Accept yourself

“You don’t need cream, you don’t need this and that. The only way to be beautiful is to accept yourself,”

The photographer Peter Lindbergh said this during a recent interview about his photo shoots for the 2017 Pirelli calendar. The publication has been going through a bit of a transformation in the last couple of years with a lot less flesh on show and women of substance appearing. Last year Annie Liebowitz chose accomplished woman from diverse fields including sport, finance and blogging. In 2017 the sitters are all actresses whom Lindbergh described as having a ‘real intellectual background’ and the group includes a significant number of older sitters.

 At a recent expo I caught a presentation by a leading cosmetic surgeon: fillers, liposuction, breast reduction, breast augmentation, procedures and treatments for aging skin, scars, stretch-marks, loose/excess skin. With the exception of reconstructive, corrective or trauma related cosmetic surgery this is something I personally have no interest in and indeed take issue with. Why do women, and men, feel the need to use these procedures? Why can we not accept ourselves flaws and all?

 Without getting into the whole physical beauty debate I accept that we all have our vanities and lack of confidence in that area, even I who generally claims to not give a ****. The lines, varicose veins, stretch marks and aging skin do not bother me, but I colour my hair, wear make-up and confess that I like it when my fitness peaks and I am a bit lighter and bit more toned.

Coincidentally, another message that has been appearing on my radar is the ‘everyone has wobbly bits’ so don’t sweat it, it doesn’t matter: so true and so refreshing that it is out there. Hell, I have had wobbly bits for as long as I can remember and even at my lightest, most trim and toned they have still ‘hung’ about.

Katherine Hepburn as beautiful in old age as when young, if not more so 

Katherine Hepburn as beautiful in old age as when young, if not more so 

Coming back to the actresses and icons some of the most beautiful women have chosen to age as nature intended; Katherine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, Audrey Hepburn, Charlotte Rampling to name a few. Whilst eschewing cosmetic surgery Lauren Bacall once remarked how strange and confusing it will be for archaeologists in the distant future when they dig and find all these graves full of a bones and little silicone bags.

Lauren Bacall aged with grace and remained beautiful

Lauren Bacall aged with grace and remained beautiful

What is interesting here is that perhaps the reason these iconic women age so beautifully is that they have accepted themselves in the broader sense of ‘the only way to be beautiful is to accept yourself’ and it is that inner beauty that we see.

A key message a fellow speaker at the expo included in her talk was to stop making comparisons as ‘we nearly always put ourselves on the negative end of this’.

I believe this is integral to accepting ourselves and being beautiful.  We are all unique, we are good at some things and not others, we all have our good points and we all have our flaws, sometimes these flaws are a source of beauty.

How many times did I compare myself to the yummy-mummies and ladies who lunch at the school gates and fell short, when in reality I was winning hands down as a professional working mum who is good at her job and setting a great example for her daughters.

As runners we can be particularly prone to playing the comparison game. I have often caught myself doing it, rocking up to an event and going,

‘Oh ****, look at all these lean mean running machines. They are going to be so fast and I am going to be tail end Charlie. This is going to be so humiliating’.

Sometimes I am tail end Charlie but often I am not, and my ability to chug along without much in the way of rest stops is an advantage: the old hare and tortoise game. Looks can be deceiving.

A few months ago when discussing sponsorship with someone, I commented that there was no point approaching a particular brand as they already sponsored another ultra-runner who was faster, younger and more high profile and were therefore unlikely to sponsor me. She interrupted me, told me to stop right there.

Don’t take this the wrong way, but if I was sitting next to you on the bus I would not think she’s an ultra-runner, but that is your strength. It makes you approachable. It makes what you do all the more amazing and it inspires others; makes them realise that they could do it too.

I came to running late and have never been fast. After a number of years of 10k and half marathon frustration, failing to accept myself for what I am and too much comparison with other runners I discovered the marathon. Completing that first marathon was a beautiful experience and the first step to accepting the runner that I am. The ultra-marathon followed on from this, then the extreme events all of which seem suited to my strengths and created a greater sense of contentment.

Everyone finds marathons and ultras hard and they are unpredictable with many external factors able to affect performance: comparison with previous attempts and other runners is futile. Regardless of physique, age, speed or level of fitness we all have moments when we feel helpless and as if we can’t go on. We all have races that we do not finish. Sometimes we make it look easy sometime not.

I accept myself physically. I accept that I am aging and all that that entails. I accept that my bikini wearing days are over (if indeed they ever started).

I accept my mad curly hair that will never be neat and glossy.

I accept that I am flawed and that there are things I just can’t and never will be able to do well.

I accept that I am the runner that I am.

I accept that I don’t and will not often win things. I accept that actually just finishing a race is a win.

I accept and do not care that I am regarded by some as an unlikely ultra-runner and do not put myself under the pressure to try and become an athlete I am not.

I accept that I will be regarded by some as lacking commitment because I don’t run a hundred miles a week and I bumble along socialising and stop to admire views and take pictures. They are the ones that are missing out, missing the beauty that surrounds them: physical, geographical and metaphysical.

I accept that it takes longer to recover now and that my 24 year old daughter can whip my ass on next to no training. 

The great thing about accepting yourself is that it removes the pressure. It gives you a quiet inner confidence and sense of calm. You are happy, and happiness shines beautifully. You set and aspire to your own expectations and not those set by others. You set your own challenges and goals. This is the beauty of acceptance and the beauty of you.