Mental Health Awareness Week – body image – how we think and feel about our bodies
We had friends to stay this weekend. At one point the children were watching videos of themselves. After watching one video the nine year old exclaimed loudly and excitedly;
“I just love myself”
What would life be like if we could all have that appreciation of ourselves when watching back videos or looking at photographs?
This week is mental health awareness week and the theme is ‘body image – how we think and feel about our bodies’.
In March of this year the Mental Health Foundation in conjunction with YouGov studied 4,505 adults over the age of eighteen and 1,118 teenagers (aged 13-19). The results of these studies showed that;
- One in five adults (20%) felt shame, just over one third (34%) felt down or low, and 19% felt disgusted because of their body image in the last year.
- Among teenagers, 37% felt upset, and 31% felt ashamed in relation to their body image.
- Just over one third of adults said they had felt anxious (34%) or depressed (35%) because of their body image.
- One in eight (13%) adults experienced suicidal thoughts or feelings because of concerns about their body image.
- Just over one in five adults (21%) said images used in advertising had caused them to worry about their body image.
- Just over one in five adults (22%) and 40% of teenagers said images on social media caused them to worry about their body image.
(Mental Health Foundation, 2019)
Negative Body Image
That’s a lot of people spending a lot of time feeling negativity about their body image. Navigating this subject is tricky. With the rise of photo sharing apps and a focus on being body positive there are many more people sharing photos that concentrate on their body. In some ways this is fantastic; I have read numerous posts from people on the beach or at the swimming pool, they are in swimwear and report on how prior to that picture they had not been brave enough to ‘uncover’ for many years.
They have found the strength they need to feel body confident and have a desire to let others know they should do the same. I am proud of these people, what courage it must have taken, yes, they should shout it from the rooftops. On the other hand (there is always another hand!) these images can make those that have low body confidence feel even worse as they make comparisons. With the ability to create perceived perfection, photo editing technology has worsened the situation. Thus, generating false ideals for others. Those that are not so tech savvy may not even have the awareness that some of these images are altered.
Low Body Image Confidence
Low body confidence (as the above statistics confirm) goes far further than standing in front of the mirror and disliking what you see. It can severely impact the enjoyment of social events and engagement with others. It’s another reason in the whole heap of mental health problems we have going on in our society that may be causing your friend to cancel on you again.
Unbeknown to many, taking care of the body can help with loving the body. If you look in the mirror or at a photograph and dislike what you see it may be time to take a step away from looking at yourself and instead invest that time into self-care. Some research has shown that we do not need to love the look of every part of our body to have great body confidence. In fact, it may not be about changing our body at all. Most of us have “ideals” or “perfects” when it comes to our body, but we do not have to meet these in order to feel good about our body image. When we start to treat our body, we can often find love for it. Below are some ideas for a self-care routine;
- Meditation; take some time to meditate each day. As little as two minutes per day or much longer if you wish.
- Hypnosis; as above. Either guided with an audio / therapist or self-hypnosis at home.
- Be mindful and in the moment; be totally aware and fully conscious of your thoughts, actions and behaviours.
- Choose not to compare.
- Take control of your thoughts. If you begin to have a thought that is not beneficial to your life say “STOP” to yourself, out loud if necessary, and change the thought to something positive.
- Write and say positive affirmations daily.
- Exercise; triggers endorphins which are the body’s feel good hormones.
- Rest it. Do everything you can to have enough hours of sleep each night.
- Seek support. A therapist can help with all the above and gives you time to focus on you.
- Relax all the muscles, in particular the forehead; the tip of the tension triangle. Even allow your tongue to rest and your mouth to fall open if it feels right for you. Do this daily.
- Clean your face, take the time to remove any make up. Cleanse, tone and moisturise – whatever works for you but really give your face some time. Prioritise this care.
- Water it. Internally and externally.
- Relax them, allow them to drop into the surface beneath you. The base of the tension triangle. I am yet to say to someone ‘relax your shoulders’ and it not have a visible effect.
- Moisturise it and massage it (yourself or ask someone else to). Stroke it and love it.
- Hydrate it.
- Feed it well. If you are unsure what foods are right for you take some time to research or visit a nutritional therapist. Unfortunately, there are conflicting ideas on the internet and in books, (if you do not have the capacity to see a professional) you can assume that by eating an unprocessed food diet your body will thank you.
- Exercise it (75 – 150 mins a week). Exercise reduces the risk of health conditions and diseases.
Nearly everyone that comes to my therapy room with body confidence issues is asking me to help them change their body. I do help people to feel motivated to exercise, I do help people to stick to a particular eating regime, I do help people to find a new eating lifestyle and I do have people come in and offload for the entire session. However, body confidence is generally not increased by changing appearance. Rather about developing a love for the body as a physical entity rather than an image. So, take some time this week to do that and see if you can learn to love your body. Just the way it is.
Read more about body confidence here
Mental Health Foundation. (2019). Body image report – Executive Summary. [online] Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/body-image-report/exec-summary [Accessed 13 May 2019].