Written by Hannah Stevens
Thanks to hitting 5’1 at just 11-years-old and shooting up to 5’10 by my teen years, I’ve never been able to disappear into a crowd. My body simply won’t allow it. So, embracing my physique has been a rocky journey.
After years of hiding my stomach, refusing to wear anything that left my arms bare and being ashamed of my jiggly butt, I threw my hands up and let go of all the rules I’d put upon myself.
But learning to love my body shape was the easy part. I also had a constantly growing collection of scars to contend with.
My body is littered with them, some requiring far more explanation than others, but the worst offenders have always been the hardest to brush off – my scleroderma scars.
Scleroderma is an autoimmune condition that causes the body to attack healthy tissue. Symptoms can vary drastically from person to person but in my case, it presents itself with joint problems, muscle weakness, chronic fatigue and scarring across my entire torso. The scarring has taken over a decade to come to terms with.
At first, it was just little bruises popping up on my sides and the tops of my legs, but then they started to harden and calcify. And then they spread everywhere – breasts, stomach, sides and back.
My condition means that my scars will probably never settle into one set pattern, instead, they will continue to evolve, never staying the same from one month to the next. Having a myriad of scars that never quite look the same can make them hard to embrace because there’s always a new one to add to the family.
In the early years, I maintained my confidence and said screw it to the world. That all changed the last time I wore a bikini – eight years ago. While on holiday with my mum and sister, I wore a bikini for the first time since I had contracted the condition.
I remember walking out of the ocean and back to my towel and I could see that every eye on the beach was on me. When the scarring was still relatively young, it looked like severe bruising and to the untrained eye I’m sure I looked like I’d been in some sort of car accident. Once I made it back to our base, I wrapped myself in my towel and promised myself that I would never wear a bikini again. I could not face the notion of subjecting myself to someone else’s judgement by baring my scars.
I kept that promise for far too long and it’s taken nearly a decade of gradually showing off more and more of my skin to finally own my scars. So, when I wore a one piece for the first time in four years at the Portrait Positive Flashmob last month, I knew I had to crack the bikini next. And what better way to do that than with an amazing brand like Curvy Kate?
It’s often infuriating, how much power two skimpy bits of material can have over you. But the moment I stepped into that changing cubicle and slipped on the first bikini, I was completely at ease. Stripping off in a public park came easily and I felt free from my own insecurities for the first time in forever.
Embracing your body is a journey, not a one-stop shop that gives you boundless confidence for the rest of your life, but you can’t make progress if you don’t step outside of your comfort zone.
Over the years, I’ve learned to wear crop tops, sleeveless dresses and t-shirts and now I’ve finally embraced MY bikini body. That’s not to say that there won’t be more curve balls in my journey, I’m sure there will be, but taking a single step on that road is a huge achievement. It’s one worth taking the leap of faith for.
When I posed for the camera, a tiny part of my brain told me that I wouldn’t like the photos when they came back (spoiler: that voice couldn’t have been more wrong). But even if that had been the case, taking that single step has changed my mindset more than I can express in a single blog post.
Flipping my perspective has been invaluable. Allowing yourself to be photographed by another person helps you to see what your loved ones have been telling you all along. Taking selfies has also been a crucial part of rebuilding my body image, but nothing has been more transformative than seeing myself through someone else’s lens.
Now I can’t get enough. If I could prance around half naked all the time, I probably would. I refuse to let anyone’s sideways glances, or unsolicited opinions, dictate how I see my body.
Our bodies are powerful things and they deserve all the respect we can give them, so I’m going to start doing just that. A little self-love can go a long way.
I know that my body is always beach ready, scars, flab and all the rest. How about yours?