Staring at my reflection in the mirror, I grabbed the loose skin around my belly.
"I need to get my body back," I sighed.
I loved my kids, Oliver, five, Cruz, four, and Mikaela, three, but three pregnancies and 4,500 breastfeeds had left my tummy wobbly and my breasts saggy. I felt broken – a far cry from the thin, perky woman I imagined my hubby, Matthew, wanted.
Determined to make a change, I'd saved up and booked in for a breast augmentation and tummy tuck.
But, watching my kids playing in the living room, I started to doubt myself. Giggling up at me with her chubby cheeks, Mikaela was still too young to worry about cellulite and diets.
But what would I do when she grew up? How can I teach Mikaela to love her body as it is if I can't love my own? I wondered.
If I wanted to make a change, it would have to be a healthy one.
I cancelled the ops and decided to really commit to my workouts at the gym. As I ran on the treadmill, I pictured my body shrinking down to the figure I'd always dreamed of having. I dedicated over two hours to exercise each day and counted my calories ruthlessly. I even signed up for a bodybuilding competition,to give myself the motivation I needed to push through.
After 15 weeks I'd lost 15kg and looked incredible.
But every second of my day, from when I woke to when my head collapsed on the pillow, was consumed with anxieties about weight loss. Worst of all, in those hours spent at the gym, I missed my kids terribly.
When the bodybuilding comp rolled around, I was nervous. Standing on stage in my sparkling silver bikini, I smiled through the fear. I'd worked my butt off and the evidence was written all over my body. The crowd cheered as I sauntered off the stage, but I wasn't satisfied.
The perfect physique hadn't made me happy. Instead, I felt like an ornament.
My body was so much more than that. It allowed me to play with my kids, socialise with my friends and love my husband. So why was I punishing it?
Instead of pushing myself too hard at the gym, I went for walks along the beach near my house. I ate healthily but I didn't count calories, and I didn't wrack myself with guilt every time I ate a slice of cake.
As the weeks passed, the kilos crept back. I wasn't as thin as I'd been, but I was healthy, active and, most importantly, happy.
I still had moments of weakness. Some mornings I'd peek at myself in the mirror and the word 'fat' would creep back into my mind.
At first I had to fake the positivity but, as time passed, loving myself became a habit. When I realised just how much time I'd wasted hating the way I looked, I knew I had to make a difference.
If I could embrace myself then every other woman could too.
I shared a 'before and after' photo on my Facebook page to help some friends who were also struggling with their own body image. Unlike most weight loss pics on the internet, the tanned bodybuilding pic was my 'before' photo.
For the 'after' shot I perched naked on a stool, happy to show all the soft flab and bumps I'd tried for years to hide.
My friends loved the pics but within days the post had snowballed out of control. Media outlets all over the world were sharing it, praising me for my bravery.
"You've gone completely viral," Mat gasped.
My inbox was flooded with 7000 emails from people all across the globe who had connected with my story.
"You've inspired me to love myself for the first time," one woman wrote.
I was proud but I also felt a responsibility to the people who'd been suffering through the same pain I'd experienced. I couldn't stay quiet.
I turned to Kickstarter, a crowdfunding site, with an idea to create a feature-length documentary to help women love their bodies.
My message resonated with people and I raised more than $331,000. Then, 12 months later, I travelled the world, filming the documentary with an incredible crew.
Unsurprisingly, in every country, women hated their bodies. My documentary wasn't a solution to the epidemic, but it helped create a global conversation.
Most of the feedback was incredible but I did receive some harsh criticism. People on the internet claimed I was promoting obesity and was a bad role model to my kids.
But I didn't care. I knew I lived healthily, mentally and physically, and was teaching my kids to do the same.
Now, a year has passed and I've published a book, Embrace Yourself, to help women feel as comfortable in their skin as I do. People stop me in the street in tears, thanking me for the difference I've made in their life.
It's humbling and fulfilling.
We're not put on Earth to be at war with our image. I used to loathe my body but now I focus on what it can do and how it feels, instead of being obsessed with how it looks.
I'm finally happy, and want every other woman on the planet to be happy too. After all, life is far too short to hate the skin you're in.
By Taryn Brumfitt
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