helping me to appreciate myself.
What do you love about your body today?
Today, I love it all. I love being a woman who, regardless of her size, owns her body and her shape. I really love my body and I work out because exercise makes me feel so much better mentally as well as physically. And I feel very lucky to have someone in my life who tells me every day that I am beautiful. He always says how beautiful I am. When someone is showering you with love, it changes you.
What makes you feel amazing in your body?
Sea swimming. It’s my go to for my peace in myself, for helping me develop self-love and gratitude, for helping me to appreciate my life and being healthy. Anyone can do it and I really think the immediate contact with the natural world it gives you is like nothing else. After a sea swim I feel immense.
What advice would you give to your younger self to help her develop a positive relationship with her body?
I would try to teach her about self love, that she is enough, that she is beautiful. I would say: love yourself and don’t listen to the opinions of others – they don’t matter. Just love yourself and you’ll find your power.
Loved reading this?