WITH Love Island dominating our lives, it’s no wonder we feel forced to focus on achieving poolside ‘perfection’.
But some women are refusing to let anything get in the way of their body confidence – here they open up about their journeys to self-acceptance.
Four women have decided to forget poolside ‘perfection’ in favour of finding true body confidence[/caption]
‘I don’t care if people stare at me’
BECKY Bate, 35, is a lecturer and lives in Solihull, West Midlands, with her children Lucy, nine, and Katy, eight.
She says: “Climbing out of the pool on holiday in Barbados last December, I could feel people sneaking glances as I towelled myself dry.
Becky Bate has a chronic condition called ulcerative colitis and so has a stoma bag attached to her stomach[/caption]
I didn’t stop, though, as I wanted people to notice the stoma bag attached to my stomach. As far as I was concerned, it was the only way people would realise it’s not unusual or something to be ashamed of.
In spring 2011, I started suffering from stomach pains and exhaustion, passing blood when I went to the toilet. At first I put it down to stress and having two young children.
A year later it hadn’t gone away, so in May 2012 I went to see my GP, terrified I had bowel cancer.
While I was relieved to be diagnosed with ulcerative colitis – an acute inflammation of the large intestine – rather than cancer, it was still a huge shock, as I learned it was a chronic condition that could be managed but never cured.
For the next four years, I took medication yet still suffered flare-ups that left me in agony. It also affected my mental health, and I ended up being signed off work.
I became single in 2015, and it was even harder to care for my girls and myself. I couldn’t even consider going out with friends, let alone on dates.
In February 2016, a friend came round and found me lying on my bathroom floor in agony. I was taken to hospital and told that my large bowel was so ulcerated there was a risk it could rupture and kill me.
The only option was to remove it and fit a stoma bag outside my body to collect waste. The thought of having to live like that terrified me and I had no idea how I’d cope, but I was so fed up with feeling ill I knew it was my only hope.
I had my bag fitted a month later, and although the physical recovery was quick, emotionally it was tough. I despised looking at the bag and felt nervous changing it.
I also hated that I’d never be ‘normal’ again and worried I wouldn’t meet someone who could handle it. But as time went on I began to realise that I was able to return to work, look after my daughters and have fun again, which really boosted my confidence.
Why was I resenting the bag so much when it was giving me freedom? That’s when I decided it was nothing to be ashamed of, especially when I learned that over 100,000 people have them in the UK.
In September 2016 I decided to proudly show off my stoma bag on my cousin’s hen weekend in Spain. I was incredibly nervous walking to the pool in a bikini, and felt I needed to explain to the girls I didn’t know well what it was for.
They were curious – some had never seen one before, but other than that they really didn’t care, and their acceptance was a huge boost.
Despite my fears, I’ve also had a boyfriend since my bag was fitted. He wasn’t fazed by it, and although the relationship ended earlier this year and I’m happily single, I feel confident there are men out there who’ll be happy to accept this is a part of me.
I understand not everyone with a stoma bag has my confidence, but my self-esteem was at its lowest before the bag was fitted.
Exhausted, incontinent and bloated, I’d never felt less attractive. Now I feel strong, empowered and happy.”
‘I’m in my 60s and have a muffin top, but it’s ok!’
VIV Rodger, 62, is retired and lives in Maldon, Essex.
She says: “Surrounded by fellow holidaymakers on a Spanish beach, I looked at the other women my age and felt a pang of sadness.
Viv Rodger feels sad when she sees older women covering themselves up on holiday[/caption]
So many were covered up in sarongs, maxi-dresses and swimsuits, trying to show as little of their body as possible. Not for the first time, I felt glad to be confident enough to wear a bikini and not care what people thought.
I’ve been wearing bikinis since my teens in the early ’70s. Back then it was a liberating time for fashion – women dressed to show off their bodies.
I remember feeling incredibly grown-up in my first bikini at 14. I had a washboard stomach and was flat-chested, but although my body’s changed – I’ve been slimmer and heavier than I am now – my confidence has never wavered.
As I see it, very few women have ‘perfect’ bodies, let alone those in their 60s. I certainly don’t, but being 5ft 6in, a size 14 and 11st 3lb, I think I look pretty good!
As I don’t have children, I can’t blame breastfeeding or pregnancy for changes in my figure. However, when I was 50, I lost my partner of 28 years in a motorbike accident.
Grief saw me unintentionally lose weight, and I dropped to 10st. I didn’t take any joy in being slimmer – it just reminded me of what I’d been through.
In 2011 I met my partner Allan, 70, at a singles’ night. Going out for romantic meals and wine with him, I was soon tipping the scales at 12st – the heaviest I’ve ever been.
I still wore a bikini on holiday, though, as it’s what I’m comfortable in, and even carrying some extra weight didn’t make me want to cover up.
I realised that while I felt wobbly, everyone else would be busy enjoying themselves to care what I looked like. But I knew for my long-term health I needed to slim down, so now I make healthier meal choices and do cycling, aerobics and yoga.
Even so, my stomach is soft, I have a bit of a muffin top and my skin has lost elasticity. But these changes are all part of growing older. Who cares if I have a few tummy rolls when I sit down on my beach towel? I certainly don’t!”
‘I can’t remember my body without my scar’
RIO Diedrick, 30, is a data analyst. She lives in Mickleover, Derbyshire, with her boyfriend Laurence, 36.
She says: “Intrigued by the huge scar that runs the length of my chest and stomach, the man on the sun-lounger next to mine tentatively asked how I got it.
Rio Diedrick has a scar that runs the length of her chest and stomach and to her it’s a reminder of her body’s strength[/caption]
I didn’t have a clue who he was – we were just strangers lazing by the pool on holiday in Ibiza – but it didn’t stop me proudly telling him how it had saved my life in 2009.
