This article originally appeared on Secrets of Paris
As a Body Confidence Coach, I help people to love and accept their bodies, but I would be lying if I told you that I’ve always loved mine. I’ve been through my own insecurities and hang-ups. When I was younger, I struggled with accepting my body, my curves, and my crooked jaw. At the time I sincerely thought that I had good enough body image. Then I went to Paris.
First Trip to Paris: Mixed Feelings
At the age of twenty, I was studying in Dublin and met a lovely French man. I fell in love and after a few months together we decided to visit Paris so I could meet all his friends from home. The trip was incredible, and it sparked my love of France, the culture, and of course the food. I loved every minute of my trip and couldn’t wait to return to Paris. However, several things happened during this trip that chipped away big old chunks of my body confidence.
I felt fat. I now know that fat is not a feeling but at the time I felt like I was too big for my bones. Everyone was so slim, and I felt like a lump in comparison to my boyfriend’s fabulous friends. The fact that I felt that way and was comparing myself to others shows that I didn’t have wonderful body confidence to begin with. I felt young in my stupid braces and unsophisticated in comparison to everyone else. What also didn’t help was hearing his friends make jokes about weight and other people’s bodies. I internalized their words.
By the time I left, I felt terrible about my body. I’d absorbed all the body bashing and negative talk like a sad dried out sponge. I was young and impressionable and took it badly that I was nowhere near meeting what I thought was the “Parisian beauty standard”. I went back to Ireland and started a diet straight away. I convinced myself that I would suddenly live my best life once I lost weight. I was also preparing for a medically necessary jaw realignment operation. I honestly believed that once the weight was gone and the operation done, I would suddenly transform from an oddly shaped caterpillar into a trim and symmetrical butterfly. I would finally meet the “beauty ideal”.
Time passed, I lost the weight, had the surgery, and finally had my braces removed. Yet I still felt the same. I had dieted for months and gone through a major operation, but I hadn’t transformed. My jaw had been realigned yet my face still looked the exact same. My body was the same but just a bit smaller. I realized that I had been trying to morph myself into something that I’m not. This was when I became fed up with myself. I was exhausted from listening to my inner critic tell me horrible things. I was finished with dieting and trying to make myself smaller. Why was I trying to meet what I presumed was the Parisian beauty standard when I wasn’t even living in France?
“I realized that the way I felt had nothing to do with Paris or my boyfriend’s friends but my own wibbly, wobbly body image.”
I realized that the way I felt had nothing to do with Paris or my boyfriend’s friends but my own wibbly, wobbly body image. It was then that I gave myself a loving and inspiring kick up the arse and started my own body confidence journey. I won’t lie, it was a slow process because I had no idea how to love my body – there wasn’t a support system in place. Diet culture was telling me that I needed to be slim to love myself. Beauty culture was telling me that I’d love myself once I was “flawless”. I knew, though, that I’d need to learn how to love myself without having to change myself.
I started believing and knowing that I’m good enough as I am. I told my inner critic to shut up and started to smile at myself in the mirror. I said kind words to myself and stopped looking at online content that made me feel bad. I stopped dieting. I gave myself permission to take up space, gained weight and felt better than ever. I gradually started to fall in love again but this time the focus was towards myself. I became my own friend and marveled at my lovely quirks and asymmetry.
Return to Paris: Feeling Beautiful
Time passed once again. I parted ways with the French man but ended up moving to Paris. The city was the same, but I had changed dramatically. I was a confident woman with curves and no time for body bashing. I didn’t care if people made comments. If people stared, then I just presumed that they liked my outfit. I said goodbye to caring about other people’s opinions and feeling bad about myself. I no longer felt fat, I felt beautiful. I may not have been meeting what I thought was the “Parisian beauty standard” but I was meeting my own loving standards.
My body confidence journey didn’t end there though. I later decided to change careers and retrained in coaching and mindfulness. I started a business as an Expat Coach and couldn’t wait to start helping people. I expected my clients to struggle with things like settling in, making friends, and the French language but there was something else. I started to see a clear pattern appear amongst every single one of my clients; they were all struggling with their body confidence.
After moving to Paris my clients felt under pressure to lose weight and be more fashionable. Clients would tell me that they wanted to lose weight and then tell me stories like “My colleagues don’t really eat much. They usually don’t eat dinner and just have a big lunch instead. That must be how they stay thin”. Outside work they all felt like people on the street and metro stared at them when they wore anything bright or different. Most of them could never find clothes that fit them properly in the shops. Many of them had to start shopping online or when they went back to their home countries. Some of them lost confidence because the water in Paris caused their skin to break out and their hair to thin. And it wasn’t just my clients who were telling me this, it was every expat I met. I kept hearing the same stories over and over.
Helping Others Learn to Love Themselves in Paris
That’s when I became a body confidence coach. Letting go of diet culture, being ok with not buying your clothes on the high street, and accepting skin breakouts may sound out of reach now but it’s not. Let me reassure you, it’s possible to feel good in your skin, no matter how you look. The truth is that confidence is what makes a person attractive (especially in Paris). The challenge is to not give in to the idea that you need to look or be a certain way. You can love yourself without having to change yourself. Hold your head high and wear what you want. If someone makes a comment or throws you a judgmental look, just remember that it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with their own lack of body confidence and self-esteem.
You have one life and one body. Your relationship with yourself is the most important relationship in your life. Befriend yourself. Smile at your reflection. Cut off your inner critic when they start spewing and instead say kind words such as “I’m good enough” and “I’m beautiful”. Remind yourself that you are perfectly imperfect. Tell yourself that your purpose in this world is not to be thin, flawless, or to meet unrealistic beauty standards. And finally, think of your younger self and show yourself the love and acceptance that you needed back then.
Cliona Byrne is a Body Confidence Coach, she helps people to shush their inner critic and boost their self-esteem. She provides one-on-one coaching and confidence-boosting workshops and courses both in-person and online. Find her on the web, Instagram, Facebook, Linkedin, and Pinterest.
Her upcoming workshops include:
Body Confidence Chats September 8th, 7-9pm, Paris. This is a monthly event to discuss topics such as body confidence, fatphobia, self-acceptance, and more.
Body Confidence Flow September 13th, 2-4pm, Paris. Want to feel good when working out? Then come to this workshop that will have you feel good both in and out of the studio.
Confidence is Sexy September 15th, 7-8pm, Online. An online program taking place over 4-weeks that will have you loving and accepting yourself in no time!