"You look great!"
"You're sooooo tiny."
"What's your secret?"
Dropping to my lowest weight during my early 20s was twinned with receiving the most compliments I have ever had as an adult.
I was praised, told by a colleague I was her "thinspiration" and fussed over – all while being at my unhealthiest and clearly not eating.
I had my first major job in journalism for one of Britain's best-selling tabloids, and with merry-go-round of parties, the pressure to find exclusives, and staying up all night, I wasn't taking the best care of myself.
As a rookie journalist, outsider to the office in-jokes, it was only when the weight plummeted that I began to fit in. I was invited to birthdays and sat next to the boss on piss-ups. It seemed I had something they wanted. Thinness.
No one ever asked if I was okay in body or in mind. It was only ever applause. So I was left to my own devices; self-worth stripped down to how I looked regardless of the self-destructive methods of how I got there.
Fast-forward several years later to my current job as Digital Showbiz Editor at a rival publication, people are perpetually on diets, sampling the latest protein powder, discussing the contents of their stomach, and placed on pedestals for denying themselves a piece of birthday cake or chocolate being passed round.
"I don't have your willpower."
"My personal trainer's going to kill me."
"You're SO good!"
Good is defending someone who is being bullied. Good is being compassionate to others. Good is standing up for what you believe in even if you're standing alone. Good is not abstaining from a Quality Street.
We're constantly reinforcing to people that what we value in them is their aesthetic; how many times do we tell our friends "sick jacket", "cool hair", "hot jeans", "eyebrows on fleek", when what we actually cherish about them is their wit, loyalty, honesty, or eccentricity.
This, coupled with the relentless messages we are bombarded with by advertisers and the beauty industries that slenderness is next to godliness, or strong is the new skinny, plus the exponential rate at which tweaked and filtered selfies fill up our timelines (spurring us to forever compare ourselves to others), you can see how the view in which we picture ourselves can warp monstrously out of shape.
And at this time of year we spend months fetishising food in the run-up to Christmas; salivating over M&S ads, maximising booze consumption, gorging on 2-4-1 offers; then come 1 January we're expected to drop a dress size, barraged with 'lose 30lbs in 30 days' testimonials and subliminally sold the idea that if we don't we're pigs. So we starve. Our body rebels. We binge. We feel guilty. We starve. Our body rebels. We binge. We starve... We yo-yo.
Come the following year, we set identical goals, never learning. With 16 million people in the UK depressed because of how they think they look, it's screamingly clear that the fad diets, juicing or body Bible books aren't solving the problem. If anything, the more obsessed we are by weight, the bigger we're becoming as a nation.
One in four British adults is now obese, with numbers in the UK having trebled over the last 30 years, and half the population estimated to be overweight by 2050. You only have to consider the billions spent by the NHS annually on obesity, along with the looming sugar tax, to see how the problem we face.
Every year, millions of us make resolutions, yet a recent YouGov poll for BBC Breakfast found that only 10 per cent of people stick to them. Reinventing who we are is a complex act that involves changing behaviours and rewiring the brain. Making and breaking habits is not an overnight fix, often taking several attempts to nail the one month mark when it begins to become subconscious.
That's why The Self-Esteem Team (SET) – the group I work with who travel the UK going into schools to teach students on mental health, body image and self-esteem – wanted to create a video to flip New Year's resolutions on their head.
Along with my SET colleagues, Natasha Devon and Grace Barrett, we created #newyearsreVolution by asking four high profile figures to suggest a resolution for the mind instead of the body.
We want to challenge the concept that a number on the scales is what makes us happy and reinvent how we value ourselves, helping people to create a change that won't just fizzle flat by 4 January.
First to jump aboard was Rachel Riley; a fitting choice as Countdown's mastermind who spins the "pretty blonde" stereotype 180° by proving that mental gymnastics is far more attractive than any bra size.
Second to join us was Charlotte Crosby; the Geordie Shore reality star who is a megaphone for the Now Generation attached to their phones like a fifth limb, who warns not to miss out on real life by only thriving in cyberspace.
Third to say yes was Jamal Edwards MBE, founder of SBTV and the king of entrepreneurial enterprise. A self-made CEO showing that ambition is a great deal weightier than how many bench presses you may or not be able to do.
Completing the line-up is Michelle Lewin, a fitness model of stratospheric levels, who promotes the idea that people are greater than the number of likes on their last selfie.
Let me be clear, we are not saying sit around, eat lard all day and disregard your health in favour of devouring whatever, whenever you want, because hey, life is short.
The objective is to nurture your mental health, re-evaluate the motive to exercise (is it to conform to a narrow beauty ideal or is it because it makes you feel alive), then taking care of your body will follow.
Having high self-esteem and respecting the house it lives in (YOU) is like buying a car then keeping it shiny because you like it. You wouldn't just leave it to fester and fall apart. In a nutshell, love the skin you're in, and you avoid yo-yoing between starvation, binging and self-bashing.
In a world where hospital admissions for men with eating disorders have risen 66 percent over the last decade, 18 million people do not exercise due to body anxiety, and 1 in 5 primary school girls are on a diet, our mental health needs some TLC.
So, for 2016, nourish don't punish yourself; focus on the process not just the end result; and if you have a bad day, don't worry, just carry on tomorrow (like knitting, if you drop a stitch, you don't go back to the beginning, you pick up where you left off).
Here's to the new you, working on your self, not just your selfie.
- More about:
- Self Esteem Team
- New Year's Resolutions
- Self esteem
- Mental Health