DO you have plans to get your body ready for the summer?

Banning chocolate, hitting the gym hard, or fake tanning, perhaps?

Body coach Vie Portland has another suggestion – how about learning to love the body you already have?

Vie, who is running a beach body confidence workshop this weekend, wants everyone to stop criticising their bodies for not living up to an airbrushed ideal and start loving them for how amazing they are.

Vie, who lives in Southampton, has had her own long journey to body confidence, and she wants to help other people take a short cut to feeling good about themselves.

"I used to be very unhappy with my body," she says.

"I was paranoid. I thought people were looking at me because I was so fat and ugly, and turning their children away from me, because I was so ugly.

"I wore my hair down to cover my face. People assumed I was a goth because I always wore black, but it was just because I wanted to blend in.

"I was hiding in plain sight."

Vie is definitely not hiding anymore. As these pictures from a recent photo shoot show, she has learnt to love and celebrate her body, but it has been a long time coming.

Vie's unhappiness with her body started in her teens and persisted throughout her 20s and into her 30s.

"I didn't think I was worth noticing," she adds.

"I remember hating when people sang 'Happy Birthday' to me because I didn't want to be noticed."

Vie's feelings about her body affected every area of her life, including her education and career path.

"It affected my confidence generally," she says.

"I was bright but I thought I was just lucky at school and college. I went to university later in life, when I was more aware of my intelligence, but even then, I felt like a fraud.

"I never pushed myself. I didn't apply for things because I didn't think I would get them and if I did, I wouldn't be able to do them.

"It affected everything."

It took things getting dramatically worse for Vie, once she was in her 30s, for her feelings to begin to change.

"Things changed when I got very ill," she says.

"I have several physical conditions, but also a couple of mental health ones.

"I felt I had a choice to carry on as I was, which I just couldn't do, end my life, or have a life that was worth living.

"I had to make changes, so I started to say 'yes' to things.

"I love musicals and I was watching Singin' in the Rain, and noticed a sign advertising burlesque.

"I wondered if anyone did that anymore, so I looked it up and found a class nearby.

"I signed up before I could change my mind.

"I started to find the good in life and to challenge myself to change things. I was the only one who could change."

Those burlesque classes led to Vie taking part in burlesque shows and then being asked to teach the performance art.

"Everything I have taught has come about because people have seen me doing the thing. So when I was doing burlesque, people saw me and said they wanted me to teach them. The same thing happened with dancing – I do strolling dance, solo line dances, danced to swing and rock 'n' roll music mostly, but I can jive, and I have taught social dances from the 1920s to the 1970s.

"With body confidence, people said they wanted to be more confident and they had seen the effect that my classes had had on other people, but they didn't want to learn to dance.

"A friend also suggested that I became a Body Image Movement Global Ambassador, which I did," she adds.

"It's about encouraging people to feel better about themselves, in association with the documentary Embrace.

"It's about seeing how incredible our bodies are for what they do, not what they look like."

Vie adds that she is in constant pain due to health conditions, but doesn't let that stop her from doing what she wants.

"I could say 'I can't do that,' but I don't," she says.

"I say 'I'm going to do it'. For instance, recently I went to an 80s dance class. I couldn't do everything and I knew it would mean that I couldn't do anything too physical the following day, but that's OK."

Vie summarises her approach to loving her body: "It's about celebrating what your body can do, not berating it for not being the size you want. It's about celebrating who we are."

According to Vie, it's an approach that a lot more people could benefit from. Vie teaches body confidence in small groups and is hoping to expand her business and reach more people by going into pre-existing groups and doing training.

"I've worked with around 200 women," she says.

"Of them, I've only met one woman who was genuinely happy with her body, and that's been people who are a size zero to 32.

"We are surrounded by images of what we are 'supposed' to look like. None of us look like that. Not even the models – they're mostly photo shopped!

"And they have the time to look the way they do. That's their job. The rest of us don't have the time for that, so we criticise our bodies for being too big or too small, for our boobs or our bums being too big or too small.

"People also use food as a reward or punishment. Everything in moderation should be encouraged. No one should be berating themselves for having an ice cream on a hot day."

Vie is a psychology graduate and has counselling qualifications. She combines her education with her personal experience and that of the people she has worked with to help people to change their attitudes to their bodies.

"In my workshops, people open up and talk about their issues," she says.

"Many have control issues. Many have never felt like they were the right sort of woman, whatever that is.

"Women feel judged on their size. Most women feel like they are not 'enough'. They feel too big or too small, too loud or too quiet, not intelligent enough.

"It's all about trying to understand where that comes from and flip it on its head.

"It's about helping people to realise how incredible their bodies are and how kindness and gratitude go a long way. It's important to be kind to yourself and to others. There is evidence that if you do something kind for someone else, it makes you feel happier.

"Being happy is better for society as a whole," she adds.

"We are all so focused on what we look like. Imagine what we could do if we all said 'my body's awesome. Now I'm going to rule the world!"

* Vie is running a Beach Body Confidence workshop on May 19 at Woolston Community Centre. For more information, search for Beach Body Confidence or Vie-ness on Facebook.

Vie's top tips for body confidence:

  • Be kind, to yourself and others. Being kind to others, and seeing the effect it has, helps you realise that you are important and what you do matters. In turn, this will help you to begin to see yourself as valuable and worthy of self-care.

  • Be grateful. If you are breathing, there is more right than wrong with you. Be grateful for all the things your body does, for how it helps you move, for the hugs it can give and receive, for how it keeps you alive.

  • Accept compliments with no excuses, no, "this old thing" or, "but it makes me look fat" or whatever excuse. Just say, "thank you" and hold the excuses in. You may not believe what you are being told but the person telling you does so respect their words

  • It's never too late to learn how wonderful you are.