‘I’ll take size 16 over size 4 any day if it means I’m happy'. Jelena Dokic speaks out about the commentary on her body.

This post deals with mental health and suicide and may be distressing for some readers. 

It's the transformation pic everyone's talking about. Retired tennis star Jelena Dokic recently posted a photo on Instagram of her former size-4 self next to her present size-16 self with the caption, “I will take the size 16 over the size 4 any day if it means I am happy”. 

And the impact has been major.

Dokic’s post was a response to the ongoing online bullying she’s faced about her weight and body size. Comments from trolls about her appearance peaked at the Australian Open earlier this year, where she was working as a commentator, and have remained constant since. 

“What is the most common comment I see when it comes to my body, size and weight? What happened to her? I can barely recognise her,” Dokic writes in her post.

“Really? What happened? You can’t recognise me? Let me tell you what happened.”


Dokic goes on to talk about survival: surviving a “domestic violence-filled home for 15 years" where she was “beaten for the first time when I was 6 years” and “called a whore and a cow since I was as young as 11.” She talks about battling anxiety, depression, PTSD, and trauma. 

“I almost committed suicide,” she writes.

“So while you see a weight and size change, I will tell you the difference between these two images. The one on the left is a size 4, scared to death, beaten unconscious and that bulge on my shins is from being kicked all night.

“The one on the right is me at size 16, I have survived it all and I am here healing from my trauma and thriving. I think the face in the two images says it all.

“I will take the size 16 over the size 4 any day if it means I am happy. If it means I turned to food to try and survive, then so be it.”


Within an hour of posting, Dokic had hundreds of comments. The current tally sits close to 3,000.

But why has it had such an impact?  

Listen to Jelena Dokic talk to Mia about overcoming her struggles on No Filter. Post continues below.

On our social feeds and in the media, we’re so used to seeing the reverse of the “before and after” photo Dokic posted. One where the “after” photo shows how a person has transformed their body to be visibly smaller. Lighter. These “transformation” posts always celebrate the size 4 over the size 16. The underlying assumption? The lighter version of this person is happier and healthier. 

Dokic’s post smashes this idea to pieces.

Nutritionist Lyndi Cohen, author of Your Weight Is Not The Problem, tells Mamamia: “It’s very understandable that we believe health is synonymous with looking a certain way or being a certain weight, because we’ve been sold the idea that the BMI is how we determine health.”

But your health is not solely defined by how much you weigh. 

“We need to extend the idea of what health means, because simply measuring someone’s height and weight on a chart isn’t going to tell us if they’re a healthy being,” Cohen says.

Clinical and health psychologist Leah Brennan, a Professor at La Trobe University Body Image, Eating and Weight Clinical Research Team and a Director at the Centre for Eating, Weight and Body Image, agrees. 


“We get a lot of messages that weight = health. It is not that simple,” Brennan tells Mamamia

“We need to continually educate people about the meaning and influences of health, and to continue to challenge misunderstandings. 

“Health psychology considers biopsychosocial health, that is biology (physical health), psychological (mental health) and social health. 

“This is how I think about health: Is an individual well, fit, content, calm, connected, supported, safe, as best they can be, within their current circumstances?”

So, rather than focusing on a number on the scales, how healthy you are should take into consideration a myriad of things, according to Cohen, including how much energy you have, how easily you fall asleep at night, your cholesterol level, blood pressure, fitness levels, and importantly, your mental health.

The main shade that critics like to throw on this idea usually goes something like this: 'But if we accept ALL body sizes, and not fat-shame people into losing weight, we’re just encouraging everyone in the world to be UNHEALTHY!!!'

“This is not supported by evidence,” Brennan tells Mamamia. “Actually, the opposite is true. 

“Making people feel bad about their weight (a form or weight stigma) is associated with poorer health outcomes. The experience of weight stigma creates chronic stress, which directly impacts on both physical and psychological wellbeing. Further, someone who is feeling bad about themself and their body is going to find it very difficult to prioritise taking care of themselves.”


Cohen adds that "people who have a positive body image tend to look after their body better. They’re more inclined to want to fuel it with the right types of foods, they’re going to exercise because it brings them enjoyment, because they respect their body. 

“Increasing the range of accepted ‘healthy bodies’ is only a good thing, because it can make people feel better in their bodies, which can help them take better care of it.”

Watch Lizzo talk about body negativity being "the norm" on ET Canada. Post continues below. 

Video via: ET Canada.

Plus, as Dokic explained in her post, being skinny doesn’t always equal being healthy. 

Cohen says, “We shouldn’t automatically assume that weight loss is something that’s someone’s chosen, that it’s a healthy thing for someone. Many people lose weight when they’re going through a really tough time, or an eating disorder, and we don’t want to encourage that by complimenting someone’s ill health.” 


Equally, Cohen reminds us that chronic conditions, such as endometriosis can impact weight, while certain medications may also lead to weight gain. “But ultimately it’s better for our health to be taking these medications, for example antidepressants may cause you to gain a bit of weight but you’re fundamentally likely to be in a better position if your mental health is stable. 

“It comes back to this idea that we’ve assumed that someone’s physical health is all that matters, but when you consider someone’s mental health is just as important, it helps us move away from this idea that accepting diverse body sizes and shapes is any way promoting unhealthy lifestyles.”

The final word goes to Dokic, who writes: “I am here, I am happy and most importantly I made it through…

“Beauty isn’t about being a certain size, beauty is having a beautiful heart and soul.

I will leave it at that.”

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

If you or someone you know needs support for body image issues, visit Butterfly.

Feature Image: Instagram@dokic_jelena.