This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, 13-19 May 2019. The theme this year is Body Image – How we think and feel about our bodies.
For too many of us, our bodies are sources of shame and distress. I’ve written before about self confidence from a female perspective, and my on-going battle with it, read it here. We know girls and young women are vulnerable but body image issues affect people of all ages and gender. From an early age we are bombarded with images that define what an ‘ideal body’ looks like. Don’t get me started on ‘beach bodies’, as a good meme said, a beach body is a body on a beach. Many of us have been teased by friends and family about how we look, and most of us are guilty of teasing other people at least once in our lives.
One in five UK adults have felt shame because of their body image in the last year. More worryingly, one in eight adults in the UK have experienced suicidal thoughts or feelings because of concerns about their body image. (Source Mental Health Foundation, 2019).
Having body image concerns is a relatively common experience and is not a mental health problem in itself, however it can be a risk factor for mental health problems. Research has found that higher body dissatisfaction is associated with a poorer quality of life, psychological distress and the risk of unhealthy eating behaviours.
I spoke to a number of colleagues and friends and asked ‘How do you feel about your body?’ The majority had body image concerns.
I’m not happy with it because it’s changing, it’s harder to control with age.
Not 100% happy, maybe if I went to the gym more.
Some days I look in the mirror and cry because of what I’m looking at. Other days I’m completely fine.
Rubbish, I’m too skinny. I’ve been called out for it a lot.
I don’t like my chin or my stomach.
I have a complicated relationship with my body. I don’t like my shape.
I don’t like how I feel I can’t wear the clothes I want to.
At war, my weight has fluctuated over the years from crash dieting and it’s taken a toll.
Not great. I feel like Mr Blobby most of the time.
It was reassuring to speak to those who were overall happy with their bodies.
I’m happy, even though I know I’m not in the best shape.
I’d rather be happy and healthy than look like a body builder.
I’m fairly happy with it. I’d like to be a little more toned.
Generally happy with it, apart from my sticky out belly.
How can you improve your own body image?
Talk to a friend, family member or health professional.
Body image can be a significant cause of stress, whether that’s being bullied at school, in the workplace or socially.
Clean-up your social media
Look at the accounts, influencers and people you are following on social media and think about how you feel about yourself after you look at their content. If they make you feel bad about your body or appearance, hit the unfollow button!
Celebrate your uniqueness
It may sound cheesy, but every body is different. There’s absolutely no point in comparing yourself to others. There is probably someone looking at you in envy.
Find the best way that works for you to stay active
Regular exercise can make you feel better about your body. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, which trigger a positive feeling. Regular exercise has been proven to reduce stress, help with anxiety and feelings of depression, boost self-esteem and improve sleep.
Watch your language
We can all be more aware of the ways in which we speak about our own and other people’s bodies in casual conversation. What might seem harmless in the moment can make us feel worse about our bodies in the long run.
When you’re suffering from low self esteem its easy to fall into the habit of wearing things that hide the parts of your body you have issues with. Toss the rule book on ‘what not to wear’ out of the window and wear clothes that make you feel good.
Most importantly, be kind to yourself!
Samaritans: If you need someone to talk to then Samaritans are available on 116 123 (UK) for free, 24/7. They are there to talk to, listen and they won’t judge or tell you what to do.
Mind: If you are looking for professional support then Mind can help you with their Infoline. They can find information for you on what support is available in your local area. You can call them on 0300 123 3393 (UK), they are available Mon – Fri 9am – 6pm.
Beat: If you want to speak to a trained eating disorder helpline support worker then you can call Beat’s helpline on 0808 801 0711 (UK) they are open 365 days of the year 12pm – 6pm Mon – Fri and 4pm – 8pm weekends and bank holidays.
CALM: If you want emotional support as a man or for a man in your life then you can call CALM’s helpline on 0800 58 58 58. It is for men in the UK who are down or have hit a wall for any reason, who need to talk or find information and support. They’re open 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year.
Maytree: If you are feeling suicidal or are having suicidal thoughts you can contact Maytree. Maytree have a house available for people at moments when they’re feeling suicidal. They offer a free 4 night, 5 day stay for adults, with the opportunity to be heard in complete confidence, in a caring, safe environment. You can contact them on 0207 263 7070.