'Nothing about it is relaxed or candid.' The best photo on my Instagram feed is also the saddest.

In 2017, I was dumped. I’d been dumped before, but this break up hit me harder than most. For one, it came out of nowhere – one minute, me and the guy I was seeing were spending three nights a week together, hanging out with his friends and family. The next, we were over.

But more importantly, it was followed by him swiftly moving on with another woman. In my mind (as I obsessively scrolled through her Instagram feed) she was hotter, more successful, cooler and sexier than me. It was a no-brainer – he’d dumped me for someone better.

A year prior, I was a size 16. This is an average size for the Australian woman, but as we all know, the pressure to be slim, toned and a size 8 is intense, regardless of the bodies we see in real life around us. I had been so unhappy with my body, and spent the full year aggressively (and unhealthily) dieting to whittle myself down to a size 10. I’d made it by January 2017, and immediately met this guy. 

Watch: Lizzo on body positivity. Post continues after video.

Video via ET Canada. 

I think subconsciously, I’d chalked our relationship up to me finally looking “hot”. Surely this guy wouldn’t even swipe right on me if I’d been my previous size, you know? I spent our whole relationship feeling like I was lucky to have found a guy. When we split, I turned back to weight loss as a coping mechanism. I wasn’t hot enough, clearly. I needed to get skinnier, sexier. Within months, my jeans were loose on me and my sister was looking worried as I accidentally wore her size 8 denim shorts by mistake. She’d always been naturally slim, and she knew this wasn’t me reaching a healthy size – this was me in grief.

Around this time, we went on a family trip to Greece. Idyllic crystal-blue oceans, fresh seafood, and long, sunny days meant nothing to me. My head was filled with angry, hateful thoughts toward myself. I was still obsessively stalking my ex and his new girlfriend, trying to find evidence they were completely in love and hooking up five times a day. 

While my ex didn’t follow me on Instagram, I found myself seeking constant validation about my body via likes and comments from others. I kept posting photos of my new figure in bikinis and little playsuits, revelling in the fire emojis and double-digit likes. Instead of enjoying sunsets, I was refreshing my posts and trawling them for interactions from men I’d once dated. 


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What a dickhead.

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The photo above was one of around 65 different versions of the same thing. I kept getting my sister to take pictures, then demanding I check them. “My arm looks fat”, I’d say, asking her to take another series where I moved my arms further from the camera. I had a stomach roll in one. My boobs looked weird in another. Over and over until we nailed the shot. Nothing about that photo is relaxed or candid.

It’s a great photo though, probably the best one of me on my feed. I look great in it – fit, tanned, toned. But I was at rock bottom. I would scrutinise my body in the mirror after a shower, finding fault everywhere. Canteen arms. Love handles. Cellulite. Wrinkles. I would compare my body to the woman my ex was now with, revelling when I could see a tummy roll on her, feeling devastated when she posted a pic looking effortlessly chic in a simple black slip dress.

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Yassou 👋

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When I got home, I knew I needed help. I booked in to see a psychologist every week for months. Slowly, we reached the root of my problem – my self-esteem was shot to pieces, and likely had been since way before I started dieting. That was why reaching a “goal weight” didn’t improve my life, but instead worsened it. It’s why my breakup impacted me to the point of disordered eating. It’s why I had taken the natural desire to look pretty in photos to a problematic, obsessive level. 

These days I still like posting hot photos of myself. Who doesn’t, right? But I’m no longer associating my self-worth with my body, and have a wider range of what I consider a “nice” photo of myself. For example - do I look happy? Am I having a great bloody time? Does this photo make me happy, even if no one else “likes” it?

I wanted to write this piece because it’s so easy to see a hot photo of someone else and think “wow, their life must be perfect” – especially if you’re unhappy with your own body. My biggest life lesson was this – the skinnier I got, the unhappier I became, because what I really needed was to fix my thought processes around my body, not my actual body. I’m still a size 10-12 these days, but as my weight fluctuates as it always naturally has done, I don’t feel the same gripping panic and a need to control it with extreme dieting anymore. I let myself have splurgy weekenders and big Christmas lunches, and then if I’ve been pretty unhealthy I’ll add a few more pilates sessions or gym classes to my week, and fix my diet a little. 

It’s been a long road and it’s still a little bumpy, but for the most part I no longer associate my size with my value as a person. And I am so much happier for it.

Melissa Mason is a freelance writer. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter.