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'What Happened When I Posted My Almost-Naked Body Online'

In the midst of bikini season, Bryony Gordon reveals how she's learned to love her body...

It did briefly occur to me to me, as I stood in a TV studio in my bra and knickers, that what I was about to do was completely bonkers. Going on national television, Good Morning Britain no less, in nothing but my underwear, was not a normal way to start the day.

As a member of the production team attempted to find somewhere to hook my microphone (not easy when you lack pockets or belts), I was suddenly hit with a jolt of pure fear. I was 37, 15 stone, a size 16 to 18. The only six pack I had featured yogurts and was back home in my fridge. I was no Victoria’s Secret model – and if I was, I would be Victoria’s Shameful Secret. My cellulite seemed to glare angrily at me. My stretch marks appeared to come alive under the harsh studio lights. This was the stuff of nightmares – realising you are naked in public – and yet here I was, with barely a stitch on, and a phalanx of TV cameras trained at my cleavage.

I took a deep breath, caught myself, reminded myself why I was doing this. And suddenly I felt completely relaxed. I felt more comfortable than if I was in a skin-tight dress, towering heels and stacks of make-up. And as we went live, I realised that, weirdly, I would be far happier with myself if I could just wear underwear all the time, and not have to make myself look like someone else.

My name is Bryony, and I’m a journalist and mental health advocate who has found an unlikely accidental side job as a body positive campaigner, largely thanks to my habit of taking my clothes off in public. This is somewhat amusing to me given that, in my teens and twenties, I would rather have died than be seen naked – back then I had a slimline body that fitted societal norms. That this should have happened to me now, with all the lumps and bumps that tend to adorn you when you have a five-year-old and a Deliveroo habit, feels particularly sweet.

Next week, I’m off to be shot for a campaign by a bra designer. Me, a lingerie model, as I hurtle ever closer to 40 and ever further from the supple, smooth-skinned size 10 figure I maintained in my youth through bulimia and self-loathing. I’m not going to lie: it feels great. Karmic justice if you will, for all the years I spent hurting myself so I could look ‘the right way’, so that people would like me; because the moment I stopped, and embraced my body instead of wishing it away – well that was the moment that people really started to appreciate me. But more importantly, it was the moment that I started to appreciate myself.

This journey began for me a year and a half ago, when I signed up to do my first marathon – after years of obsessing over what my body couldn’t do (a handstand; look like Gisele; breastfeed, and so on), I decided to focus on what my body could do. I could barely run for a bus when I started marathon training, but within six months I had managed to get myself fit and healthy enough to run 26.2 miles. It was a revelation. I genuinely loved every minute of marathon training, because each week I discovered my big, beautiful body could do a little bit more.

It was after the marathon, when I read yet another news story about how people felt inferior because of doctored pictures on social media, that I decided to post my first almost-naked selfie. I stood in my bra and knickers, and asked my husband to take a picture. ‘Are you sure?’ he said. I was. I wanted to show people what a real body looked like – one that had just run a marathon. I posted it on Instagram, no filters, with the caption ‘this is what a runner’s body looks like’ and got on with my day. The next time I looked it had received thousands of likes.

And so began my quest to show my body as it is – the wobbly bits, the textures, the lines, the shadows, the everything. It’s strange how my relationship with myself has changed in the last year or so – instead of trying to put up a picture that looks like someone else, I find the picture that most looks like me. The response has been incredible – it makes other people feel good, and it makes me feel good in turn. Women often come up to me in the street and thank me for what I have done – and all I have done is be myself – before asking for a photo. It amazes me the number of times one of them winces at the resulting image, expresses horror at themselves. We have been brought up to be self-loathing. I remember, as a teenager, that if someone loved themselves it absolutely wasn’t a good thing. Right now, you’re probably fretting about not being ‘bikini body ready’, and the fact your skin hasn’t seen the light of day for 11 months. But nobody cares! You have a bikini. You have a body. Hey presto you’re bikini body ready.

As I’ve got older, I’ve realised that this body is the only one I’ve got. I’m going to love it, because what else is there? This isn’t a dress rehearsal. I am not going to lie on my death bed, wishing I had spent more time dieting. I’m going to wish I had done more with myself. That I had got out there and appreciated myself.

This spring, I did my second marathon – in my underwear (hence the appearance on Good Morning Britain). It was, quite literally, a truly liberating experience. How wonderful to be grateful for my skin, instead of wanting to unzip it and get a new one. If I was nervous about my body being on display at the beginning, by the end I felt nothing but pride. My body may have rolls but it is mine. It has grown a baby, run two marathons, kept me alive all these years. And as long as other women feel ashamed of what they have, I will continue to show it, flaunt it, and – mostly – love it. Because without it, I am nothing.