The bikini is a scarlet neckholder made of the softest material. Its simple but stylish design makes you think of chic women sunbathing on the Riviera – the kind of look I've always admired in magazines or stores.
When I put it on, it fits perfectly and isn't too revealing, but I feel almost naked when I wear it.
I was a few years younger than most women when they learned to hate their bodies (because most of us do at some point)
Before I step in front of the camera, I dare to look in the full-length mirror.
I'm in my 40th year, the exact age when most women put their two-piece suits in the bottom drawer and instead opt for a decent swimsuit to hide wobbly tumors and stretch marks after giving birth.
But here I am wearing a bikini for the first time. Yes ever t because I plan to be on a beach vacation anytime soon.
But because I want to show the world the scars that run through my stomach and banish forever the little voice inside of me that kept telling me that my body is ugly.
And you know what? In these pictures I see a woman with strong, taut arms and legs, no waist to speak – my two children thickened that – and a big smile. Meanwhile, my stomach looks as flat as it ever was, despite the scars that are creating a pattern across my stomach.
Oh yes, the scars. A total of nine (two of which are hidden by the gang of my bikini bottoms), the legacy of a lifelong operation. About pain, but also about survival.
After all, in middle age, I'm strong enough to show them to the world.
I was a few years younger than most women when they learned to hate their bodies (because most of us do at some point).
The moment is alive in my memory. I was only seven years old and changed my clothes after swimming in a room full of girls who shoved their damp legs into itchy tights. Wet hair painted dark spots on their white vests.
I was struggling to pull mine over my head when my friend (or so I thought) turned to me and simply said, "What a shame you have scars, Kitty – no one will ever love you."
Her voice could be heard clearly above the giggling noise. The girls around us laughed in agreement.
We all know children can be cruel, but that was almost impressive in its skillful wounding.
I put on my top and said something back – I can't remember what. I was determined that no one would see the tears in my eyes.
But the damage has been done. What I suspected was confirmed by my colleagues. I was ugly and the belief that I was so different, that my body was so damaged that I was naturally not lovable, would take years to fade.
And after that, of course, I took every precaution to make sure no one saw my scars.
I could change under towels and only wore tops that had no chance of riding up and showing my stomach.
In photos of my teenagers and 20-year-olds, I almost always hide my middle with one hand or arm, even when I'm fully dressed.
The story of me wearing a bikini in a photo studio surrounded by people is a story of humiliation that turns into pride.
I've never known a body that wouldn't let me suffer.
I was born in 1980 with a disease called Hirschsprung's Disease, a disorder of the abdomen that occurs when part or all of the colon has no nerves and therefore cannot function.
They operated on when I was only three days old, removed the non-functioning segment of the intestine and created a colostomy (an opening in the large intestine that leads to a pouch that was worn on the outside of the body), which was reversed nine months later.
I should be cured, but unfortunately not.
The bikini is a scarlet neckholder made of the softest material. The simple yet stylish design makes you think of chic women sunbathing on the Riviera (picture)
When I was 12, 16, 17, 19, and finally 22, I had to have another major operation – another scar on my body every time I left a legacy.
I was also born with a talipes (club foot), which to this day gives me a slight limp and a slight malformation on the top of my spine, which means that I have limited movement in my neck.
At 16, while most of my friends' biggest worries were bad skin or boy's problems, I had an operation to do an ileostomy (similar to a colostomy) and spent many weeks in the hospital.
Living with that was bleak. This stoma reversed after a year, but I was still not "fixed".
My years of study were shaped by medical appointments and procedures. I've always felt different – thanks to my life experiences, I learned more about pain and loss at a young age than almost anyone I knew.
And I continued to fear any reaction from friends (of any gender) to my scars and bumpy stomach.
Luckily my health calmed down in my 20s and I managed to hold a full time job at this newspaper and fall in love with a handsome young army officer.
Ed didn't seem to notice my scars and found it strange (then and now) that they would bother me. He loved me and my scars were irrelevant.
We got married 11 years ago and thanks to IVF (internal scars blocked my fallopian tubes which made natural conception impossible) we were blessed with two healthy children: Chloe, eight years old, and Max, almost five years old.
Both pregnancies resulted in traumatic emergency caesarean sections – and two new scars.
Of course, my babies are worth every single stitch, and I knew deep down that I should only celebrate the body that created two wondrous lives.
But although I was always grateful for my luck, I still found it difficult not to get angry about the physical flaws and the appearance of my body.
The story I learned in my childhood was ingrained, and my scars were a constant reminder of the years I'd lost to illness.
If I'm being honest, I had resigned myself to feeling this way for the rest of my life while making absolutely no difference that my lack of confidence in my looks would never affect my daughter (or son).
When I was 35 years old and Max was a baby, I felt down and incapable – my second birth was proving to be more difficult mentally and physically to recover.
