As social media continues to dominate our lives it can be hard to ignore how perfect everyone else looks. But DESPINA NICOLA warns it is important to be grateful for what you have

I recall looking in the mirror at the age of 14 and noticing new curves and a change in my shape. I felt an intense loathing as I looked down then tapped and squeezed the curves around my tummy. The deposits of fat wiggled and I was disgusted.

In my teens, like many adolescents, I became obsessed with models. I wanted to be just like them. I wanted a new self, only I wasn’t the towering long legged, skinny ideal model with the perfect complexion.

Still, I religiously bought monthly magazines as I was determined to become the ideal woman. Supermodels like Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford and Isabella Rossellini leapt out at me and in my naïve mind I thought if I could control my weight, I could be like them and accept myself. Unfortunately, in my effort to become the ideal, I robbed myself of many years of happiness. I developed a dysfunctional relationship with food and people, not to mention myself.

Determined to close the gap between my body image and theirs, I believed that by not eating, or purposely bringing up everything I ate, I could achieve this. I counted all my calories and exercised to the point of fainting but nothing I did made me look like them. The more I failed, the more I despised myself.

Inevitably I became bulimic. It was my punishment for being born in my body and in my reckoning, if I dieted, I could change my fate.

Fortunately my mother rescued me. Her patience and unconditional love allowed me to be here today to tell the story. She sought help for me, she found information about how to deal with my problem and with continuous dialogue I began to love my shape, height, skin and most importantly myself.

Today, an increasing number of people are still trying to attain that ideal body. With the eruption of social media, more and more teenagers are exposed to thin models looking beautiful and sexy in expensive clothes. Teens may then embark on a perilous journey to become like them.

But fashion idols are an unrealistic ideal. They have subjected the average-sized woman, who is about a size 14, to either yo-yo dieting, to go under the knife, to take steroids or to take pills. Statistics show that 96 per cent of women today are influenced at some point in their lives by the oppressive fashion culture.

Why do we care so much about images of the ideal person?

Research shows it is mainly because of the media. While only two per cent of women have the so-called ideal body almost every model pictured on the cover of magazines or social media has this perfect body. Almost all photos are altered and unwanted imperfections disappear. Models featured are taller, thinner, with perfect skin and even different eye and hair colour.

Many have become dependent on social media as they believe it sets the standard. They see beautiful bodies and people living affluent lifestyles. They long to be like them and believe that by imitating them, they can be part of this select group. However, this in turn leads to negative self-esteem issues as that standard is unrealistic.

After many years of suffering and reflection, I came to realise that we are not a body image, but a human experience. A selfie, for example, is a portrayal of our body image. Most of us only keep the picture-perfect ones or those that have been photoshopped.

However, by seeing our bodies as a living, human experience, we realise how resourceful and valuable they are. Our bodies enable us to enjoy life, and we can also give life using our bodies. My body gifted me with two treasured daughters. We cannot keep ruining our lives by obsessing over other people’s body images. We should accept that our body is our gift and it is here to serve us.

Despite this, we all have our off days when we are lacking in self-esteem and don’t like what we see in the mirror. If you are feeling low, what follows is an activity to overcome this? I find the following exercise simple but very effective.

Identify your negative thoughts or feelings. Pinpoint where your dysfunctional thoughts come from, do they serve you now? Start deprogramming and reprograming them with positive ones. This is very important because if you keep negative beliefs, it is like putting wallpaper on a wall, but failing to scrub the wall clean first. This in turn means the underlying dirt and mold will persist; just papering over the cracks.

I have learnt to love and appreciate my body. I have also learnt to live my life and fully experience time with my loved ones, not hide away and live life through fake images. My strong, soft, warm body with all its curves has given me the right to do that.