Cork style and body image coach issues challenge to Irish women

Hot on the heels from winning an award at the Network Ireland West Cork Businesswoman of the Year awards, Sharon Huggard talks to LINDA KENNY about what the accolade meant to her, and her upcoming campaign encouraging women to accept themselves
Cork style and body image coach issues challenge to Irish women

Sharon Huggard of Sharon Huggard: Style and Body Confidence Coach. Picture: 

WHEN Sharon Huggard accepted the award for Best Emerging New Business at the recent Network Ireland West Cork Businesswoman of the Year award, she wasn’t just celebrating the two years of hard graft, determination, patience, application, and money she had invested in growing her business, she was rejoicing that her decision to follow her gut had paid off.

For the first two years of her business, Sharon Huggard: Style & Body Confidence Coach, she had devoted herself to helping women to feel good through style and fashion.

“I am passionate about empowering women with the tools to look and feel amazing every day, not just for those special occasions,” she said.

It was a leap of faith for the Innishannon-based stylist, who previously would have preferred to remain in the background.

Sharon Huggard. Picture: Anna Groniecka
Sharon Huggard. Picture: Anna Groniecka

She embarked on a voyage of self-discovery by amassing a range of coaching skills from QTT, NLP, life coaching to styling qualifications. She has also worked extensively with a range of internationally-recognised business mentors.

With each passing month, Sharon’s confidence grew.

Prior to setting up her own business, she had worked as a stylist and in retail.

“I was terrified of speaking in public and can’t believe how comfortable I now feel interacting on social media platforms and on zoom.

“I had always been blighted by imposter syndrome so was too easily derailed by my lack of self-belief.”

Having had to deal with her own self-worth challenges gave Sharon authenticity and honesty with her clients.

She could see that what she was saying resonated with them. And with the many who attended her Masterclasses, tuned in to her Facebook lives, or with those who signed up for her Style Solution programme.

“I’m very conscious of the value placed on weight and size in our modern world and I want to help shift that negative debilitating mindset to one of acceptance and self-love”, she insists.

.Sharon Huggard.  Picture: Anna Groniecka
.Sharon Huggard.  Picture: Anna Groniecka

“Does body acceptance equate to giving up?”

Sharon is adamant it does not.

“When you accept yourself, you are coming from a mindset of compassion and freedom.”

There is no doubt that we would never be as unkind to others as we are to ourselves. Our inner voice can be lethal at times.

Research shows that 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies, 70% of whom admit to withdrawing from activities as a consequence.

“I think we can all relate to the group photo where our first priority is to zoom in to see how we look. We don’t look at ourselves objectively. We are looking for flaws so filter our views through past experiences, cemented beliefs, and limiting thoughts.

“My challenge to the women of Ireland is to enjoy and capture the imperfect moments as well as the curated ones, no matter how big or small.”

“Winning the Network award was wonderful but, before the ceremony, I acknowledged to myself that while I would like to win, I was detached from the outcome. I already felt like a winner. And that was a huge mindset shift for me.

“I didn’t need outside validation to know that I am where I should be. However, I was absolutely thrilled when I did win. It is a huge honour to represent West Cork at the national awards. I am still buzzing,” she adds.

Previously, her inhibiting beliefs meant Sharon felt like she couldn’t be successful if her weight was not under control.

“It amused me to think that I won the award at my heaviest weight,” she adds with a wry smile.

“I think of the legacy we are leaving our children and that is a huge responsibility and driving motivation for me in my business,” she admits.

Social media plays a huge role in modern kids’ lives and they are being exposed to a glut of diet posts, body shamers, ads for the most effective weight loss programme, etc. They are being continuously conditioned to look a certain way.

The cult of perfectionism reigns supreme for both adults and kids alike. Social media has altered the way in which we engage with photos.

“Few memories are being created in photos now. Many photos are selfies that are filtered, contrived, managed,” says Sharon.

“We had no opportunity to delete any photos from our childhood or pre-digital life that weren’t perfect. It was one roll of film and if your eyes were closed in that one photo, or your head was thrown back in joyous laughter, then that was entirely acceptable. After all, it was the memories that were being captured,” she says.

Sharon Huggard. Picture: Anna Groniecka
Sharon Huggard. Picture: Anna Groniecka

Sharon asks her clients to set ‘feeling’ goals. And to look at photos from the perspective of what emotional memories are evoked by those photos.

The recent furore following a poorly phrased question on the Leaving Cert home economics exam paper, about the use of colour to flatter body shape, feeds into that same debate.

“My mission is to separate one’s self worth and value from body size and weight. I am working predominantly with women who have been conditioned for years to link both these concepts together,” she declares.

“My own hang-ups date back to my own teenage years. In family photos I would rush to get to the back of a group shot to make myself look smaller by hiding behind people.

“We can’t keep deferring our happiness until our weight is perfect,” she insists.

And, according to Sharon, we cannot continue to perpetuate those hangs-up and impose them on the next generation.

“When we know better, we do better,” she insists.

When Sharon conducted her own poll on Facebook, 85% of participants cited body image as their biggest impediment to joy and happiness.

“The culture of body shaming is causing people to disengage from the process of opportunity-creation and making precious memories with their families. The results of the poll were a revelation to me. It saddened me to think how many people are opting out of social occasions, abstaining from photos, due to poor body image and lack of confidence.”

My clients come from every sector of society but their neuroses are all the same.

Body shaming combined with debilitating psychological terms like the ‘Covid Stone’ (when the combination of isolation and comfort eating led to an increase in weight for some) have done nothing to help the situation.

“I have found that stepping away from negative, toxic, self-beliefs brings huge freedom, and was genuinely floored at the volume of those who felt unworthy due to size,” Sharon admits.

That is why, last January, as the New Year New You diet adverts were in full voice, Sharon decided to launch the Body Confidence Solution Programme and it sold out in days. Her next one kicks off in September and looks set to be another runaway success.

However, Sharon is determined not to wait until then. She has challenged the women of Ireland to Get In the Picture on National Photography Day, Friday, August 19.

“My call is ‘enough is enough’. Let’s show our kids the way forward,” she concludes.

“I challenge everyone to take a photo of themselves, wherever they are on that day or whatever they are doing. Whether they are on a beach, a wedding, or in the back garden, whatever they are doing, they are beautiful and are more than enough!

“Acceptance is everything.”

To be part of this National movement #getinthepicture, that aims to halt the erasing of personal history by encouraging all women to step up and, perfectly or imperfectly, be part of their own story, simply upload your photo on Friday, August 19 with the hashtag #getinthepicture and also tag @sharon_huggard_the_style_coach. For more see www.getinthepicture.ie 

Insta: @sharon_huggard_the_style_coach

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