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the wom en haunted by their old selves

We're taunted by that old pair of skinny jeans that once fit so snugly, while others, such as Kelly Osbourne, are fearful of gaining back weight they have lost. Our former selves have more influence on our body confidence than you would imagine Have you ever been tagged in a picture on Facebook, and taken a few seconds to realise that the person in the photograph is actually you? It's happened to me. How I look in my head and in reality are two very different things, and even what I see in the mirror isn't accurate if friends' candid photographs are anything to go by.

That didn't used to be the case when I was younger and fitter, but since gaining a little weight now I'm the wrong side of 25, it takes me a second to cop that the woman with the little paunch and slightly wobbly chin is, in fact, me. But does the realisation spur me to the gym? Nope. I simply de-tag, think it must have been a bad angle and continue my couch potato, chocolate-munching ways.

Body image is a curious thing, as how we see ourselves is often at odds with how others view us. The most glamorous and beautiful woman you know could think of herself as quite the opposite -- everyone has a friend who's stunning but hates the way she looks, right? One of those girls that deems herself fat and leave you thinking "Well if she's fat, I must be enormous!"


The other side of the coin is that woman who's not a classic babe with a perfect body, but whose self-confidence shines through making her incredibly attractive.

TV personality and former hellraiser Kelly Osbourne has lost more than 4st over the past few years, going from overweight teenager to streamlined fashionista. The transformation is remarkable -- as well as fitting into sample-size clothes, she also appears happier and more confident than ever before.

However she still wears the tattoos of her troubled teens as a reminder of her tendency to self-destruct. Despite looking radiant at this week's Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, Kelly recently admitted that despite her weight loss and new found inner glamourpuss, she'll always see herself as an FFP -- a former fat person. "When you see yourself in a certain way, that never changes," she admitted to hosts Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield on This Morning.

"People who are larger and then they lose weight will always look in the mirror and see themself as that fat girl, no matter what happens."

This struck a chord with me, as I am the opposite -- a FSP, or former skinny person. I'm not exactly overweight now, but I'm not as lithe as I once was. Yet I still buy size-10 dresses and spend nights breathing in wearing Spanx and feeling crap about myself.

"Our body image is made up of many factors," explains body confidence expert and life coach Astrid Longhurst (www.astridlonghurst.com). "One of these is how we look physically but it is also a lifetime of insecurities -- of not feeling good enough, or being compared to another family member.

"It can also be shaped by cultural factors, and parents' attitude towards body shape and size. Body image can also fluctuate throughout the day, being triggered negatively by an off-hand comment or even wearing clothes that are too tight or that make you feel body conscious."

Why though, do we find it so difficult to let go of the past? "We identify with our bodies," says Astrid. "Sometimes our entire life has been shaped around the way we have chosen to see ourselves.


"If we have always been the fat girl who was teased at school, we don't know anything else. Losing weight often is emotionally fearful.

"Who are we if we are not that fat girl any more, for example. There are so many unanswered questions that emerge once we start to change our bodies. We may change physically but our minds remain stuck in an old identity."

Our families can have a lot to do with how we see ourselves as well, and we can carry our body image with us since childhood. My laziness when it comes to working out is probably deep-rooted, and will be a hard habit to break.

I have always been that person who signs up for a class or activity gung-ho and full of beans, but tires of it after only a couple of weeks -- from when I begged for tap-dancing lessons aged six to that gym membership I got last year and went a grand total of three times.

Also, my parents have never been big eaters and are into very plain meals, so when I started eating out with friends as a teen, I became fascinated by different tastes and textures -- something that has carried on to this day as a love for spicy takeaways, foreign breads and delicious sauces. In Kelly's case, she grew up with her mother Sharon Osbourne's bulimia, bingeing and purging and even a gastric bypass operation.

It's not just ourselves we project the past on to, but celebrities as well. The media and the public will never allow Kelly to forget that she once was overweight; Kirstie Alley is taunted every time she slims down, with everyone just waiting for her to gain again -- and unfortunately, she always does.


Jessica Simpson is haunted by the images of herself in short shorts from The Dukes Of Hazzard, and the public find it very hard to accept the new, curvier Jessica -- so much so that even during pregnancy she was harangued for the amount of weight she put on, and signed a Weight Watchers contract to lose the baby weight before she even gave birth to little Maxwell earlier this year.

The world is now waiting for the big reveal, when Jessica is once again the owner of a bangin' body -- because we're not comfortable if she's not.

Astrid agrees. "Others also identify with our shape and size which can add to keeping us stuck in the past. There's safety in belonging and suddenly if the rules are different, it challenges their own perspective."

How can we get past these body image mental blocks, both our own and other people's, and let go of the past? I'm afraid that if I don't shape up now, things will just keep getting worse because I'm not getting any younger, or any less fond of Chinese takeaways and cheese.

"When we only judge our bodies by its latest look we are forever condemned to body dissatisfaction and a low grade unhappiness" Astrid explains. "Essentially, body confidence is a choice. Initially it involves accepting your body the way it is right here and now. It is about looking at your body without judgment or criticism but in a new way with fresh eyes.

"When you begin to acknowledge that your body is your home throughout this lifetime, something powerful happens and you begin to change your perception."