In our blog series Body Stories we speak with a different D&B customer about their relationship with their body image. We ask them how their relationship with their body has changed over time, what or who has influenced them and what they love about their bodies today.
Each conversation has been candid and thought-provoking - reminding us how universal a complicated relationship with body image can be. The conversations were honest, poignant and surprising. We left each one feeling inspired by their story - and hope you do too.
In today's feature we talk with Rachel who lives on the Island of Iona.
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m The Travelling Bookbinder. My passion is bookart and teaching people: I’ve been travelling and making books for over 20 years. I run online classes that get people to explore their creativity by experimenting with words and paper and I teach workshops around the world – in Paris, Stockholm, Venice, Amsterdam and Shetland. The book is such a brilliant art form and the craft of bookbinding is incredibly meditative. I believe everyone has a book in them.
I live on the Island of Iona and in the city of Edinburgh. I studied English at Edinburgh which first took me to Scotland. Then, eight years ago, I met my partner John who runs The Iona Hostel. There is a beach below the house so I’ve gotten into the habit of swimming here year-round whenever the water is calm and clear. It’s very invigorating!
What is the earliest memory you have of your body image?
I remember being about 8 years old, standing next to my grandma in a swimming costume, pushing my tummy out and saying “I’m so fat” and her saying “don’t be ridiculous!” In hindsight, I wasn’t fat at all, just strong. I’m not sure where it came from but I do remember being aware of not wanting to be seen as greedy, not helping myself to an extra sandwich and so on.
What have been some of the biggest influences on your body image and body confidence?
I used to be quite athletic so have always had a muscly body. And from a very early age I have revelled in my body as a natural resource, as a tool. I was the Under-13 County Champion long jumper: still proud of that moment!
I’ve always loved swimming and dipping into water. I grew up in Somerset and we used to go to the local swimming pool once a week. (As vividly as the swim, I recall the absolute animal urge for a post-swim Mars bar from the vending machine afterwards!) There was a river running along the bottom of our garden. We used to tuck our vests into our knickers and wade in in our wellies. But we’d fill our boots with water so we had the sensation of being in the river without hurting our feet on rocks. On hot summer days my friends and I would cycle 15 miles across the moors to Boltonsborough pond wearing only a swimming costume and welly boots – we must have been quite a sight! It made me laugh recreating this image.
I also used to love running and would do the 100m bare foot. And I remember happy days spent at the Wells Lido, running around, playing chase, diving, back flips and lounging on beach towels. I’ve always loved the physicality of being in and out of the water.
Do you think being sporty and athletic from such a young age provided a good foundation for your relationship with your body?
Yes, but I do fear that I lost that a bit at university. I got more and more cerebral and then when I was working, running my own business and travelling a lot, it was more difficult to commit to regular exercise or team sports. A few years ago I got quite ill with burn-out. I had chronic fatigue and shoulder pain and couldn’t lift my arms. There was nothing medically wrong with me but my body was saying “Enough.”
I explored alternative medicine and acupuncture and eventually took a step back from anything stressful. I remember my acupuncturist saying “you’re all up in your head”. After two and a half years it went away. Looking back I can see it was a way of my body telling me to slow down. The only thing I could do in that period was walk and swim. Being barefoot on the beach was a way of getting back into my body.
What do you love about your body today?
I love how strong it is. I really lost my oomph when I was ill and it’s just such a relief and feels so great to have it coming back. I’ve taken up running again too. In 2004 I travelled to Kenya to do a Wildfitness course. It was 10 days of jungle based activities: running trails, getting in big tyre rings and floating through mangrove swamps, a 2 mile swim to a little island, doing exercises to realign your balance. It was a very holistic look at the body across fitness, strength and nutrition.
On the course they told us “you’re a wild animal, not a zoo animal” and that you can use your own body strength to achieve things. It was a step change in thinking for me and after that I took my running kit wherever I go travelling. Whenever I’m teaching in Paris or Venice I try to go running. You’ve always got your feet. It’s a great way to explore a city. With the support of an amazing herbalist I’m navigating through peri-menopause. Having a partner who loves my tummy helps a lot.
What makes you feel amazing in your body?
Being in water. Followed closely by chocolate! I love being in water – whether that’s the sea or simply in the bath. When I swim on Iona the clear cold water is incredibly refreshing, the minerality of it makes me feel so alive - so even if it’s a bit chilly getting in, I splash water on my shoulders and face and then go for it. When I get out I am just tingling all over and feel incredible. It really sets you up, mentally and physically.
What advice would you give to your younger self to help her develop a positive relationship with her body?
I’d say it’s all about how you feel, not how you look. I have a pretty positive sense of self esteem and body image but even I can still see a photo of myself and be very judgemental, I find myself thinking “ugh, do I look like this?” So it’s important to concentrate on how you feel - and to not care what other people think.
And finally, I think it’s important to feed your body what it needs – whether that’s good food or fresh air. If you can’t get out for a swim or a walk, then have a bath and exfoliate and put lovely lotions on. Light a candle. Concentrate on your senses. Put nail varnish on your toes. Give the body what it yearns for – it’s a way of loving yourself.
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