I had no energy and none of my old clothes fit. A friend persuaded me to take a fitness class in a village house.
I was nervous – I hadn't participated in any structured exercise since school – but I started soon.
My mood improved and the skinny jeans fitted again. To be honest, I was bored and my presence fizzled out.
I've tried a few different gyms but something just didn't click.
But then, two years ago, a new place, TONIQ, opened in my hometown of Bath and changed everything.
It offered a mix of high intensity interval training (HIIT) and weight training with dumbbells and heavy weights that I had always (wrongly) assumed were only for testosterone-fueled men.
There was also a holistic atmosphere with yoga classes, Qi Gong (moving meditations that improve blood circulation in the body), stress and breath management, and diet recommendations (never diet).
I decided to give it a try.
Fitness experts at TONIQ, led by Arron Collins-Thomas (former personal trainer at Somerset & # 39; s Babington House, the media glitters' favorite hangout) advised me to give up the scales and calorie counting – which, while not obsessed, definitely my goal was. Method of losing a few pounds – and instead focusing on moving my body as much as possible and eating intuitively.
Soon I got addicted (especially the weights) and 26 months after walking through TONIQ's doors for the first time, I still go four or five times a week.
The kid and teenager who loathed physical education, were never selected for a team, and always came last on hideous sports days, have become a woman who looks forward to training.
Courses went online during the lockdown and those morning zoom sessions have kept me healthy and fit over this long, strange year.
The physical changes were significant. While it wasn't my primary goal, I lost weight (19 pounds for those interested) through my 5 foot frame and a few inches of unhealthy fat that smoothed my scars and stomach.
Much more important, however, are the profits. I've built muscle and I'm so much stronger. I can deadlift 60 pounds, which is 10 percent more than my own weight.
My body has changed shape and I have definition everywhere. I'm more flexible and my bad leg and neck hurt a lot less than before.
The mental changes were even more profound. My life and attitudes are completely different and prove that change is possible for all of us if we have the will – because of course consistency is key.
Every time I lift a heavy weight or do a set of pushups, I get a great sense of achievement.
I can keep up with my active kids, run around with them, and carry them with ease. The clothes fit better and I love going to bed exhausted from the exertion.
I still enjoy my old vices, but I indulge myself less often and no longer need a glass of wine to relax or a bar of chocolate to cheer myself up.
And I feel good about myself A protective arm no longer covers my stomach in photos. I feel strong and healthy.
Those happiness-promoting endorphins that are created during exercise have made me a more positive person – even in 2020!
And I needed these endorphins because my internal health has unfortunately deteriorated over the past year.
I've seen multiple hospitalizations, uncomfortable tests, and days of terrible pain.
During the lockdown, I was eventually diagnosed by a gastroenterologist who confirmed what I already knew: my colon was no longer working effectively.
You have the option of removing the whole thing and giving me a permanent ileostomy pouch or using medication to make my body work.
I ruled out the first option as any further surgery would be life threatening, so it's option two.
Unfortunately, it pains me so much – so much that I need oral morphine and lose at least a couple of afternoons a week in a miserable blur.
But I've managed to keep exercising and my counselor says he is sure that my fitness is helping my body do much better than if I didn't.
So I'm sick but also strong. I curled up in agony one day on the sofa and the next morning I lift more than my own body weight.
I was hospitalized in an emergency and finished third in a fitness competition just a week later.
A plastic medal I received hangs proudly on the mirror of my dressing table. I was back in the gym days after the procedure under general anesthesia.
I can smash pushups, run for miles and ride a spin bike until my heart bursts, and now I love swimming in freezing rivers.
And it's these successes that help me get through the bad days.
Even without the added challenges I face, it's not bad for a 40-year-old who didn't discover movement until he was 35.
Don't think for a minute that I think I am suddenly gorgeous or have the perfect body. It is far from it, but it is strong and utterly imperfect.
I'll never have a six pack, but I have pretty good scars and I think they're just as impressive.
I am so grateful to have discovered what my body is capable of and – here is the mental and emotional transformation – I finally learned to love it instead of pissing it off for its mistakes.
My daughter is now telling me that she wants to be as athletic as me and my two children love my scars and accept them as an integral part of Mummy.
My husband always thought they were beautiful.
So here I am facing what would have been my worst nightmare just a few years ago – wearing a bikini as publicly as possible.
And you know what? It really feels amazing.
I've always been awkward when taking my picture, but the smile in this photo is 100 percent real. I am having fun and I feel fabulous.
My only regret That it took me so long to realize that the only person who really cared about my scars was me.
I just wish I could tell my younger self to proudly bare its belly. As the famous song of The Greatest Showman proclaims, "This is me" in all of my flawed glory.
I just hope my history of body awareness, which I learned in my fourth decade, could encourage other women of all ages to realize that it is never too late.
If this easily broken, scarred (almost) middle-aged mother of two can learn to feel safe in her own skin, then anyone can.