It’s a subject that affects us all: body image

And it's the theme for this year's Mental Health Awareness Week.

The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which takes place from Monday 13th to Sunday 19th May 2019 is body image: how we think and feel about our bodies.

Body image issues can affect any one of us at any age. It can impact not only on our physical health but also on how we feel, which can then affect our relationships, sleep, our stress levels and the way we deal with problems – our mental health.

All of us live with our bodies as they evolve and change over the years, just as all of us have a role in shaping an inclusive culture where we help others (and ourselves) feel comfortable in their own skin. Physical health conditions such as cancer and chronic pain can all change the way we relate to our bodies as well as living with mental health problems, learning disabilities and autism spectrum disorder. Ethnicity, race, culture and sexual identity are also impacted by specific issues in relation to body image.

The Mental Health Foundation found that 30% of all adults felt so stressed by body image and appearance that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. That’s almost one in every three people.

Read their full report: Body image: how we think and feel about our bodies.

Why does body image matter?

Our bodies are wonderful things. And yet, some  of us find our bodies shameful, ugly and distressing. Social media does not help – we’re bombarded with imagery telling us how we should look. Or perhaps we’ve been teased or bullied – by friends, colleagues or family.

Girls and young women are particularly vulnerable to poor body image. However, boys and men are increasingly affected too. There are various types of eating disorders including anorexia and bulimia. There is also a condition called body dysmorphic disorder where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance, but these flaws are often unnoticeable to others and perception is distorted.

If you are concerned that you may have an eating disorder, there is a quick eating attitudes test.

Because most people hide eating disorders, it is hard to accurately quantify the levels; however various statistics indicate that:

  • Between 725,000 and 1.6 million people in the UK are directly affected by eating disorders, with the true number possibly as high as four million
  • 8% of women are thought to have suffered from bulimia at some stage of their life
  • Up to 25% of Britons struggling with eating disorders may be male
  • The number of people diagnosed with eating disorders has increased by 15% since 2000 with the numbers of men diagnosed increasing.

Body image is closely linked with mental health

The more comfortable you are with your body, the greater your overall wellbeing, and the less likely you are to engage in destructive behaviours.  Sadly, eating disorders have the highest mortality rates among psychiatric disorders.

While cultural and social pressures do not directly cause eating disorders, they can make those particularly vulnerable to developing an eating disorder feel more pressure to look a certain way and they can trigger an eating disorder.

So let’s be kinder to our bodies as a guard against the individual, family and cultural influences that can lead to an overwhelming sense of dissatisfaction with our bodies.

We need to change our cultural values, parenting styles, schooling approaches, use of technology, advertising standards and the hurtful discrimination.

There’s so much more to life!

So what can you do?

  • Follow the Mental Health Foundation’s website over the next week to see the new information and sources of advice
  • Or if you think you may have an eating disorder, you can speak to your GP, OH provider or initially look at websites like Beat Eating Disorders or Anorexia Bulimia Care
  • Speak out about your dissatisfaction with the focus on appearance and lack of size acceptance
  • De-emphasise numbers. Pounds on a scale don’t tell us anything meaningful about the body as a whole or our health
  • Stop comparing yourself to others. you are unique and you can’t get a sense of your own body’s needs and abilities by comparing it to someone else
  • Question the degree to which your self-esteem depends on your appearance. If we base our happiness on how we look it is likely to lead to failure and frustration and may prevent us from finding true happiness
  • Broaden your perspective about health and beauty by reading about body image, cultural variances, or media influence. Recognise that size prejudice is a form of discrimination similar to other forms of discrimination. Being a healthy weight is important for health, but shape and size are not indicators of character, morality, intelligence, or success.

Each of us will have a positive body image when we have a realistic perception of our bodies when we enjoy, accept and celebrate how we are and let go of negative societal or media perpetuated conditioning.