This weekend, my daughter was invited to a birthday party at an aquatic centre. It was one of those annoying kids’ parties where the parents are expected to stay (rather than do the drop off and then bolt to a local cafe with the other parents for a couple of hours of either latte or wine sipping – no judging, please).

“Got your bathers? Are you getting in?” someone asked me.

“Ha! No. I don’t own a pair of bathers!” was my response.

And it’s true – I don’t own a pair of bathers. I can’t remember the last time I got into a pool. The thought of being in bathers around others gives me nightmares. There are parts of my body that I take great lengths to cover up, and lumps and bumps are definitely not for public viewing. I see it as a community service – no one needs to see my knees!

I know this is ridiculous. My body does all it’s meant to do – it gets me up and about; it conceived, grew and produced a child; it allows me to work, play and live and it supports me as I teeter around on ridiculously high heels. It does everything it’s meant to do.

And yet, when I think about my body, all I can see is the problem areas. I spend a lot of time sucking in my stomach and being beyond critical.

I am also conscious of the fact that there is a seven year old girl in my house and I am already hearing stories of her friends commenting on their bodies. Positive role modelling is important and I try to do that by never complaining about my body in front of her, only ever referring to her body in terms of health and strength, and never commenting negatively or positively on other people’s bodies. We don’t have trashy magazines in the house, we don’t watch TV shows about weight loss and there is no praise or discussion of celebs that shed their baby weight in three minutes flat.

A couple of years ago, I joined a women’s only gym. There was the ‘inspiration wall’ where we were meant to put a photo of how we wanted to look after we ‘got in shape’. There was photo after photo of size 6 models in bikinis.

Each time I swiped my card at the gym, one of the perky assistants would look up and say “Where’s your inspiration photo, Renza? Who do you want to look like when you reach your goals?” I can still remember the looks of disbelief when I brought in my photo, a picture of a healthy cardiovascular system. “That’s my goal,” I said. “Health.” My photo never made it up on the wall.

Generally, conversations about bodies are about beauty. It’s rarely about health. How do we change the parameters for these conversations?

I don’t have the answers to this issue. It is so complex and my own personal situation is fraught. I am not happy with my body. Does this mean I have body image issues? I worry about putting on weight for shallow-I-want-to-wear-that-dress reasons, but also for health reasons. I know how extra weight affects my diabetes. I know how diabetes affects my weight. I also struggle with the fact that when I do try to exercise, I hypo. And need to eat. It frustrates me beyond belief!

There is some great information out there about diabetes and body image. But I think it focuses on the extremes. And whilst it’s incredibly important to provide information for those living with both diabetes and an eating disorder, we need to find ways to speak about how we feel about bodies when the situation isn’t so extreme. We need to speak about these issues without being judged, told to ‘just get over it’ or given a pop-psychology lecture about taking control of our destinies (I may have lifted that last line from The Biggest Loser website. Or not.)

Does the first step for me involve biting the bullet, buying a pair of bathers, putting them on and heading to the local pool with my daughter and splashing around with her? Trying, desperately trying not to feel self-conscious. And I need acknowledge the great things my body has done and continues to do. And somewhere in there find acceptance.

More information?

Read the National Diabetes Services Scheme Eating Disorders and Diabetes information booklet here.

Eating Disorders Foundation of Victoria.

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