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Uncomfortable in our skin

Photo by Charlotte Astrid on Flickr. Photo in body text from Miss Universe Canada's official site.

In Eva Wiseman's recent Guardian article, Uncomfortable in our skin: the body-image report, she asks, "Why do we hate the way we look?"

Many answers are explored in the rest of the article: The all-encompassing image-consciousness of current society; the media's increasingly unrealistic representation of the, particularly female, human body; the exploitation of our deepest insecurities by advertising powers; and modern culture's glorification of unhealthy eating habits.

All of these answers are valid. But there is a simple way to put it. We hate the way we look because we aspire to perfection, while perfection is, and always will be, an impossibility.

The tricky thing about it, is that we know perfection does not exist—Photoshop and plastic surgery exist. "Nobody's perfect," as the old chestnut goes, and yet we still try to attain the unattainable, even people who examine this damaging brand of behaviour on a frequent basis—people like myself.

One frosty Friday morning eight years ago, I decided that I wouldn't eat until the following Monday. When I felt hungry, I would drink water, or maybe juice. But no morsel of food would pass my lips, no matter how hungry I got.

I was 16, and I considered this a trial run. "This will determine if I can become a full-blown anorexic," I told my sister, sipping my first glass of juice of the weekend. "Whether or not I can handle starving myself."

I wanted to starve myself because, at the time, I wanted to lose weight, and since my appetite was already quite measly, I thought the only way to really eat less was to quit eating full-stop.

I succeeded in avoiding food for three days. However, I decided that I could not "handle" self-starvation. Over that weekend, I felt increasingly irritable, dizzy, distracted and depressed. I got used to the growling of my stomach, but the taste of hunger, like a bitter ointment thickly coating the back of my throat, was harder to ignore. By Sunday night, I felt as weak and cold as a corpse, and I tossed and turned for hours in layers of blankets before managing to nod off.

Monday morning, I thanked my lucky stars that I possessed the privelege of food, and I took advantage of it again at once.

But, it never really ends, for any of us. I continue to do painful things in an effort to "fix" aspects of my appearance that I believe are too imperfect, despite knowing that my beliefs about myself are dictated by forces outside myself.

I get bikini waxes. I've had allergic reactions to makeup, and yet I refuse to wear any less. I've considered having dental surgery to remove my second molars (a purported practise of models looking to further sink in their cheeks). I wear shoes that leave my feet blistered and bleeding. As a child, I would pinch a clothespin onto my nose in an attempt to narrow its shape.

Millions of other women do the same, or similar, because we can never be satisfied.

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