This month I interview Cliona Byrne @cliona_the_coach about Body Positive Parenting. Cliona is based in Paris and is a certified life coach, specialising in working with people on improving their body confidence. You can find out more about the amazing work Cliona does at www.clionabyrne.com.
- Hi Cliona, thank you for taking a bit of time to have a chat with me today! To start off, would you mind telling me a bit about yourself and what you do?
So, my name is Cliona Byrne and I run a coaching programme called Body Positive Programming. I help Mums who struggle with their body image to like their bodies so they can raise their kids to be body confident.
- How did you come to be in this career, what has been your journey to this point?
I’ve been through my own body image journey. I started disliking my body as a child. I remember scanning my body in the mirror and “feeling fat”. I hit puberty early and my body felt so big and out of place. In the last two years of primary school I was constantly told that I was fat and ugly by my classmates. It didn’t improve much during my teens either. On top of all of that I also had a problem with my jaw which meant that I was going to have an operation on my jaw to break it and realign it. My jaw went to the side so my teeth hardly over lapped and it was hard to bite into certain things such as sandwiches. The jaw issue became more obvious as I was teen because my face was growing and it would go through phases of being quite crooked.
After years of wearing braces I was finally ready to have the operation I needed to have my jaw corrected. During the run up to that operation I went on a crazy diet. I was certain that my life would be shiny and sparkly once I was beautiful. So, I lost weight and had my jaw fixed and guess what? I didn’t feel any different. It was then that I realised that the problem had never been my body but my relationship with myself. That’s when my own slow and sometimes painful journey began. I had to repair my relationship with the person in the mirror and comfort my inner child who was still hurt from years of being told that she wasn’t beautiful.
A few years later I decided that I wanted to help other people with their body image. I became a certified life coach and started helping people with their body image. I essentially became the person who I’d needed back when I didn’t like my body. As I was coaching people, they kept telling me the same two stories.
1. I started disliking my body when I was a kid. It all started when a family member said (insert comment) about my body
2. My Mum never liked her body, I’ve never liked my body, and I don’t want my kids to grow up feeling the same.
It became more and more clear to me that body image is formed in the home. Social media and celebs are all secondary, the primary place we learn how to feel about our bodies is at home. So I started working with Mums. I help them to like their bodies so they can show their kids how to do the same through example.
- What is your overall goal in the work you do?
My goal is to take Mums from a place where they hate their post-partum bodies, avoid all the family photos, hide beneath baggy clothes, and go on endless diets to a place where they like themselves. I want them to accept the goddess looking back at them in the mirror. I want them to not be scared to go to the beach with the kids, to be in all the pictures no matter how they look, and to have the tools to help their kids when someone says something negative about their appearances.
For every Mum I help, I’m also helping their kids and their grandkids.
- Is your perception that things are improving or becoming more challenging in terms of representation of all body types in the media?
There is an increase in more representation of different bodies in the media which is a great starting point but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. I’d love to see more shows with body confident mid-sized and fat characters. If I’d seen shows with diverse casts that included women at every size, race, and ability then I’m certain that it would have had a positive impact on how I felt about my body. Fat is still used as an insult in many shows and movies and fat characters are usually portrayed as insecure or just a funny side-kick. Netflix are doing a great job at creating shows with diverse casts and I applaud them for that because the more the better!
- What do you think is the biggest challenge to positive change in society’s perception of body types?
Fatphobia and diet culture. People have been taught for a long time that thin = healthy and fat = unhealthy but that isn’t true. Health can exist at all sizes. The truth is that many people have internalised fatphobia (I did when I was younger). When you hate the fat on your body then you are likely to go on diets, try detoxes, and try exercise your body into a different shape. This leads to disordered eating (which is not the same as an eating disordered but all eating disorders include disordered eating habits). Dieting is the most common and socially accepted form of disordered eating. Basically, once you start any form of restricting you are practising disordered eating. People need to start considering that their beliefs around bodies and health are not correct and are based on a diet industry that make stuff up so they can profit from people.
- Could you tell us a bit about your Body Positive Parenting Programme?
Sure, Body Positive Parenting includes 5x75 minutes of one-on-one coaching sessions with me. I work with clients over 5 weeks and during this time I coach them through their body image struggles and give them all the tips, tricks, and tools they needs to like their bodies and to help their kids do the same. By the end of the 5 weeks my clients are treating themselves and the mirror like a best friend. They speak well of themselves and others, are seeing a difference in their kids’ body image, and they know how to handle anything that comes their way (including a negative comment on their appearance). It’s an incredible transformation. And it doesn’t matter how old your kids are (they can even be adults). Body Positive Parenting works at every age.
- What step can someone take to start making a difference in how they feel about their body right now?
Start smiling at your reflection. Just that. Every time you see yourself make sure to smile in at the person you see looking back at you. When we smile our brains release endorphins which makes us feel good. You'll get an instant burst of feeling good and over time you'll associate seeing yourself with feeling good.
- Why is body confidence important?
You only have one life and one body, so you might as well start making peace with it otherwise you’ll waste your life disliking yourself.
- If you had one wish for every new mum, what would it be?
To start seeing themselves as the goddesses they are!
To work with Cliona check out her website www.clionabyrne.com.