D&B Body Stories is a new blog series in which we talk with ten D&B customers from a range of different walks of life about their relationship with their body and body image. We ask them how their relationship with their body has evolved over time, what has influenced and informed their feelings about their body, and what they love about it today.
If you haven't already, do have a read of the first blog in this series featuring Amy.
We absolutely loved the honest and thought provoking conversations that we had with each of the ten women as part of this blog series. The conversations were honest, poignant and surprising. We left each one feeling inspired by their story - and hope you do too.
In today's post: meet Melanie.
Melanie, tell us a bit about you.
I’m Melanie, I’m a nurse and I’ve always loved my job. I live in Somerset and have two adult children and a dog called Bertie. I’m a keen swimmer and swim as often as I can. We have a river which is a short cycle away and I’m about 30 minutes to the sea so often travel to the coast with friends and swim together there.
Has outdoor swimming been something you’ve always enjoyed?
Yes – I had an uncle who was a very good swimmer and when I was 9 or 10 he got me swimming in the sea in Dorset. I remember wearing the old-style seersucker and knitted swimsuits! We also had an outdoor, unheated pool at my convent school which we swam in year-round. Even as a child I can remember loving that feeling after a very cold swim: shivering and needing to warm up. Over the years I’ve always enjoyed being in the water – I remember swimming in the sea as my children learned to surf on the north coast of Devon. But then a few years ago I had a series of health issues and I really felt motivated to get fit and healthy - cold water swimming really kicked in for me at that point.
What is the earliest memory you have of your body image?
I come from a tall family and I was always very tall myself – by the age of eight I was already 5'8" with size 8 feet. I remember school friends and teachers saying “what’s the weather like up there” and “how do you cope with big feet?” But I had a good sense of humour and I was happy being tall – it didn’t worry me. I remember wanting to wear nice shoes and not being able to get them in my size, so I wore shoes that were too small for me which was quite painful.
Our primary school teacher used to weigh us at school and plot the height and weight of each member of the class on a graph. I was taller and heavier than everyone else, including the boys, and she would always comment. I was physically ill whenever I saw the scales being brought out.
How did your relationship with your body change as you grew up?
When I was 14 I changed schools from an all-girls convent school to a mixed-sex, secondary modern school and got the flu. I lost my appetite and liked the effect of not eating – the feeling of my bony hips. I thought that being thin would help me to fit in and make friends and I became anorexic. My mum was very concerned but didn't say anything because she could see I was coping. It lasted about six months and I had drastic weight loss. Later when I was about 16 I went away to Cornwall to work and stopped eating again. My periods stopped and again I lost a lot of weight. Both times my appetite pulled me out of it – I just needed to eat.
As an adult I’ve always had a healthy appetite but certain experiences have triggered changes in my weight, such as a relationship break up. I’ve done Weight Watchers, Slimming World, and my weight has fluctuated over the years. These days I just try to keep active and eat healthily. I have realised that I am definitely more preoccupied with how I look than anyone else is – we never look at other people like that do we? And I think through it all I’d say I have an inner confidence, by choice. I decided I would rather be happy, smiley and relaxed. Life is just better that way.
You have an adult daughter. Has your own experience informed how you talk about your body in front of her or how you talk about body issues more generally?
As a family we’re very open and talk quite openly about body image. We’ve also always eaten healthily. I do worry a bit about having a daughter and the possible impact on her – as anyone with a daughter might do. Like me, she’s tall but she has a very different shape and eats well and is healthy.
What do you love about your body today?
In 2016 I was unwell. I had a hip replacement, rheumatoid arthritis and breast cancer. I love that my body got through that. I’m really enjoying yoga at the moment (I wear my D&B swimsuit under leggings – it works so well!) and I’m pleased with how well my body is coping with the exercise.
And what makes you feel amazing in your body?
I really love swimming, especially if I’m somewhere like the Mediterranean – getting into that blue water. I love dancing and I like walking. I also enjoy the deep breathing that we do in yoga – it’s often underrated, I think, but can really help how you feel in your body. And a good laugh – I love laughing and find it’s a great way of relaxing.
What advice would you give to your younger self if you could go back and have a chat with her?
I’d tell her what I’ve learned since then: not to worry so much about your image, that people aren’t looking at you – they’re usually looking at themselves! Of course it’s easy to say this with hindsight. And yet, I learned from my experiences as a child and they definitely made me who I am today. As a school nurse, for example, I’ve regularly interacted with children with eating disorders and actually my own experience has developed me and helped me to help them.