Q&A: Blogger Stephanie Elswood talks about her body confidence
"I had to do something about it. I wanted to make myself healthier, to feel good from the inside out and take control of the situation."
Stephanie Elswood, a blogger who struggled with her body confidence, spoke about how she stays #BodyPositive.
Could you tell us about some of the difficult experiences which have shaped your life?
I have been interested in dance and musical theatre since a very young age. At 14 I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to go to a full-time musical theatre school. I went to a dance university early at 16 whilst most of my friends were just starting their A-levels.
As much as it wasn't a competitive environment, you can't help but compare yourself to others. I was still practically a child and I was in classes with women who had far more life experience and years of training behind them. Although there were people my age, I still found it very difficult to feel talented or worthy of my place at the university.
I found rejection at auditions and castings almost unbearable and did not have a thick enough skin to the harsh criticisms at all. Imagine someone telling you that the reason you didn't get a job is because of all the things that you already hate about yourself.
In my second year my body confidence was at an all-time low and I didn't want to go out with friends or live the life of a regular 17 year old. I started having issues with food, calorie counting to extremes and becoming obsessive. I was very emotional all the time, I lost my personality, I was negative and overly self destructive. I don't know how my friends put up with me!
In my third year I decided I had to do something about it. I wanted to make myself healthier, to feel good from the inside out and take control of the situation. That's when I started my Instagram blog @healthychefsteph as an online diary.
You've been a champion with regards to overcoming difficult times with regards to body image - can you tell us more about your work?
It wasn't easy. I was very fortunate to have amazing friends and family around me who put up with my mood swings and negativity.
I found it very helpful having the blog as it changed my relationship with food. Instead of food being a bad thing, I was excited to create my next recipe and to share it with people.
It was originally just purely my meals, until a good friend of mine encouraged me to post a photo of myself and show more of my personality. It was the scariest thing I have ever done. I've never been one for selfies and I hated having my photo taken, but as shallow as it sounds, when nice comments and messages started to come through it definitely boosted my confidence.
I also had help from a weekly therapist. I'm now comfortable to talk about it but at the time I thought it made me a freak having to see someone for help at the age of 18. I can't stress enough how much she helped me. After 18 months I am in such a better headspace and so grateful for the treatment. It allowed me to talk openly about my feelings and problems in a totally judgement-free environment where I didn't fear people would think I was 'attention seeking'.
Of course I'm still a girl. We have our moments where our hair or make up won't go right and it's the end of the world. But I'm far happier and more confident in myself.
What issues do you think young women struggle with today?
I really think young woman are too worried about their appearance. There is so much in the media about what we should look like and not the people we should want to become.
The 'perfect image' changes so regularly that none of us can really keep up. When I was 15 the 'thigh gap' was the biggest craze. Now everyone wants a bum like Kim Kardashian and fleeky eyebrows.
Obviously I love to Instagram but at the same time I frequently have to stop myself from comparing myself to other bloggers. An Instagram account is just someone's version of themselves that they are happy to share with the world. From a few photos and captions, you can't tell someone's true emotions. They could have the 'ideal body', 'the perfect life' and eat healthy food all the time but they could be miserable!
That's why I try and stay as honest on my blog as possible. I will show people when I have a cheat meal. I'm human... we need chocolate!
What do you do to help yourself feel more positive about your body?
From my dance background, I have always been active and moving. I personally find working out enjoyable and it really does make me feel better about myself.
Especially working out with friends. Sometimes instead of going to dinner for a catch up, my girls and I will train together or go for a class together and I absolutely love it!
My top tip for enjoying working out is to find a gym buddy that makes you laugh whilst exercising. That way it's not a chore!
If you could give one piece of advice to a young woman who might be feeling down about herself, what would it be?
The best advice I could give is don't punish yourself! Take a moment to acknowledge what you have to offer and to appreciate your talents, achievements and beauty.
If you've had a bad day write down three things that have gone well. If you're starting to be too self critical, write down five things that you like about yourself. Even try telling someone you trust about your problems. I'm the strongest believer that a problem shared is a problem halved.
Try to turn every negative thought into a positive one. It's so easy to be your own worst enemy but it is so much nicer to be your own best friend.