There’s a sad reason why we are obsessed with looking at paparazzi photos.

Video by Mamamia

On the weekend I was catching up with a close friend who is recovering from severe body image issues.

As we spoke, she mentioned how seeing pictures of famous women looking “normal” helped her feel better about herself in her battle for self-acceptance. She couldn’t quite put her finger on why. But it just, sort of… helped. Plain and simple.

The very next day, paparazzi shots of Sunrise co-host Samantha Armytage were splashed on the Daily Mail shaming her “granny panties”.

sam armytage underwear
Sunrise presenter Sam Armytage. Source: Instagram.

I clicked. A lot of people clicked. A heck of a lot. And I can almost guarantee that every single woman who did would have felt a complex mixture of emotions. Guilt for supporting a business that bullies and embarrasses women... but also on the flip side, a feeling of 'that's me'.

"That's me on a Sunday, doing my weekly shop in a throw-on cotton dress, wearing my trustiest pair of underpants," I thought.

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This broader feeling was evidenced by women from all walks of life posting in solidarity with 40-year-old Armytage and her comfy undies.

The response was incredible. Unprecedented, even. Tabloid articles hooked off grimy paparazzi shots are being produced every damn minute, and they don't normally spark a national debate. (Post continues after gallery.)

Most of the time these articles are read in secret, because they immediately make you feel sick for partaking in the gawking. They belong to the domain of guilty pleasures no one ever wants to admit to, like watching trashy TV or pinching hotel towels.

And so while we are all quietly clicking away, supporting an industry that feeds on shaming others, it goes unspoken.

But I'm ready to admit publicly that I click. I hate that I do it, but I do. And I'm betting you have too.

It's not because we are horrible people. We don't set out to read these articles to leer at another person. My belief is we are driven by selfish reasons.

I find myself constantly scrambling to feel like my body is "normal". I want to believe I fit some kind of abstract "mould" society dictates exists. And looking at paparazzi photos of celebrity women is, depressingly, a standard way of working out how I stack up.

Gaping at those invasive bikini snaps gives me an easy way of rating myself against another. I loathe myself for saying that. Still, I'm certainly not alone in behaving like this.

And it's just... awful. Because how unfair, how completely twisted that what is a source of one woman's humiliation is a source of another's momentary boost in self-confidence.

I say 'momentary' because the truth is, comparing myself to others might give me a brief blip of satisfaction, but that fades; faster than the tabloids can actually feed anyone's hunger for that very feeling. Meanwhile, the women who are unwillingly photographed are forced to live with their mortification.

Most of us are in the game of comparing ourselves to others, but in the long-run we will never come out on top this way. To be truly happy we need to each run our own race.

That means making a concerted effort to stop ogling at private moments of celebrities hitting the beach, or going ''make-up free' at the airport. You might pass it off as a meaningless downtime activity, but it is toxic: to yourself and to the women who are victims of this.

After Armytage's undies debacle, Rebecca Judd made this plea to the public: "Don't click on that sh*t". It's time we listened and did just that.

Instead, celebrate the moments when a famous woman chooses to make a body positive statement - like Amy Schumer slamming her critics after her Barbie casting, or Mamamia's Mia Freedman sharing a photo of her "tummy rolls". These are stories we can share proudly.

Paparazzi coverage is sexist, it is cruel, it is creepy and despite how you might feel, it's really not helping anyone - not I, not you, not the close friend I mentioned earlier and certainly not the female celebrities. There are zero positive outcomes from this. And the last thing we need is to set women back.

The alternative is to organically achieve self-acceptance. And that's much more powerful.

In the words of Elizabeth Gilbert, "Operation Self-Esteem -- Day F*cking One."

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