What My Self-Love Journey Has Taught Me
By Court McCulloch
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Isn’t it funny that we have no idea how anyone else in the world sees us?
All we have is the image we see in the mirror and what we tell ourselves about it.
And even though our mums tell us we’re beautiful, our friends tell us how gorgeous we look, our partners tell us how sexy they find us… it can still feel like a lie, something they’re just saying for the sake of saying it.
The last time I can remember that I didn’t judge myself… was primary school. I loved running around with a footy, keeping up with the boys. I competed in every sport possible – and backed myself all the way. I trusted in who I was, in what I loved doing, and in my friendships.
In year six, I moved to a completely different school. And with that change came a change in myself – it was like the bubble on childhood burst. Over the next years, I’d become embarrassed around other girls – especially if they were more ‘developed’ than I was. I’d feel awkward and ugly when I heard my friends talking about boys. I’d judge myself when my friends had boyfriends… and I didn’t.
Sick of feeling like the ugly duckling, I would scrub at my freckles for hours on end. I would look in the mirror and hate my nose, wishing it was different every time. I would exercise for hours on end and force myself to only eat an apple during the day. I would weigh myself and judge myself based on the number that came up.
My value was placed not on my achievements at school, not on the friends I had, not on the family I had around me… but all the things I believed was wrong with me. Or more accurately, what I believed boys thought was wrong with me.
When I finished school, it was a chance to start over again. A chance to reinvent myself in a place that no one knew who I was. But freshly independent in a new country with no real idea of how to look after myself… I stopped exercising and ate in a way that damaged my body – not just through a 10-kilogram weight gain, but through eating processed foods that inflamed my body and worsened my mental health. I had no self-worth, no ability to speak up for myself, no belief that I was beautiful or worthy.
And… I was still looking for gratification from men.
In 2012, when I moved to Australia for university, it was another chance to start over. But this time with more experience and more knowledge… and a desire to be a more beautiful, thinner me. I dyed my hair blonde, decided I would be a total party gal, and ate next to nothing while forcing myself to exercise for a minimum of three hours every day. And again… even though I had the best friends, most incredible opportunities, most loving family…
I was looking for my worth, my own self-love, my own happiness in ALL the wrong places – from men.
When I moved home to New Zealand in 2014, my mental health took a nose dive. I desperately wanted to stop feeling lonely, worthless, ugly and unwanted but found myself burying myself under the covers, feeling all of those things… every day.
The moment it all changed was when I was sitting in the university library looking at girls walking past thinking how beautiful, stylish and fit they were… and how I was just ugly, hopeless and an embarrassment.
I decided I didn’t want to feel that way anymore. I hated feeling the way I did… and even though it felt like I would never feel any different, like I would hurt day after day, I decided that I would no longer put my worth in the hands of other people.
From that moment, I choose to talk to myself in a positive way – recognising and dismissing any thought I wouldn’t say to my best friend about her. I checked in with myself and my thoughts throughout the day – even wearing a rubber band around my wrist that I pinged every time I would have a negative thought.
I swallowed my pride and asked Michael to send me loving messages when I needed them. I reached out and made sure to spend more time with people who lifted me up. I worked with a Life Coach to make sure every week I was taking positive steps towards loving myself, nourishing myself and filling every day with things and people that made me feel good.
Am I perfect in self-love? Do I love every little bit of me every day? Am I immune to comparing myself to others?
But my journey has taught me things that are invaluable for helping me to get better at self-love every single day.
This is what my journey has taught me:
SELF LOVE ISN’T JUST WHAT YOU’RE THINKING
You can do all the mindset work in the world… but if the rest of your life doesn’t align, you’ll never find self-love.
Think about it: if you have a friend who is trying to lose 50 kilograms so they run every morning and night - but they also eat processed, sugar- and fat-filled food every day, they surround themselves with people who have no interest in their health and wellbeing, they’re stressed at work and make no time to nourish their minds and bodies… are they going to be successful?
