Today is the first day of Lent - a 40-day period of sacrifice, abstinence and self-denial. Yesterday, as I contemplated what to give up for Lent, I decided to forego Starbucks soya milk decaf coffees for the next 40 days and give the money to a good cause. I also thought about giving up bread or sweet stuff. But as the world celebrated International Women's Day, I decided there was something else I needed to give up - something much more unhealthy and far more costly than coffee or chocolate: negative thinking about my body and appearance.
So I am challenging myself - for this period of Lent - to give up those nasty thoughts about my shape, size, form, skin tone, complexion, hair etc etc etc - that go through my head numerous times a day. This isn't going to be easy. As I realised this morning as I showered and got dressed, self criticism is deeply ingrained in my psyche. But the best I can do is to challenge those thoughts - so every time I'm tempted to pinch at my waist, look critically at my legs or tut or groan when I look in the mirror, I'm going to try not to. And every time I look at another woman and am tempted to think I want her figure, hair, face etc, I'm going to celebrate her beauty and also celebrate mine. I'm going to smile and say 'Thank you God for creating me just as I am'.
Now, I know this may sound a bit like a Bridget Jones moment and I admit I've stolen the line 'just as I am' from that romantic scene when Mark Darcy tells Bridget he likes her 'just as she is'. I also admit I'm approaching a milestone birthday which may make me contemplate my life in a Bridget Jones fashion. But this is rather more serious.
Over the past few days, as I attended events to mark International Women's Day, listened to speakers and read a lot, it dawned on me that all the struggles for women's rights and equality over the years are worth precious little if I continue to put myself down. I have been my own worst enemy. And it seems I'm not alone - in a Glamour Magazine survey, women admitted to having 13 negative body thoughts daily. Imagine how much extra thinking time we'd have if we didn't have those negative thoughts, or imagine how great we might feel if we replace every one with a positive thought!
I hope this blog will track my progress as I try to do that, but also that it will record the experiences, suggestions and tips of other women and men who'd like to join me on this journey. If you can relate to the above and you'd like to take up the challenge, I'd love to hear from you. You can write to me via this blog, check out the Just As I Am Facebook page , contact me on Twitter @Just_AsIAm40, or join the debate on Twitter using #JustAsIAm
I'd also like to highlight on this blog some of the amazing women and organisations I've come across who are trying to fight back against negative body image. For starters, check out this video by Emma Thompson for the Endangered Species Summit, which I went to in London last Friday.
So it's midday on Day One. I can't say I haven't been on the cusp of having negative thoughts or comparing myself with others, but I've challenged those thoughts and behaviours every time. Maybe a good habit can replace a bad one after all.