How I learned to overcome the brainwashing of the diet culture and love my body

Find out how fashion stylist Abbey Booth learned to overcome brainwashing by the diet industry and learn to embrace her mid-size figure.

And how she now helps other women learn to love their bodies too through her work as a personal stylist.

I grew up with leg warmers and aerobics

I grew up in the 80’s where leg warmers, aerobics and new fangled workout programmes were like coffee shops today – everywhere! Diet culture became an accessible ‘hobby’ for millions of women and the language used just became part of our culture.

My mum got really into it and was always off on some new exercise class, buying a weird machine that looked like it was a device of torture and eventually joining a gym and going every Saturday with my aunt to have fun in their leotards and shell suits!

It was big business and we were surrounded by images of happy, thin people dancing around exercising and the three became entwined – you exercised to get thin so you could be happy.

Exercise is about much more than weight loss

Exercising gives you so much more than just weight loss or controlling tactics, the benefits of endorphins the feel good hormones which are proven to improve moods, depression and anxiety are now widely known.

Joe Wicks should be thanked by the nation for getting millions of children around the world up and exercising everyday during lockdown for the simple joy and sheer love of doing it! Not to get thin or beat yourself up for the cake you ate or the pasta you enjoyed eating last night.

Diet culture was instilled in me at a young age

Diet culture instilled in me at a young age that dieting was an essential part of life, that being thin would make me happy and that you exercised almost as a way of punishing yourself for the food you had eaten and enjoyed.

Don’t get me wrong – I love my food and always have done, but my relationship with it hasn’t always been healthy. And I now know it was through insidious language, imagery and bombardment used by advertisers, magazines and newspapers to create feelings of insecurity, inadequacy and worthlessness that became common language used at the time.

‘I’ll have to work out extra hard for that piece of bread I’ve eaten’ or ‘You look great, have you lost weight?” as well as a raft of celebrity weight loss books, protein shake diets and appetite suppressants.

The 80’s was extreme it seems in every way from the hair, the colours, the clothes to the crazy diets!

I’m now a proud mid-sizer – and I help other women to love their bodies too

I now have a really great relationship with food through healthy, mindful eating and love exercise purely for the way it makes me feel. I’m now a proud mid-sizer and part of my job as a personal stylist is uplifting and empowering my clients to love their bodies as they are and be kind to themselves.

Women of my generation and older are often so hard on our bodies, only seeing the things we dislike and giving ourselves a really hard time.

Understanding body shape is integral to embracing our shape and was a lightbulb moment for me to be able to share this with my clients and see their mindset changing. Our clothes just enhance what is inside us, not the other way around.

I wanted to be a great role model to my children

Part of the change has come about due to me wanting to be a great role model to my children.

As they got older I could see them notice and be influenced by the world and other people so it became more and more obvious that I needed to be mindful of the language I used around them, the way I talked to myself and the way I encouraged and supported them.

And not just praising them their beauty (all parents think their children are wonderful, beautiful beings after all!) but also praising them for their personalities and what is inside them – kindness, strength, empathy, gentleness etc.

My daughter has in turn encouraged and supported me when in recent years I struggled with weight gain after an illness which left me feeling sluggish and lethargic and unable to exercise at times.

I found myself slipping into a dark place where I wasn’t being kind to myself and felt angry at the situation and that I hadn’t been listened to by the medical profession.

It took going privately and seeing a specialist to get the diagnosis I had been asking for and subsequent medication which has stabilised my weight and more importantly helped my mental health. 

It wasn’t so much the weight gain it was the fact I felt invisible, unheard and so out of control of my own life. My daughter wrote me a beautiful letter after a particularly upsetting incident for me where I was having to buy new clothes and suddenly felt overwhelmed at the sadness of the situation and at the same time desperate to not let her see me like this!

She left the letter on my pillow, so when I went to bed there it was and it is one of the most heartfelt, kind and loving notes anyone has ever written for me. Whilst I would like to keep most of its content private she did say, ‘Mummy you are beautiful inside and out whatever size you are’.

It was a massive wake up call to buckle up, get the diagnosis and move on with my life happily and with integrity.

And now I am honoured to share my story with empathy with other women who don’t feel like themselves or feel confused about their place or where they fit in this world – to stand tall, own their space and embrace their bodies and who they are right now. Life is short after all!

Abbey Booth is a personal stylist and owner of Stories With Clothes.