Why are we never happy with our bodies?

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Illustration photo by Getty Images
Illustration photo by Getty Images
  • I've never been happy with my body and I know that I'm not the only one who feels this way
  • Psychologist Dr Rebecca Gooden, says: "Traditionally, women are objectified.
  • "Your image is more than just your looks," Gooden points out.

While attempting to squeeze myself into an old pair of jeans recently, I thought: "Sigh, to be 17 and skinny again." See, when I was 17, my metabolism was faster than Sally Pearson. I was slim and ate anything - including junk food.

Ten years and a few kilos later, I see 17-year-old me as this mystical being with a perfect body and not a care in the world, but really, that version of me wasn't happy with her body either. My boobs were too big. My butt was too flat.

In fact, I've never been happy with my body and I know that I'm not the only one who feels this way.

According to psychologist Dr Rebecca Gooden, a clinical lecturer with the University of Adelaide Discipline of Psychiatry, it's linked to society's views. "Traditionally, women are objectified," she says. "There's a perception that women are to be admired and we're taught we'll be more desirable if we have the 'perfect' body."

Our attitude is not only influenced by what our families, friends and partners think, but also what Gooden describes as "the stereotype that people are flawed if they are a bigger size". These factors can lead to an enormous amount of pressure to look a certain way and we can be hard on ourselves when we don't succeed - even after working our butts off at the gym.

READ MORE | Your mental health, memory and mood muscles will thank you for getting more exercise this year

"A couple of years ago, I joined a boot camp, started dieting and ended up losing seven kilos," says Katie, 24. "I was thinner than I had ever been and getting compliments left, right and centre, but all I could think was: 'Oh my God, my boobs have shrunk'. I just couldn't see anything else."

Dissatisfaction is common, but Gooden warns: "This kind of negative self-talk is what makes women believe their bodies need 'fixing'."

Even if we do embrace the way we look, we happen to live in a country that has zero tolerance for tall poppies. "Many of us feel a lot more comfortable putting ourselves down rather than building ourselves up," Gooden says. "Women bond by complaining about their bodies, which only reinforces dissatisfaction."

This is true for Liz, 27. "I could be feeling good about going to the gym every day, but as soon as a friend says, 'I hate my butt,' I can't help but join in with everything I hate about my own body," she says. This pattern is ultimately an unconscious habit - and habits are made to be broken.

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Gooden wants us to start with a self-esteem tuneup. "Find other ways to build your sense of worth instead of relying on body image to determine how you feel about yourself," she suggests. Think about all of the non-physical qualities that make you a great person. "Your image is more than just your looks," Gooden points out. "Work on making yourself even more awesome. People like being with a person who has a positive outlook."

Gooden suggests accepting compliments about your appearance instead of second-guessing them. And why not? It feels good! As do exercising and eating well. Finally, Gooden urges us to love our bodies for what they have done and what they will do, whether it's mastering "Gangnam Style", going to boot camp or having babies.

So after failing to zip up those jeans, I tried not to let it get me down. My body is changing and I've accepted that 17-year-old me isn't coming back. Which is fine. She had a flat butt anyway.

READ MORE | How to think yourself into a fit person

Body love goes viral

In October 2012, US college student Stella Boonshoft uploaded an underwear-clad self-portrait on her blog (thebodyloveblog.tumblr.com), with an open letter to people who had made her feel depressed about her body with their cruel words.

The last sentence was "THIS IS MY BODY, DEAL WITH IT". The brave 18-year-old, whose fluctuating weight was brought on by polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), had been feeling down about herself until discovering support online. "I found the body acceptance movement and realised that my size or weight is not something to be ashamed of, it is a part of me," Stella says. "Health and weight are not synonymous, and I know that to be healthy means managing my PCOS the best that I can. I may not ever be thin, but that's okay. It's all about progress, not perfection."

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CREDIT: Aremediasyndication/ Magazine Features

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