Stefanie Jackson has advice for her younger self.
Stefanie Jackson has advice for her younger self.

‘The body image advice I’d give to my younger self’

"THE advice you would give to your younger self." That old chestnut.

Despite a revolving door of Contiki tour guides trying to hammer #noregrets into my vocabulary … it turns out I may have a few. So if I was given the chance to jump in the DeLorean and head back to the year 2004 a la Marty McFly - I would snap it up quicker than you could say hover board.

My reason for making such a wish? Body confidence. I wish I'd been able to tell my younger self what an amazing piece of equipment she had at her disposal - and that she should not have been covering it up for even one damn minute.

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It's true when I tell you the majority of my teenage years consisted of my mother slapping my hands away from my body. She'd do it because she hated the fact I was always pulling my top up to cover my cleavage. While pulling it down to cover my midriff. Constantly fidgeting with my skirt hem and dragging my sleeves down over my hands.

I was so uncomfortable with the body I was trapped inside and all I wanted to do was cover it up. I thought at the time mum was telling me off to prolong the life of the clothing she'd bought for me - but I finally understand now. She thought I was beautiful - and clearly a massive idiot.

 

You see back then, I was probably about 10 or so kilos lighter than I am now.

I had a much higher level of fitness and the shiny skin, eyes and teeth of someone who hadn't yet met red wine or coffee. All wrapped up in a washboard stomach. Yet my shameful teenage self constantly wished to disappear into the wallpaper. To somehow exist and be happy without actually being seen.

In high school, I had a small group of girlfriends. We weren't really the hot ones or the goth ones or the nerdy ones, just a healthy bunch of regular, decent-looking teenagers. I don't think any of those girls would remember it now, but during that time they constantly referred to me as the bigger one of the group.

I'm not sure they even noticed this was the way they singled me out, but it was definitely a huge dent to my confidence at the time. I was a paler, nerdier, less athletic version of the others, but looking back at photos of myself during that time - the word "big" should never have been used. If someone said that to a girl of my size on the school bus now I would have no hesitation calling them insane. I mean if it was socially acceptable to insult school-age children that is.

And even if I was able to shake off the schoolyard hurt, the rest of the world wasn't exactly helping. The '90s was a literal explosion of models - tall, beautiful, skinny women were everywhere and all I wanted was to be like them.

I remember poring over my 1998 copy of Dolly with Pia Miller on the cover … what I wouldn't give to have her big brown eyes, her perfect dimples … she was only my age and already her life was "better" than mine. If I was able to pose on the beach in a bikini like she could, then everything would be okay.

I remember my 21st birthday party like it was yesterday

I wore a hot pink, Lycra, plunging, backless mini-dress. Yep, it was a rip-snorter. I wanted to be an "adult" and wear what the cool girls were wearing … so egged on by my flatmate I purchased a dress I would never usually even consider. And I was uncomfortable all night. It was too short, too tight, too bright. I felt like I was walking around with a neon sign on my ass.

I remember sitting in a toilet cubicle halfway through the evening … having a quick silent cry and trying to psych myself up to get back out there - it was just a dress, how could it be affecting my mood so much? I tried my hardest to fake the confidence I wished I had. I recently came across a picture of myself that night - and you know what? I looked SMOKING hot. Like the hottest I have ever looked. So what the hell was the issue?

It's something we've been talking about for decades. The unattainable standard of beauty that surrounds us from the moment we enter the world. Yep, some of us are lucky enough to be born with the chutzpah to rock a sequined mini, but the rest of us need a little time to accept the skin we're in. Growing up we look at those around us to find out what is "normal" … all the while hoping that we aren't the only ones with wide hips, dark skin or a gap-toothed smile.

The kind of body positive marketing we need to see more of to change how young women think about their bodies Photo: Glossier
The kind of body positive marketing we need to see more of to change how young women think about their bodies Photo: Glossier

Fortunately the tide has begun to turn.

Teenage girls nowadays are lucky to have a new, more diverse set of role models. Women such as Robyn Lawley, Serena Williams, Tess Holliday and Tina Fey (among countless others) are redefining what beautiful means. Beautiful is strong. Beautiful is smart. Beautiful is different.

Today I embrace those differences between myself and other women. I know I'm still short, pale and just that little bit heavier than I used to be … but my body is mine and nobody else has one like it. I wasted so much time - at parties, on beaches, in nightclubs - worrying about how I looked. Yeah sometimes it mattered, but most of the time … it didn't. My time should have been spent having fun, getting loose, laughing. I don't have time to worry about the tiny bit of overhang on my strapless bra or that bit of cellulite that peeks out the back of my shorts anymore - life is far too short … and even the happiest moments we experience don't last long enough.

So if I could, I would fly my time machine right back to that toilet cubicle, reapply my mascara and confidently talk myself into moonwalking back onto the dance floor. Because the most important thing I've learnt over the past 10 years is that the only person you should ever want to be - is yourself.

- This story originally appeared on whimn.com.au and is republished with permission.


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