I’ve been in Fiji for almost a week, most days wearing just a bikini, and it’s really made me analyse the way I feel about myself and my body these days.

Who is this woman who looks in the mirror, gives herself a ‘thumbs up’ and carries on with her day?

Who is this woman who catches sight of herself applying moisturiser in the morning, looks into her own eyes, and smiles?

Who is this woman who sits comfortably on the beach, not caring what anyone else thinks about the way her body looks, not trying to ‘look good’ from all angles, not even sucking her tummy in for photos… who is this woman?

I can tell you, she is a far cry from the girl I remember.  The girl who would stay home instead of going out with friends because she was “too fat”.  The girl who ate salads in public and then binged on peanut M&Ms and chocolate chip cookies when no one was looking.  The girl who hated her body, refused to look in the mirror and only ever frowned at her own reflection. The girl who broke down in tears when a counsellor asked her to repeat the words ‘I am beautiful’.

I spent years of my life wanting to be someone else.  

I wanted to be a special kind of pretty – the kind that had perfect long blonde hair, blue eyes, tanned skin and pearly white teeth.  The kind that seemed to have a perfect life because they were so darn pretty. Does that person even exist? Maybe only in the movies and on tv.

I spent years chasing a certain ‘figure’ and deeming myself unacceptable unless I had the “perfect” body, according to the media.  

I wasted too much of my life wanting to look like someone else, and fit into the stereotype of what pretty looks like.  But somewhere along the line, I realised that I won’t ever look like someone else, because I look like me. I won’t ever be someone else, because I am me.  And that’s pretty darn special in itself, because there’s no one else like me in the world.

I realised that instead of being a blonde-haired, blue-eyed kind of pretty, I am my own kind of pretty.  I’m a curly-haired, freckled, soft kind of pretty. I’m a smile-as-big-as-my-face kind of pretty. I’m a genuine and caring kind of pretty.  And that’s okay with me.

I realised that instead of chasing what I thought was the “perfect” figure, I could be happy with my body just the way it is.  

I have stretch-marks on my hips and a jelly belly at times, and that’s okay with me. I have a husband who loves me for me, and he doesn’t care about any of those things, so why should I?  I guess the point I’m making is that you can either spend your entire life trying to attain some kind of “perfect” body, or you can just be happy with the one you have. And my perfect body these days is the one where I feel the healthiest and most energetic.  I don’t want to be a size 6 model, I just want to feel healthy in the body that I have.

So how did I get from the girl who hated her body and binged, to the woman who loves and accepts her body the way it is?

I don’t think it was an overnight change.  I think I just got fed up with constantly trying to be someone else, or at least look like someone else.  I think I got tired of trying to keep up appearances and tired of putting so much energy into hating my body and constantly trying to change it.

I see the love my husband has for me – unconditional, pure love – and I think to myself, if he can love me maybe I could love myself too…

I look at my two year old niece – completely carefree, not wondering how she looks or whether or not she’s “pretty enough”, but enjoying each moment as it comes.  Kids seem to have a wonderful way of connecting to the present moment, and finding joy in even the smallest of things. It would break my heart to see my niece grow into the girl I used to be – the girl who hated her body and questioned her appearance and suppressed her emotions with food.  And so I do my best to embody the type of woman I want my niece to look up to – confident, healthy and happy in my own skin.

And sure, I still have relapses.  I still have moments where I wish I were thinner, or that my hair was less frizzy, or that I didn’t have those stretch marks on my hips.  But they’re fleeting thoughts, and just as quickly as they arise, they are gone. In a world where we are constantly bombarded with messages of how we should look, how we should dress, what we should buy and who we should be, it’s perfectly normal that our minds will drift back to our old ways of body-hate.  Loving and accepting yourself just as you are is a journey, but I believe it is the most important journey you can take in your life.

As Louise Hay so eloquently says:

“You’ve spent your entire life hating your body.  Why don’t you try loving it instead, and see what happens..”