Our bodies are capable of some pretty incredible things. They get us moving every day, fight off illness, and can even heal themselves.
But for many of us, our bodies can be a source of great mental distress. It’s the reason the UK’s Mental Health Foundation have chosen Body Image as their theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 (13th–19th May).
With the rise of ‘reality’ TV, photoshop, Instagram filters and beauty standards getting ever further out of reach, negative body image affects an awful lot of us. Despite this however, it often slips under the radar of issues to talk about.
Perhaps it’s by design, our primal instinct to conform, please and impress. In our attempt to blend into the crowd, I wonder if we’ve created a society where we feel bad for looking “different” — for not measuring up to the ‘gold standard’ of perfect bums, glossy teeth and chiselled six packs.
The thing about negative body image is that it’s completely indiscriminate. No matter what your age, your gender, your race or your background, body image issues can affect you. And they can be incredibly damaging to your mental health. These problems might even be hiding in plain sight — I mean how healthy is it REALLY to be doing HIIT workouts three times a day? I’m not sure even the most elite of athletes would be doing so...
So, how can I nurture a more positive body image?
This is a deeply personal matter of course, and for some, not as simple as just saying nice things to yourself. But if you find yourself berating the person that glares back in the mirror, there are some things you can try.
- Remember, you could be the ripest, sweetest apple on the tree and there will still be people who don’t like apples. Be yourself, and don’t worry about what other people may think of you. It’s not easy, but its life changing.
- Notice when you start comparing yourself to others, especially in the minefield of social media. Stop, take a break from the screen, and be selective of which accounts you choose to follow. If you spend more time on an influencer’s profile feeling bad about yourself than admiring their latest holiday snaps, unfollow them.
- Keep a list of things you like about yourself. Don’t limit it to the way you look. Read it and add to it often.
- Surround yourself with positive people. It’s much easier to love yourself when you’re around people who love you for who you really are.
- Be kind to yourself — we would never dare say some of the things we tell ourselves to another living person. So why is it OK to be so cruel to ourselves?
Cutting back a little in the run up to that beach holiday or super special day is one thing. But if body image issues are starting to have an impact on your life, or you are worried it’s getting out of control, please get professional support. Speak to your doctor or get in touch with organisations like Rethink Mental Illness. The Mental Health Foundation also has a lot of useful resources as part of their Mental Health Awareness Week campaign that you can access here.