May 13th - 19th is #MentalHealthAwareness week and this year, the theme is body image. We have a series of guest posts from some of our Brastop Babes coming up this week, and here's Kate to tell us her story:
Happy Mental Health Awareness Week!
I'm Kate, I'm 26 and from Bedfordshire. I'm a Nurse and run a Mental Health and Body Image account over on Instagram @kateshappinessjourney, and I aim to be a part of positive change in the world. I'm currently wearing a 32HH - it feels like my boobs have been growing exponentially in the past year! My dress size is 16-18 - yes, I'm fat and yes, I'm fabulous.
Around 7/8 years ago, when I was 19, I entered a competition called "Model of the Month" with a little company called Brastop. It was the first time I had tried anything like that. Amazingly, I won! I got to go and get glammed up, and have a photoshoot with a great photographer in a beautiful house in London. I was nervous, awkward and a little intimidated, but I had an amazing time and I'd never felt so comfortable being around other people while I was in my underwear. It was like a revelation for me. It boosted my self-esteem which was pretty much non-existent and lingerie became an obsession for me. (And I mean, a proper obsession, once my bank actually rang me up to ask if I had authorised all of the payments to Brastop in a certain number of months... I shyly admitted that they were in fact all me, and I wasn't being scammed hahaha).
Kate's cover for our Brastop 'Model of the Month' competition in 2011
A good fitting, pretty lingerie set had always been my go-to way of feeling good in my skin.
Since all of that, I've been through some pretty rocky stuff. I've been admitted in mental health wards, tried to take my own life but also come out the other side of it. I was given a new diagnosis: Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (or Borderline Personality Disorder). And because of everything I went through, I started my Instagram page in 2016. My body image always has been, and still is, a big part of how I feel about myself. It's something I struggled with for longer than I can remember. Having been through that horrible year of my life, starting my insta was my way of documenting my recovery. It was the first time in a long time I had been confident enough to even look at my body, so it was a massive thing for me to post pictures of myself in underwear. But it worked. Yes I had haters, and yes I had perves sending me messages, but for every one of them, I had wonderful women telling me that they related to me. They'd tell me that our bodies were similar and seeing mine online made them feel better about theirs, and little by little I became more and more comfortable with my body as it grew and changed. Lingerie had always been a really big part of how I see myself; a good fitting, pretty lingerie set had always been my go-to way of feeling good in my skin. And I appreciated my body.
I looked at myself in that bikini and I felt cute for the first time since getting more ill.
Then, as my mind started to get better, my body started to get worse. I'd been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome before, but I was always told that it was likely just being exacerbated by the 12hour shifts and night shifts I was doing. I always got on with it. Well, while unemployed, not doing those shifts and feeling mental better than I ever had, I started to feel my joints loosen, causing pain. The pain was bearable. Then the fatigue became overwhelming. And when I was fatigued, my muscles didn't work properly, and my joints were loose enough that they would pop out when I used them. It took a long time, several doctors and many differing opinions, but eventually I was diagnosed with Hypermobility Ehler's Danilo's Syndrome. Long story short, the collagen in my body doesn't work properly and it causes a whole tonne of problems. Through all that, I didn't feel pretty. I did not like my body. How could I? When it was failing me on such a massive scale? How could I love the thing that was making me so fragile and ill? Don't get me wrong, I was still posting to my Instagram, trying to be positive, trying to show a united front. But I was breaking down, physically and mentally and it was horrible. I spent my days (still unemployed) sitting in a hoodie and leggings, watching tv and feeling in pain. I never wore bras, I didn't see the point if I wasn't going out and I couldn't put them on properly on my own so I just didn't bother. My mum knows me well, she knew I needed a pick me up. We had a holiday coming up and she knew what I needed was a boost so I would be comfortable wearing a swimsuit. So she bought me a new bikini (from Brastop obv) and presented it to me with the best of intention. Of course, I shouted at her and told her she was being insensitive and stupid (I'm a lovely daughter aren't I?) because I simply didn't see the point in having it because I was too disgusting to wear anything like that. Well, she persisted (bless her, best mum ever) and got me to try it on. She helped me do the bikini top up and put the straps over my shoulders. I remember looking down and thinking "what a mess". Then she marched me over to the mirror and made me stand there looking at myself. She asked me why I thought I couldn't wear a bikini because, like it or not, I was wearing one and the world wasn't ending. I sobbed, she sobbed, it was a proper sob-fest. I looked at myself in that bikini and I felt cute for the first time since getting more ill. That one bikini set of a chain reaction which led me to where I am today.
Kate wears Curvy Kate Victory Viva Pink
I still have bad body image days. I still struggle with food. I still have periods of depression where all I was to do is sleep and watch Doctor Who. But overall, I'm doing good. I've been discharged from my community mental health psychiatrist. I'm working (which I didn't think was actually possible at one point). And although lots of things came together to get me to where I am now, lingerie has and always will be, a massive part of me. I will always owe my confidence in getting my kit off to that opportunity Brastop gave me. I will still thank my mum for making me try that bikini on so I would be reminded of my love for it and how it makes me feel.
Even to this day, if I feel rubbish about myself, and I need something I know will make me feel better, I'll do my hair and makeup, put on a matching set of undies and it automatically brightens my mood. I feel like with a good set of lingerie on, I can take on anything. Even if I just go to the shop, having that on underneath my clothes just gives me a spring in my step.
Learning self acceptance is the best thing you will ever do.
My advice to anyone struggling with accepting their body would be: give it time. Rome wasn't built in a day. Trust me when I say it's taken me many years of trying and trying and TRYING, to actually get to a place where I can say I accept my body. And it's not a one size fits all. You'll find you resonate with some people's words more than others. Find the people who make you feel good. Use your social media, let it become a place that makes you feel good about yourself, not compare yourself. Unfollow those people who make you feel poo. Turn on post notifications for the people who make you feel great. Create that space online where you can feel safe, and fill it with things that make you feel good. And don't aim for body-love straight away. Again, Rome wasn't built in a day and don't run before you can walk. Aim for simply accepting your body for what it is. A vessel that holds you. Become neutral with your body, learn that it is simply here to carry you through life in the best way it knows how.
All of this might sound overwhelming but learning self acceptance is the best thing you will ever do. It's the stepping stone for so much joy in life. Take your time, be patient, and trust that you are doing okay, you are worthy of happiness and stronger than you believe.