The answer is no. And if you’re trying to work on your self-love only by working on your thoughts… but you’re not moving your body, you’re not fuelling your body with foods that fill it with nutrients, you’re not doing things in your life that make you feel happy, you constantly feel stressed or overwhelmed, you’re not surrounding yourself with people that lift you up… you will struggle to build a real self-love that you can call on whenever you need it.
Work out what foods make you feel good (yes, there have been numerous studies on the relationship between food and mental health AND gut health and mental health - I highly recommend the book ‘Gut’ by Guilia Enders to learn more), what ways of moving your body make you feel good, which people make you feel like your best you, what self-care practices make you feel refreshed and grounded, what activities make you feel like a kid running around the playground… and make sure they’re in your life EVERY DAY.
THE THINGS YOU SEE IN OTHERS ARE THE THINGS OTHERS SEE IN YOU
Even now, years down the track of my self-love journey, I need to remind myself of this.
I can think of so many times I’ve been in a social situation and seen other women and thought how damn beautiful they were. I’ve noticed how they were wearing an outfit that looked gorgeous… and it automatically made me feel frumpy and gross. They had a body shape that made me look huge. They had a fun personality that made them so desirable… and here I was in the corner like a boring person no one wanted to talk to.
It has taken me so long to learn to hear these thoughts and to stop them in their tracks. I make sure to remind myself that their beauty is not the absence of my own beauty (don’t forget, one flower’s beauty doesn’t make the flower next to it any less stunning!).
And more than that… I remind myself that chances are, that woman, or other women around have looked at me and thought the exact same thing about me.
We forget that the things we are thinking and feeling are thought and felt by almost EVERYONE (yes, everyone!) around us.
WE NEED TO START TALKING MORE
A quick little flashback to my last lesson… chances are, we are ALL feeling the same way (or have felt the same way at some point in our lives).
I can guarantee that every single woman you encounter in your life will have told themselves, at some point in their life, that they are not good enough. Not worthy enough. Not beautiful enough.
When we grow up, we’re lead to believe that being strong and confident is something to strive for… and admitting you are struggling, or opening up and being vulnerable is something you should avoid. But if anything, being able to open up to people you trust about the way you are feel - that is vulnerability and that is what makes you strong.
And the minute you open up – to your friends, to your mum, to your sister – is the minute you’ll realise YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
The worst part about this? That we all feel like we’re alone in the way we feel… but we don’t need to be.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP
When I started asking Michael to send me loving messages, I felt desperate. And it took a while to get over the idea that it was just words he’d thrown together because I’d asked him to.
Asking the people you love and trust for support, whether it’s sending a nice message that puts a smile on your face, keeping you accountable to moving your body or eating foods that make you feel good, or just going out for a good coffee, chat and a walk… it’s my NUMBER ONE go-to for whenever I’m feeling down… whether it’s feeling stuck, frustrating, lacking in self-love or just down.
Even when I feel like crawling into my bed now, I remind myself how much of a difference it can make to just be around people that mean a lot to me.
I guarantee, the moment you let those people in is the moment your mindset will change.
When I talk to mums, to teachers, to other professionals… it seems these carefree years without body-image worries and ‘fitting in’ concerns are becoming increasingly non-existent.
Girls as young as five are learning to look at their bodies and think they are ‘fat’. Children as young as 10 are present on social media and are believing that the filtered, edited and photoshopped photos they see are real life.
And teenagers and women, no matter what age they are, are struggling with body image and self-love.
We need to stand up as women and break the cycle of competitiveness. We need to create a society where we are brave enough to talk about what we’re going through and where we all work together to build each other up, instead of staying quiet and letting each other struggle alone.
BY COURT MCCULLOCH
Founder of Thrive Collective, activewear-wearing, brunch-loving, dog mum on a mission to help all women realise their real potential and start living a life where they thrive in every moment.