‘Body Image’ was the theme of this year’s recent Mental Health Awareness Week. Around this time I delivered a presentation on the topic at a wellbeing evening organised by Hearts Health Club in Crosby. The ladies who attended found this subject really interesting, so I thought it would be good to share the information with you through my blog.
Body Image is how we think and feel about ourselves physically, how attractive we think we are, and how we believe others see us. Our body image isn’t fixed – there may be times when we feel good about ourselves and other times when we don’t. How we feel about our appearance is closely linked with our general mental wellbeing, and it’s quite common to have negative thoughts about our appearance when we are feeling depressed and anxious.
A survey carried out by The Guardian found that …
- 34% of UK adults have felt anxious because of their body image
- 19% of UK adults have felt disgusted because of their body image last year.
- 13% of UK adults surveyed have experience suicidal thoughts or feelings because of concerns about their body image
Body image is something which concerns us all to some degree – it is part of being human. At one end of the scale are those who worry occasionally about a ‘bad hair day’, and at the other end of the scale are those who experience serious life-limiting mental health issues related to their body image. People at this extreme end of the scale may be experiencing an anxiety problem known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder or an Eating Disorder.
How we feel about our appearance can be affected by different stages in our lives. When we go through puberty we naturally become more ‘body conscious’ as we experience major changes in our appearance, in addition to which there are lots of hormones bombing around which make us more aware of our bodies (and other people’s). Women experience major changes to their bodies during and after pregnancy, which can have an impact on their body image. We may also find our body image affected by ill health, injury, acquiring a physical disability and the ageing process.
When our body image is poor we can get caught up in negative thinking patterns. Our thoughts focus on the perceived problem at the expense of any contradictory information or compliments from others. We can easily fall into the trap of comparing ourselves negatively to others, and can often find ourselves ‘mind reading’ as we guess what negative judgements others may be making about us. With all these negative thoughts we are likely to feel low, anxious and lack motivation. We may then engage in unhelpful behaviours like cancelling social plans, looking in the mirror a lot, comfort eating, excessive exercise or dieting regime. Thus a negative cycle of poor body image is formed.
Sadly, bullying can have a major impact on body image. Many clients I work with who are struggling with low self-esteem report experiences of bullying, either during childhood or later on as an adult (usually within the workplace). These hurtful things that others say and do to us can become internalised, and we can start to wonder ‘what if they’re right?’, so even years after the bully is out of our lives they can still be having a strong impact on us.
Another factor affecting our body image in recent years is the rise in popularity of social media. We are constantly being bombarded by images of ‘perfect’ people who we are prone to compare ourselves to. We have to keep in mind that a lot of the celebrity images we see in advertisements and in magazines have been air-brushed, they also have all the top hair stylists, makeup artists and fashion designers to help them look that good! If we use this as our benchmark then we are setting unrealistically high standards which can only lead to failure There are some great before and after images here: www.boredpanda.com
Tips to boost your body image
- Check in with how you are talking to yourself – would you talk to your best friend like that? I’m guessing not, so try to speak to yourself with a little more kindness.
- When somebody pays you a compliment, practice accepting it by simply saying ‘thank you’. So often we brush compliments aside with comments like ‘oh, this old thing’ or ‘ah, you’re just after something’. Make a note of any compliments you receive and when you read back over them replay the moment and allow any positive feelings to be there.
- Notice and be grateful for all the amazing things your body can do. Don’t focus on its limitations.
- Focus on what you like about your appearance.
- Question what you are seeing on social media. Has that person used an ‘airbrush’ app? How many photos did they delete before they settled on that one?
- Focus on things you like about yourself which are not related to your appearance – there is a lot more to life than body image!
- Spend time with people who make you feel positive and speak to them if you are struggling.
- Do nice, healthy things for your body e.g. do some exercise, wear clothes you feel comfortable in, eat well, and don’t drink to excess.
Body Cons – A podcast about all things body image hosted by Lottie Storey and Molly Forbes @bodyconspodcast
Body Positive Power by Megan Jayne Crabb – follow her @bodyposipanda
Jessamyn Stanley: @mynameisjessamyn
Natalie Lee: @stylemesunday
Special thanks for these resources go to an article by Lottie Storey entitled ‘Figuring It Out’ which was published in the July 2019 edition of Simple Things Magazine – a happy coincidence that we published similar articles at the same time!