Our Cossie Confidence Crew. A group of every day women who gather every year to create and share messages aimed at one thing...encouraging women to get into a swimsuit so they can experience the joys, make the memories, each and every summer.
Maria is a proud Crew member. With 3 shoots under her belt, she's a familiar face and seasoned swimsuit super hero. A much loved member of the Crew.
Before she became a Crew member, how she felt about herself, her body was quite different. We can sometimes flippantly mock the 'over use' of the word journey, but in Maria's case it is completely appropriate. I had the privilege of chatting with Maria who spoke very candidly and openly about her body confidence journey and much of what you'll read here is from that chat. It's honest, open and powerful. Our hope is that some of you who relate to Maria's story in some way, will understand that you're not alone and that positive change is possible.
Some of what we talk about may trigger negative thoughts for you. So please, if you are at all concerned that this might happen, please click away now.
SHE WAS ALWAYS THE BIGGER GIRL
Now almost 42, Maria's body shame started at a young age. She was always the bigger girl at school, in her friendship groups but not in her family. Everyone in Maria's family have/had larger figures and each of them 'embraced' it differently.
For her Mum, it was a constant battle to be thinner. "I'll eat lettuce so that I can be this size." She was fighting to be a 14.
At the beach with friends, they may have been smaller in size, but for most of her friends, covering up in boardies and a big T-shirt was the norm. Not for Maria, who realised pretty quickly that wearing an oversized T-Shirt at the beach, when wet, what simply not practical. It was heavy and got in the way!
In her 20's Maria moved out of home. She was a size 24. Her Mum's attitude to her own size, weight and body image was a constant source of conflict between them.
"You may take your value in your size, your weight. I don't. I'm a good person, I've got a good career, I'm smart, I'm a good friend."
That was a major turning point in Maria's life. The decision, her choice, to move out of home. Far from easy, but with it came the space and autonomy to embark on a new beginning, her way.
THE (AT TIMES CONFRONTING) CHANGE BEGINS
No longer seeking her Mum's approval, Maria hit the books and turned to self-help for healing. Exploring, researching, experimenting, to become Maria, her way.
Perhaps one of the most influential (and confronting) daily 'activity' she did during this time was to sit naked in front on a mirror and look at herself. To see something positive and to say it out loud. Far from easy, there were days when the best she could do was, 'I have a great smile'. But with daily persistence, Maria turned what once were negative thoughts, into positive ones. Appreciating her body for what it enabled her to do. My legs, that move me to where I need to go. My arms that are strong and capable...
Incredibly challenging, but she showed up, each day, for herself. The progress was real, her self-appreciation, acceptance, her confidence was strengthening.
She was re-connecting with her body. A body that for so long had felt like it wasn't part of her and who she was. It was this figure on the side.
FASHION WORN AS ARMOUR
It was obvious as we chatted that fashion was a great love of Maria's. It still is. Held back at high school from being in the fashion parade, she tried to convince the organisers to have a plus size section. But because the clothing choice was simply not there, it was not going to happen. She so wanted to be a size 10, like the others, at that point.
In her 20's Maria made some very clear choices about what she'd wear and wouldn't wear. Fueled by the judgement of others, tracksuit pants were never going to be seen on her body. Why? Because that could be perceived as a sign of laziness. She was far from lazy (more on that later).
Look good to feel good was her mantra. How she presented herself 'on trend' was very deliberate.
This armour of appearance served Maria well. It helped to protect her in many ways, as she was learning to appreciate and love herself, on the inside. But there was still a disconnection at times.
Deflecting the cutting shards of judgement with her armour served Maria well. What started out as a way to protect herself, to be perceived positively by others has become something else over time. The disconnection dissolving as she learned more about who she was, her personal style, her identity.
Fashion is still important to Maria but now it's used as an ingredient of her self-expression. A way to express herself FOR herself and not because of, or for, others. The armour is off. And with it, Maria is shining, lit from within.
She had gone from looking for the validation from others, to validating from within...this is me! And now has fun with it.
Reflection. Self-Objectification. What Maria experienced a lot of her adult life, what she was challenging herself to overcome, actually has a name. Self-Objectification. The invisible prison of picturing yourself being looked at instead of just fully living. "The tendancy to perceive one's body according to the externally perceivable traits (ie how it appears) instead of internal traits (ie what it can do)." More Than a Body (see below).
"As your identity splits, self-objectification hinders your ability to self-actualise or realise your full potential." Self-objectification is like wearing that T-Shirt Maria's spoke of earlier whilst trying to swim. In More than a Body they liken it to wearing heavy soaking wet jeans whilst trying to swim. But as Maria actually mentioned THAT T-shirt in our chat....
"Body image is an inside issue and no outside praise for how our bodies appear will ever provide long-lasting confidence or fulfillment." (More Than a Body)
FROM SHAME, TO PRIDE, TO PROOF
Breaking the shackles of the (perceived) judgement of others, Maria's understanding of who she was, strengthened and with it, her confidence.
Travel. Once a 'no go' zone, became a way for Maria to test herself, to push her boundaries of self-belief. Exploring, making tough choices, finding a way to prove that she could. From ashamed of taking up space to the pride of actually doing it.
The seat on the plane. Would she fit in a standard seat? No. So she planned ahead and got the seat with more leg room. In years gone by, that would have stopped her from even attempting to fly. Now she was doing it. Understanding that it might not be easy, but, she was doing it. In Venice, in the gondola. Heaven forbid! Yet another 'yes I did it' moment.
How wonderful. How liberating. The possible.
Doing the Cossie Confidence campaigns is another form of proof. What more proof do you need than to get into a bikini and be in a photo shoot, knowing that your photo will be on the home page of a website for all to see! In social media. Out there to be judged. But it's now not the fear of being judged, Maria does it for others. Self-actualisation in action!
Maria's body no longer sits beside her. It's a part of her. A part of who she is.
"This is me. I'm awesome. Just ask me!" Maria.
Thanks Maria. You most certainly are.
If you'd like to feel supported in your summer confidence journey, then I invite you to join our community of like-minded women seeking to do the same. We hang out on social media in our private Facebook group Women 40+, Self Love, Body Love, Summer Confidence.
We also have a paid membership community, The Summer Confidence Society where the transformation from unsure to confident in a swimsuit is possible. Covering Mindset, Style and Wellness it is a wonderful place to learn, connect and grow.
Shop for your Swimsuits and Resortwear over on www.SequinsandSand.com.au where you'll find the popular Shape & Size Calculator to get you on your way.
We can't wait to welcome you where ever you'd like to connect.
To your summer confidence.
Founder, Sequins and Sand.