This week is mental health awareness week and this year’s focus is about body image and the potential impact on our mental health. This link may not be something you have considered before.
Research has found that higher body dissatisfaction is associated with a poorer quality of life, psychological distress and the risk of unhealthy eating behaviours and eating disorders. Conversely, body satisfaction and appreciation has been linked to better overall wellbeing and fewer unhealthy dieting behaviours.
This has been a big one for me as I’m sure it is for so many people but women in particular. And it’s only recently that I’ve stopped to consider why this is? Why do I consider myself a better person, more worthwhile if I am thinner? When you write this down it’s actually crazy but society and the media feed us this narrative all the time!
Our value as people is not defined by how we look.
As a teenager, I was plagued with anxieties about how I looked and my weight, so much so that when I was 17 I developed what would be called an eating disorder. This is the first time I am ever truly admitting that I did have a mental health problem about eating. Up until now I often have just brushed it off as a crazy diet that year or so, which in hindsight is just not true. During this disordered thinking, I often thought my life as a whole would be so much better if I could just lose a few more pounds or fit into that size 8 dress. When I started to lose weight, people would automatically compliment me on how good I looked and this would act as positive reinforcement of that disordered thinking about my body and weight, so I continued to restrict my eating and lose more weight.
We, especially women do that a lot don’t we? Give compliments based on body image, “ooh you look live you’ve lost weight?” “I love that dress on you” “your hair looks great” “I wish I had long legs like you” etc
Because we know people like to hear it, because we have been brought up in a society that values how we look so highly. Which is why although shocking it’s not hugely surprising that
Just over one third of adults said they had ever felt anxious (34%) or depressed (35%) because of their body image.https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/body-image-report/
And worse still
One in eight (13%) adults experienced suicidal thoughts or feelings because of concerns about their body image.
I still like most people have hang-ups about my body, wish I was slightly taller, had a bigger bum, a different under chin shape, no post-c-section tummy overhang. And it’s only recently that I have begun to accept my body for how amazing it is. It allows me to walk, run, dance, grow and gave birth to 2 beautiful babies, see, hear, touch and smell. I look back to photos when I was younger and thought I was fat and unattractive to find that was not the case at all, I was so worried about being fat, that it became a reality in my head and that’s what I saw. I couldn’t see or appreciate anything of the positive things about my body. The irony now is that medically speaking I am now obese but this is no longer all I see when I look in the mirror. I just see me as I am. I don’t think I am less of a wife, mother, friend or doctor because I weigh more or look different or wear different size clothes. It doesn’t change me and who I am. Would I like to lose some weight in order to improve my physical health? Yes definitely but that is for me, not for society or anyone else. And I don’t intend on putting myself down, hiding myself under baggy clothes, or not wearing a bikini in the meantime though!
All bodies are amazing, but they are also different and unique. It’s this uniqueness that we should try and embrace, not only for the sake of our own mental health but also for our children’s sake.
I don’t what my children to grow up being preoccupied with how they look. I want them to feel happy and confident in their own skin and just be their wonderful selves. But to do this we need to lead the way and try and challenge some of those ingrained beliefs that have formed so much of our lives so far.
So repeat after me..