As we are now well into Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought it would be a good time to focus on this year’s theme, “Body Image – how we think and feel about our bodies”. Even the most body confident amongst us have probably felt self-conscious about their appearance at some point, but how can a negative body image affect our mental health?
What is Body Image?
Body image is about how you see yourself when you look in a mirror or how you picture yourself in your mind. While your body image is what you see and feel, it can differ greatly from how others see you.
How can it affect your Mental Health?
Feeling bad about the way you look can lower your self-esteem. This can stop you having the confidence to do things that you enjoy, try new things or even affect how social you are. All of which can impact your mental health.
We live in a culture where attractiveness and physical appearance are highly valued. Think of some of your role models, do you judge them on their appearance? Do you think how they look has got them where they are today?
Instagram an Influence?
It’s in our nature to compare ourselves to others. Society tells us to be the best, and how do you know you’re the best unless you check how well everyone else is doing? Social media has made it even easier to compare yourself to someone else. With so many social media apps available you have access to more people than ever before. But what is it we are seeing? An airbrushed version of life, with the bad parts filtered out. It’s hard enough we can compare ourselves to people we know, but now there is whole host of other people on there, whose entire aim is to make money from looking good.
The name says it all. They ‘influence’ where you spend your money by making you want what they have. It’s the equivalent of wanting the same trainers as everyone else on the playground just to fit in, but on a global scale! Some influencers can make a lot of money from simply posting pictures of themselves online. It is all surface level achievements, physical and material, and yet so many of us buy into it.
This all relies on our human desire to feel included. An influencers job is to make you feel like you need to be more like them. This can include the way they look. Making millions of people feel they are not getting it ‘right’ until they look a certain way or have a certain thing. It is a very powerful technique and, sadly, it can massively affect the way we feel about ourselves.
If you’ve spent any amount time browsing online newspapers you will notice that many celebrities, and I use that word loosely, are reduced to what they are wearing or how much they weigh. If you’re not being told how ‘what’s-her-name’ lost pounds by eating nothing but aubergine or how ‘such-and-such a-body’ got rock hard abs without lifting a finger, they are selling you a new beauty fad under the guise of ‘medical research’. This all relies on people feeling that they are not quite right the way they are, and that they must change. Why is that the message we are bombarded with on a daily basis? The answer is simply so we spend more money.
Next time you look at one of these articles ask yourself who stands to make money from it?
This is not gender specific
While most would believe this type of scrutiny is only saved for females, men are also subjected to the same unrealistic standards of physical attractiveness. Feeling bad about the way you look can affect mental health in men as well as women. Boys who are still developing, are told that being ‘big’ makes you most attractive. Last year the guardian found that up to a million people in Britain are using steroids. This is not for sporting enhancement but for physical appearance alone. Men are using harmful drugs just to look ‘better’ and achieve a build that isn’t natural for them.
Isn’t the beauty of being human is that we are all unique?
Think of the children
It is hard for anyone to avoid this constant bombardment of how you should look to be ‘beautiful’ or even ‘perfect’. As an adult (again I use that term loosely) I have to admit body image is something that often creeps into my mind. While I am relatively aware of advertising techniques and the wonders of photoshop, I can still fall victim to feeling bad about myself when I scroll through social media or watch an advert on tv. So, what about the younger generation who still hold some naivety when it comes to sales techniques? Research has found that there is a correlation between time young people spent on social media apps and negative body image feedback. With children who spend more time on social media having an increased risk of developing an eating disorder.
We must do better.
Take back control!
It only takes a quick glance at some renaissance paintings to see that the ‘ideal’ body shape is not the same as it used to be. You don’t need to go back that far to see that the idea of beauty is ever changing and if you want a good giggle just Google the 80’s.
So why do we invest so much into something that, in 20 years from now, people will probably have a good laugh at? Surely it’s more important that you are healthy, have access to fresh food and way to exercise. We need to fight back against the pressure to look a certain way and question the images we see.
Some celebrities have started to do this with Jameela Jamil leading the pack in pushing body image positivity. Now that is an influencer to get behind! It gives me hope that 2019 could be the year that being healthy simply means we have a positive body image!
I hope that this Mental Health Awareness week you remember to not be so hard on yourself, you’re only human after all…. I will if you will!