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Body Image

Mental Health Awareness Week: Body Image Body Image

Our bodies, which generally serve us so well, come under a constant barrage of self-criticism – too big, too small, wrong proportions, bad hair, wrong colour etc. etc.

 Although some level of “image angst” is perfectly normal and may drive us to look after ourselves better, poor body image can be a sign of underlying mental health issues, such as low self-esteem, depression or anxiety, whose causes may date back to childhood.

Our body image may worsen following physical change – e.g. puberty, childbirth, weight loss or gain, surgery, the menopause.  It may be influenced by a comment/comments proffered by a parent,  a partner or a peer, or by comparison with another person or by unrealistic idealised images of normal;   “How am I supposed to look”?  We may have been told we are too fat or too thin to engage in an activity or to pursue a particular career.  We may have suffered abuse, rape or coercive control.

Body images are not experienced in isolation; different societies, cultures and even families will hold different ideals.  The media adds to the confusion by its vilification of celebrities both for being too fat and too thin.  Perhaps others’ attitudes towards us will be informed by their own relationship with their body; for example, a partner might discourage us from losing weight if they have been unsuccessful in this endeavour. They may fear us no longer finding them attractive, or us becoming more attractive to others. It’s complicated!

It can be helpful for us to consider what we think is attached to our body image – for instance, am I using my appearance as a reason why my relationships have ended, am I putting off happiness until I lose weight,  and if so, how realistic is this?  Can I find something about my body that I feel good about?  Can I look positively at what my body is capable of?  Can I care for it?  What would it mean to you to accept yourself as you are, as you probably do others? To try to be less of a critic and more of a compassionate friend to your body!

When to seek help?  When you are struggling to cope with life…

Do you find yourself:

Obsessing in front of a mirror

Comparing yourself unfavourably to others

Feeling envy of a friend’s body or a celebrity’s body

Over exercising

Restricting food, overeating or purging or obsessing about food

Avoiding social contact, sex, or any activities you used to enjoy

Criticising yourself, becoming increasingly angry or sad in a way that impacts on your life

Drinking more alcohol/smoking more/using recreational drugs