The way you think and feel about your body can affect all aspects of your life — no matter how old you are. This Mental Health Awareness Week, we look at body image
Are you happy with the way you look? Give or take the odd lump or bump and wrinkle, that is. Or do you constantly compare yourself with the perfect images that fill your Instagram feed and find yourself lacking?
If it’s the latter, it’s important to know you are not alone.
According to the British Social Attitudes Survey, one in 10 women is dissatisfied with their appearance.
A UK-wide survey by the Mental Health Foundation asked people who had felt high levels of stress to say more about why.
Three in 10 people said that their body image and feelings about their appearance had been one of the causes of their stress.
That’s why the Mental Health Foundation has chosen body image as the topic for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week.
Julie Cameron, from the Mental Health Foundation, says: ‘Body image can often be seen as a frivolous problem, but it goes deeper than appearance. Body image impacts our lives and wellbeing — there’s evidence linking it to depression, self-harm and suicide.
‘It doesn’t just affect young people either, it affects both men and women of all ages, ethnicities and sexualities.
‘We need to frame how we talk about our bodies differently. Think: Look how capable I am, look how capable my body is. Don’t just talk about appearance, focus on other qualities, especially around children.’
What is body image?
In essence, it is how we think and feel about our bodies. It can include how we view our bodies, how satisfied we are with them, how much we value what others think about our appearance and how this impacts our thoughts and feelings about ourselves.
How does it link to mental health?
Research has found that higher levels of body dissatisfaction are associated with poorer quality of life, a higher likelihood of depression and eating disorders. Body satisfaction and body appreciation have been linked to overall wellbeing, higher self-esteem, and fewer unhealthy dieting behaviours.
What impacts body image?
According to The Mental Health Foundation, the way in which our experiences and environment affect our body image will probably be different for everyone, but it may be influenced by…
The quality of our personal relationships (e.g. family members, friends).
How our parents felt and spoke about their own bodies and appearance.
Feeling pressured to look a certain way, or to have a particular ‘ideal’ body type.
Being exposed to images of ‘idealised’ or unrealistic bodies through the media or social media.
Six ways to feel positive about the way you look
1. Instead of striving towards a single body ideal, embrace and champion the diversity of the human race. Accept that changes such as puberty, pregnancy and ageing are part of who we are.
2. If your body image is a significant cause of stress, or if you’re being bullied about how your body looks, talk to a friend, adult or health professional, especially before making drastic decisions around cosmetic surgery, extreme dieting or trying drugs and supplements.
3. Look at who you follow on social media and be mindful of how you feel about your own appearance when you look at their accounts. Unfollow any that make you feel negative.
4. At home lead by example. Model positive behaviour around body image, eating healthily and staying active. Praise children for qualities unrelated to physical appearance and avoid criticising your own or other people’s appearance.
5. Our language is important. Be aware of how we speak about our own and other people’s bodies. Consistently saying things that reinforce youth and weight as the essence of beauty may feel harmless, but can make us feel worse over time.
6. Find the best way that works for you to stay active. Exercise makes us feel better about our bodies and decreases stress.