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This post is sponsored by Dove.

Photography by
Location: Home, London

Identity, as we know is a key component of developing a child's sense of self. Expression, creativity and a solid foundation of 'this is who I am and this is who I choose to be' - with no exception. When children begin to explore what makes them tick, what makes them happy and what makes them feel alive, it’s imperative that they feel safe, secure, listened to and seen.

Acceptance and appreciation during childhood plays a considerable part in how a child progresses and develops into adulthood. This does not necessarily mean a child will feel completely confident, but it means that they will have resilience and an ability to cope through difficult times.

Growing up, part of my identity was my capability to perform. At two, I already had my first pair of ballet shoes and by 10 years old I was already competing, performing in the West End and had 4 or 5 awards on my bedroom shelf. I wanted to be someone, whatever that meant. It often felt like I had the entire world at my feet and I got to decide which piece, or pieces, of the pie I wanted to take.

I do not remember exactly when the doubt crept in. However, I do remember flicking through magazines, watching TV and hearing people’s opinions of bodies and then believing that those who looked like me would never make it. That it did not matter how talented and kind hearted I was, if I was not skinny I wasn't anything.

It was those who looked like Kate Moss and Cindy Crawford who made it.

"I won't make it unless I'm thin".

And so my body and what I ate became my purpose.

"Maybe if I lost weight I'll be good enough".

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Growing up I felt like an alien, as if my body was weird and ugly, so as I entered adulthood I took those feelings of shame and discomfort with me. I internalised what I felt and it ate me up inside.

This is why representation within the media matters, because if I saw someone that looked like me on the cover of a magazine maybe I would have felt like it was okay to be me. Because bodies like mine are deemed unacceptable and inappropriate, and sometimes it feels like society wants to rid them away.

At times, I've wanted to hide.

At times, I’ve wished I was invisible.

So much so I developed an eating disorder because I just wanted to disappear. To shrink, to be smaller, so that I could not be seen. However, at the same time I was so desperate for someone to see me.

To see who I really was and even now, to see me for who I really am.

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The shame I felt because of comparison was unbearable. I didn't know how to be me without trying to lose weight, trying to look thinner in photos and trying to fit this ridiculous mould of perfect, that didn't even exist.

I remember reading that famous quote "the models in the magazines don't even look like the models in the magazines" and then realising that I had based my self-worth on not only outside validation but also on images that weren't actually real.

The manipulation of photos had manipulated my sense of self, but the fight was not over. Now I knew better, I needed to undo all the years of self-hatred and pain.

A lifetime of trauma and a belief that I wasn't good enough because my body wasn't smooth, my belly wasn't flat and my skin wasn't the shade of milk.

Truth be told, the journey to body acceptance hasn't been easy. Although there is *some* body diversity within the media, we are still fighting for representation across the board. Photoshop still exists, and now we have free apps that we can download within seconds, that enables us to manipulate, distort and warp our images so that we can look thinner, slender and in some peoples eyes *better* all in the name of #doingitforthegram. And I've done it. I've erased spots, I've edited out rolls and I've cropped photos so that my stomach wasn't in the shot at all.

66% of women cite increasing pressures from advertising and the media to reach an unrealistic standard of beauty as a key force in driving appearance anxiety.

So our mental health is taking a direct impact because of airbrushing and digital distortion, and the beauty industry is making millions. How outrageous is that!

The pressures I felt to conform as a child could have killed me and that was over 10 years ago.

In 2018, not much has changed so that is why I am standing with Dove on their #NoDigitialDistortion campaign. An initiative to encourage less distortion and filters, and more of who we really are as individuals. Stretch marks, rolls, cellulite and all. Dove are launching the No Digital Distortion Mark, which is on all Dove imagery and will show us that that image is nothing but 100% real beauty.

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Although we have such a long way to go, I believe one day that body image issues will not be as significant as they are right now. That society will embrace the beauty of diversity and the expression of individuality. Where vulnerability will be the norm and false realities will cease to exist. Where fat bodies are respected and health is viewed outside of what we weigh.

The realness of being human. The parts we often hide and the parts we don't want other people to see. It is in those moments that we go beyond what beauty is. We transcend into a territory where beauty has absolutely nothing to do with what we look like, but more about what we feel.

For more information on Dove's #NoDigitialDistortion campaign, read here.

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