So the theme of mental health week is body image. For our day two blog post, we’re going to be exploring what this actually means and how that relates to what we’ll be talking about later in the week.
Because it sounds simple right?
Body image is, in the words of the Mental Health Foundation’s CEO Mark Rowland, “how we think and feel about our bodies.”
But body image is one of the most complex things about us. We’re changing all the time from the moment we’re born. We all grow, develop and age every second throughout our lives. But this doesn’t just happen externally.
Inside, too, things are changing. How we think and feel about ourselves is also changing. Even if we have a “good” body image and are 100% happy with it, it doesn’t mean it will stay that way.
When we think about mental health (before this week), body image isn’t really listed. We talk about things like anxiety and depression as conditions that can be diagnosed. We talk about symptoms such as self-harm. But we never talk about body image symptoms, and I never heard of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) before Monday. My spell checker still flags up Dysmorphic as incorrect – it simply isn’t in its dictionary.
I’ll be honest here. Since I started blogging about mental health, I haven’t really talked about body image at all. I’ve scraped the surface with a post about mental health in an online world. However, I haven’t really talked about it all.
So when we think of a negative body image, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
Is it anorexia? Often that’s what our first thought is. We see the traditional white girl who thinks she’s fat and is doing everything she can to lose weight. Do we see her self-harming or screaming? Perhaps we think she’s just attention-seeking?
Maybe, you’re reading this as that girl. It’s a blunt image, but one that too many holds in their minds when thinking about body image.
But anorexia is more than the above. And body image is more than anorexia.
Let’s break it down
Everyone has a body. Everyone has an image of their body, either a positive or negative one, although most maybe somewhere in between.
Think of this as the same with mental health. Everyone has mental health, whether it is good or bad. It’s still there.
We live with our bodies forever. They never leave us and (under normal circumstances) remain intact. Our bodies are with us from the moment of conception right through to old age. Our body image is, therefore, with us throughout our entire lives.
Our bodies allow us to experience life’s joys. They can be a source of immense pleasure, allowing us to live life to the full and enjoy the world we live in. But we can also be unhappy and not like our bodies.
We may feel shame. We may feel like we’re ‘not up to scratch’ compared to celebrities and those around us. We may feel judged, unworthy, disgusted even.
But we’re not alone in what we feel
In the last year, one in five adults felt shame, and one in three felt down or low because of their bodies, according to a new Mental Health Foundation Research Report released Monday.
In teenagers, my age group, those statistics are even higher. 37% of teenagers felt upset, and 31% felt ashamed because of their bodies. Now numerous things like social media and stereotypes are responsible for this. It’s an ongoing problem that doesn’t just confine itself to a week, and across future blog posts, we’ll be continuing body image conversations.
Body image is a growing problem
As a society, we are rooted in stereotypes of what we perceive to be the ‘perfect body’ that none of us will achieve. If we are aiming for perfection, we will always find fault with something, something that we can change.
Take being a writer, for instance. If I’m constantly worrying that what I write isn’t working, I’m always going to spam backspace, delete drafts and never get anything done. I’m always going to worry that things could have been worried differently.
If I did this all the time, I’m not going to get anything done.
It’s the same with our bodies. If we’re constantly worrying that everything could be a little different, we’re not going to see ourselves for the amazing creatures that we are. We’re not going to see the positives of ourselves and everything that is perfect and unique to us.
Left unchecked, this creates a negative cycle. We’re going to continue to find fault with ourselves. We’re going to continue to live unhappy lives.
Our bodies are not meant to be perfect. It’s the imperfections, the differences that make us, well, us. Our body image can have a real impact on our lives.
It’s something we need to be more aware of. And if we’ve got a low body image, it’s something we can improve.
But don’t worry. Tomorrow we’ll be discussing what we can do to improve our body image and how we can accept ourselves for us.
By Jake Symons
Jake Symons is an entrepreneur and passionate mental health advocate determined to share his story to help others. Alongside writing on this blog he hosts Mental Monday: Mental Health Live a biweekly intimate and unscripted conversation about mental health.