I was first introduced to Kayleigh through the wonderful The 88 and Friends, an online platform that celebrates and welcomes everyone that she co-founded with Mrs Dani Crater.
As one of half of the duo that I argue are the nicest, most positive people on the internet, it’s easy to look at Kayleigh with her eternal optimism, brilliant smile and killer confidence and assume that she was always this way. The more I followed Kayleigh, though, the more I learnt that her journey to self acceptance wasn’t as straight forward as I had first imagined.
Kayleigh has battled through an eating disorder, imposter syndrome and anxiety and has turned her back on alcohol in order to arrive at a place in life where she can proudly say that she feels good with who she is. Everything that Kayleigh has faced head on, she uses as an experience to help ensure that she is a person you can turn to, a person that will make you smile, a person that really is all about focusing on the good in every day.
In my opinion, you are one of the most authentic people online when it comes to practising what they preach when it comes to self acceptance and confidence. Have you always been this way?
When I was younger, I was an all singing, all dancing, brave, feisty little madam who didn’t care what others thought, but I think in high school that is knocked out of you. My self love and self acceptance took a massive hit. In my first year, I stood up to the class bully and reported him. My friends wouldn’t back me up and I learnt that if I was going to continue to be brave then I’d have to do it on my own. This knocked a lot of my confidence – I’d always ‘done the right thing’ but suddenly it wasn’t right anymore.
During that year, I also performed a Britney Spears hit on stage in front of the whole school. I’m a born performer and my school was a drama school, but I was made to feel like performing wasn’t right either. It seemed like you were supposed to shrink into the background or school was going to be be hell! I used to ask myself if I could do it when it went against everything I was.
I have to agree – high school is a time that tests your idea of who you are and often forces you to water yourself down or become a perfected version of yourself. Something you have said you have struggled with in this past is imposter syndrome and the need to be perfect all the time. Can you describe how this impacts you?
A lot of the time I believe that if I’m not perfect then I don’t deserve anything I get. Although I know perfection isn’t attainable and that this is a limiting belief, I feel like if I’m not perfect all the time I will be ‘called out’ for it, almost as if I’m not allowed to make mistakes. I don’t feel like I deserve what I get even when I have worked really hard to achieve it. It can feel like success is temporary and soon the person who gave me the opportunity or the job or the compliment will realise they were wrong.
As I am writing this, it sounds ridiculous but it is a real syndrome that many suffer with without realising it.
On top of your struggles with imposter syndrome, you are also open about struggling with an eating disorder in the past. What was life like living a life or being in a body that didn’t feel like your own?
If I’m honest, the times when my body didn’t feel like my own was when I was at my smallest. I was happy that I had slimmed down so much but I didn’t believe I looked ‘good’. I was probably suffering from a bit of body dysmorphia because what I saw wasn’t how I felt.
You’ve mentioned that you turned to alcohol to help calm your anxieties and deal with this. What difference did alcohol make to your life and your mindset?
Alcohol was easily accessible for me because I lived and worked in a pub for a lot of my working life, but it didn’t work, not really.
Alcohol tends to work for the night and then you replace your prior anxiety with what is commonly referred to as ‘beer fear’. I remember wishing that I could keep hold of the ‘no worries’ attitude I had with alcohol, only it disappeared and left me with more intense anxiety the next morning.
The things you went through to get to where you are today are tough, so to be talking about these things to openly today is an achievement. How did you begin to accept yourself?
I decided that I was worth something. Instead of concentrating on promotions I didn’t get, relationships that never happened or what I struggled with, I began to concentrate on what I was good at. I also started believing in karma and the idea that everything happening for a purpose. This is the meaning of the tattoo on my arm (as well as being Beatles lyrics).
When I gave up alcohol, I had to like the real me because the other me wasn’t available anymore. I realised that I was a nice person and I did have things to offer which weren’t limited to being a notch on someone’s bedpost or the girl to call when you wanted to get smashed.
In your journey to self love, what has been the most difficult moment so far and how did you overcome it?
Believing that I am worthy of someone loving me. I know my friends and my family love me but it’s still hard to accept that someone could be ‘in love’ with me. I have not overcome this yet but I am a lot further on than I used to be. It’s about believing what you think of yourself rather than what others think. I’ve been told that I’m high maintenance, that I’m gorgeous but a psychopath (a definite exaggeration, not the gorgeous part).
I truly believe that someone who wants to be with you will be able to cope no matter how ‘difficult’ you are. I have overcome this partly and I’m confident I will overcome completely.
You are definitely someone who is worthy of love and I hope some day soon you will feel you have fully overcome those insecurities. As well as the changes to your mindset making an improvement on your life, how has sobriety and anxiety medication helped?
Sobriety helped me to discover who I was without alcohol and medication has helped me to deal with things that I would usually have dealt with by drinking. I am more stable than I have ever been before and I’m able to deal with the bad days with healthier alternatives like meditation, exercise and working on things like Instagram and my blog.
Your blog and Instagram are some of my favourite places on the internet! You are a vital member of and a creator of a fabulously supportive online movement that encourages people to love themselves as they are. How has finding and participating in this community helped you?
It helps me to be able to help other people. I love seeing people grow in confidence. When myself and Dani started the 88, we were unsure what we wanted it to be. I was still recovering from an eating disorder, still fighting the anti diet fight and wanted it to be a fat positive space. Working with Dani and speaking to some of our followers has opened my mind to people who want to lose weight, how they can still love themselves and how not everyone will fall into the illness that I had.
When you look in the mirror now, what do you see?
I see what I’ve always seen – a visible belly outline, big boobs and an even bigger bum! But the difference is that I’m not ashamed of any of it anymore.
I once looked in the mirror and held my stomach in as much as I could until it hurt…I was 11. I never want to do that again.
I used to think that having lumps and bumps was a personal failure, but now I accept how my body is, I can honestly say 90% of the time I am happy with what I see in the mirror.
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling to accept themselves or experiencing imposter syndrome?
Embrace your flaws, nobody is perfect and the imperfections are what makes you, you! If it’s your body you are insecure about then take photos, look at bodies similar to yours and see the beauty in them. If it’s worries about yourself and how you are, either forgive yourself or change into the person you want to be.
If you could sum up your outlook on life in one statement, what would it be