I learned to hate everything about my body as a child. I was different to everyone else. I had a disability, which meant that my body looked - and sometimes reacted - differently to what is considered to be the norm. I rarely saw images of myself or my own experiences reflected in the media, and that had a resounding impact on my own body image.
Knowing that my body didn't fit the social standards of physical ability left me feeling inadequate and ashamed. I felt as though my body was failing me, because I wasn't able to do what everyone else could do with ease. I learned to punish myself believing that I somehow deserved it.
I struggled with an eating disorder, specifically bulimia, and depression throughout my teens and most of my twenties. It destroyed my international swimming career, relationships and friendships.
Learning to accept my body has been my biggest challenge, but over the years it has definitely gotten easier. Motherhood has played the most significant role in my learning to really appreciate and accept my body. That being said, I didn't love everything about being pregnant, and I did find myself worrying about how to regain my pre-baby body.
As I grew a life inside me, and my body began to change, I found it difficult to accept the transitions that were taking place, all of which I had absolutely no control over. I gained a significant amount of weight, and I remember telling myself that I would work hard to lose it once my baby was born. To be honest it was really scary to have those thoughts again, especially after working so hard to be stable in my recovery journey for so many years.
But something profound happened the moment I gave birth. A genuine sense of admiration, for myself and my body. I did it! I survived childbirth and had a beautiful baby to show for it. I genuinely began to be grateful for for my body that day.
We hear it all the time, but you never truly understand what those words mean until you grow, birth and feed a tiny human with your own body.
I’m in constant awe of mothers everywhere and I truly believe that motherhood is the manifestation of nature at its highest potential.
Only now do I feel a genuine connection with myself and my body. Motherhood has taken away my existential woes and replaced them with an awe of human existence.
Of course as a woman I still experience moments where I feel negative about my body, but those thoughts are few and far between.
I certainly felt the pressure to lose the baby weight quickly, and of course I ensured that I was doing some gentle exercise and eating healthy in the weeks and months after giving birth, but I no longer obsess, and there is a distinct difference between thinking about something and obsessing over it.
After all those years I spent berating myself, I'm now learning to be more mindful - something I thought I'd been practising for years. But it's only since becoming a mother that I've truly begun to listen to, and trust my body. It's about respect and surrendering.
My next biggest challenge is to try my hardest to ensure that my daughter grows up with a healthy sense of body esteem. As her mother I play the most important role in her development, and it’s my responsibility to lead by example, showing her through my own actions and behaviours, that positive body image can be practised every day.