Not happy with your reflection or brimming with body confidence? Unsurprisingly, you're not alone. But sadly there are too many women are embarrassed with their bodies and giving their figure the thumbs down. New research from the University of Queensland shows that about 80% of Australian women are unhappy with their body image.
The study, by health psychology researcher Renee Fletcher, also found that most of us know other women who are not confident with the way their bodies look.
According to Fletcher, this level of unhappiness and low body confidence is a cause for concern and rather than focusing on the thin ideal prevalent today, we should be focusing on health and fitness. "We need to boost our body image and self-esteem, to look at healthy lifestyle changes and to move away from the culture of thinness," she suggests. "Poor body image is closely correlated with issues such as low self-esteem, stress, anxiety, eating and mood disorders - the list of negative outcomes goes on and on. In the 15th century, women who were idolised were curvaceous, but in the past 50 years there has been a trend towards thinness, which is disturbing."
Fletcher says the key to body acceptance and confidence is about focusing on achieving a fit and healthy body through eating a balanced diet, regular exercise and staying within a healthy BMI.
Sound good? Here's how three women changed their lives and outlooks for the better, leaving old body demons behind.
Lesson #1: Focus on what you can change about your body, rather than what you can't, for an instant confidence boost.
Victoria Kasunic, 38, a clinical psychologist from North Sydney, has gone from a size 20 to a fit and healthy size 10 after yo-yo dieting and believing she would never be able to run. "Unhappiness with my body started in primary school as a chubby child," Victoria admits. "In my late teens I was a size 20. I dieted, lost weight and put it on again and in my late 20s I gave up. But I wasn't happy. I remember going to a family wedding in a size 18 designer top. I thought I looked OK, but when I saw myself in the wedding video I thought "Oh God, I'm so big". I felt young but looked matronly."
In her mid-30s Victoria was deeply affected by the death of a friend's relative from motor neurone disease. The woman was only 26 and had two young children.
"I thought, "What am I doing with my life?" she recalls. "Something clicked and instead of focusing on what was wrong in my life, I decided to focus on what I could change."
Victoria rallied a group of friends and entered the City to Surf run. She walked and then ran to get fitter, and in August 2008 completed the 14km event, raising $6500 for motor neurone disease. "I realised attitude counts and felt so inspired," she says.
Next she focused on walking the Kokoda Trail. By the time she did the walk in July last year she was a size 12 to 14. "I liked who I was by then, but my body still wasn't a good fit for me; I knew I could do better," Victoria explains. Her commitment to regular cardio and weight training helped her reach a healthy size 10. "Weight loss is a by-product of improving my fitness," she explains. "Being healthier also affected my confidence. I put a lid on my expectations because of my weight. I had a good job as a manager with a welfare agency but I felt trapped. As I lost weight and got fitter, my confidence grew and I started my own business. I've never been happier. Previously I didn't hold myself in high enough regard to treat my body well. Now I feel hot and like the body I see."
Lesson #2: Don't compare yourself OR aim for physical perfection, as it will only work again your own body confidence.
Naomi Mashford, 52, from Williamstown, South Australia, lost 30kg. A decade later she's kept the weight off and her horse riding skills have reached new heights. As a senior bank executive, Naomi had a long and busy working day. Deciding to study for her MBA increased the pressure she was under and left her with little time to eat well and exercise.
Not surprisingly, she gradually gained weight. "I rode and trained dressage horses in my spare time but work became busier and when I wasn't working I was studying. I'd eat quickly and my physical activity dropped to nothing," says Naomi, now a business consultant.
At a conference she ran for her 200-plus staff, "Someone took photos of me and then pinned them on a noticeboard," recalls Naomi. "I looked so big! When no one was looking, I covered the images of me with others so I couldn't be seen. I felt so embarrassed and uncomfortable."
In her MBA class Naomi noticed a fellow student who had gradually lost weight. The woman told her she had done it with Weight Watchers Online. In 2000 Naomi joined the program, started exercising and eating a balanced diet.
Once a size 16, today she wears size 8 jeans and tops. "I can remember the first time I wore a sleeveless top. I went to my local supermarket and felt fantastic because I'd always been embarrassed about my arms," she says. "I don't have a perfect body - I wouldn't wear a bikini - but I'm fit and have the energy and stamina to fit more into life."
Dressage is a precision sport and being overweight affected Naomi's balance and competitive edge. Today she's back in contention. "White jodhpurs didn't look great back then!" she laughs, "but now I'm riding better than ever."
Lesson #3: Realise that courage leads to body confidence.
Suellen Hughes, 43, from Neutral Bay in New South Wales, had always been slim but couldn't deny that by the time she hit 40 a few excess kilos had crept on - and it was an uncomfortable social situation that affected her body confidence and turned her life around.
At her husband's 50th birthday party in 2005, Suellen stood in front of friends and family and congratulated him on his milestone birthday. "The photos of everyone dressed up nearly killed me," she confesses. "I looked like a middle-aged frump and felt miserable. Enough was enough - this really had to stop."
Since becoming pregnant and giving birth to a baby boy at the age of 37, Suellen had gained weight. "I let myself go when I became pregnant and ate what I liked. I put on 18kg and before long I was heading towards 40 and was overweight because of overeating and not exercising," she says. "I felt very uncomfortable with my appearance."
About a year after that birthday celebration Suellen joined Weight Watchers Online and began exercising with a personal trainer. She lost 12kg in 12 weeks and started running to maintain her weight loss.
"I'd never been a runner but felt great and even did a few fun runs," she says. However, last year her weight edged upwards again and she regained 10 kilos. "I swore I'd never get past 65kg again but each time I weighed myself I'd put on a little more and I became so depressed and angry. I lost confidence in myself. I was exercising but was simply eating too much," she says.
She joined Weight Watchers again and is now a healthy 59kg after losing the extra weight she put on last year. "I feel better about myself when I weigh less. Being overweight impacts my whole life. I have a health and wellness coaching business and if I'm not feeling confident, how can I help other people? I love that my body is fit again. I'm training for a marathon and feel confident about that because finally I'm comfortable in my own skin."