Although my scar is a decade old, it’s still hard to miss when I wear a bikini. Stretching from my breastbone all the way down to my pubic bone, it’s my battle scar – a reminder of my body’s strength.
I haven’t always felt this way. At first I’d cover it up with tankinis and swimsuits, as I thought it was ugly.
In May 2009 I was in my first year studying politics and sociology at Nottingham Trent University when I was rushed to hospital for emergency surgery.
I’d been struck down with crippling abdominal pains, and was quickly diagnosed with a disease of the digestive tract. Within days I’d had two life-saving emergency operations to remove part of my stomach and bowel.
For four days after the second operation I was unconscious in ICU, with my organs failing and my body fighting sepsis. Doctors told my parents and sister they didn’t know if I’d pull through.
As I came round, hooked up to machines with my mum and sister at my bedside looking terrified, they tried to explain that I’d almost died.
I struggled to take it in, as everything had happened so quickly. As my health slowly got better over the next year, accepting my scar – even when the 60 staples were removed – was the hardest part.
I returned to university in September 2010 a different person. Physically I was still frail and had dropped to a size six, which was too slight for my 5ft 4in frame.
And my self-confidence was very low, too. Even though I could use clothes as a cover-up, I knew that underneath I was different to other girls. I also felt anxious when I dated guys, wondering when was the right time to tell them I had this huge scar. No one ever reacted badly to it, but that didn’t stop me feeling nervous.
But gradually, as I spoke to friends over the years, I realised that every woman I knew had some sort of body hang-up. One felt too big, one too pale, another hated her small boobs.
Not one of us felt flawless, so why was I beating myself up over a scar?
My mindset began to change, and I finally plucked up the courage to wear a bikini for the first time in over six years on a family holiday to Cuba in August 2015.
My heart was pounding as I walked out to the beach, but as the day went on I realised I’d been worrying about nothing. Even when someone did stare, I knew that my scar told an amazing story and nothing else.
That holiday was a turning point and I haven’t looked back. These days I love telling people my survival story, as I did last summer in Ibiza.
That year I also met my boyfriend Laurence through friends, and as he already knew about my op I felt more comfortable showing my scar to him. Knowing it didn’t bother him was just another boost to my body confidence.
Last year I had my third surgery to remove some internal scarring, which added to my scar. I’m a size 8 now and feel healthier and stronger.
When I hear women talk about being ‘bikini ready’ and feeling anxious about their body, I want to tell them there’s nothing to worry about.
I can’t remember what I looked like without my scar – it’s a part of me now. That’s why everyone should feel confident in their bikini, no matter what they look like, because it really doesn’t matter.”
‘Finally I love the skin I’m in’
KEIRA Siggers, 22, is an entrepreneur and lives in Letchworth, Herts, with her children Brayden, five, and Elianna, two.
She says: “Sitting on the train in a strappy summer dress, I noticed a woman staring. The old me would have felt self-conscious and wish I’d covered up with a cardigan and make-up, but I just smiled back.
Keira Siggers has vitiligo and says she’s wasted too many years worrying about what others thought of her[/caption]
I’d wasted too many years worrying about what others thought of me. I was 11 when a white spot the size of a 5p piece appeared below my left eye.
My mum Kym, now 43, took me to a dermatologist, who told her it was most likely vitiligo, an incurable condition where areas of skin lose pigment and turn white.
I was too young to understand and presumed it would eventually clear up. Instead, over the next three years white patches developed on my hips, groin, arms and feet, followed by more on my face.
I felt so ugly, I stopped looking in the mirror. I know Mum felt helpless, as there was nothing she could do to make it go away.
Vitiligo had a devastating effect on my confidence. I refused to do PE at school, and even on the hottest days I’d wear long tops and trousers to cover up.
I slathered heavy foundation all over my face, even though it never matched my skin tone. Boys at school would shout: ‘What’s wrong with you?’ and I struggled to make friends as I was really shy, which left me feeling lonely.
I never had a boyfriend – I was so self-conscious I barely spoke to anyone, let alone flirted like the other girls. By the time I was 15 it was such a struggle to face people that I ended up leaving school without any qualifications. I just wanted to be invisible.
While the girls in my year went to university, I became a teen mum, having my son when I was 16 and my daughter three years later.
It wasn’t easy at such a young age but it was life-changing in terms of how I felt about myself. I realised part of my job is to teach my children self-acceptance and about not judging others based on looks.
I couldn’t expect them to feel happy in their skin if I didn’t. It also helped that slowly there seems to be more social awareness of people like me. I certainly feel less judged because of women like model Winnie Harlow, who also has vitiligo.
That’s why this year I decided to wear a bikini for the first time since I was a child. In the changing rooms at the local pool with my children I felt sick with nerves. What if people pointed and stared?
MOST READ IN FABULOUS
To my relief, everyone was too busy splashing about to notice, and it felt exciting to show my body in public. Since then I’ve been shopping for more bikinis and looking at beach holidays.
Most days I go bare-faced, but I’ve developed a make-up range to sell online to women with vitiligo. Having people stare used to leave me crushed, but now I know there’s more to me than what people see.
I’ve finally accepted who I am and can’t wait to show everyone.”
- Hair & make-up: Sara Bowden
- Styling: Salome Munuo
- Keira wears: bikini, Boux Avenue; earrings, bangles, both Primark; shoes, Faith
- Becky wears: bikini, Figleaves; slides, Head Over Heels
- Rio wears: bikini, Freya; shoes, Krishna
- Viv wears: bikini, Littlewoods; bracelet, Freedom at Topshop; shoes River Island
- GOT a story? RING The Sun on 0207 782 4104 or WHATSAPP on 07423720250 or EMAIL email@example.com