Mental Health Awareness Week: Body Image.

13th May to 19th May marked Mental Health Awareness week in the UK. The progress regarding the discourse of mental health that has been undertaken over the last few years, worldwide, has been immensely profound. I have never witnessed so much exposure and awareness encouraging wellness and mindfulness than I have done in recent years.

As an individual who has battled with problems relating to my mental health for a very large portion of my little life, I can recall feeling very isolated during the periods where the state of my mind was not at its best and was negatively impacting and jeopardising numerous aspects of my life. This was because the internal state of one’s mind simply was not a topic to be conversed about. It was a taboo subject that I felt very apprehensive opening up about to others as I feared their reactions towards me would be dismissive, ignorant and misunderstanding.

We can only give gratitude to how we, as an evolving society, have collectively seemed to gradually learn about, understand and accept that individuals exist among us whose thought processes are not obscured, but unique.

Establishment and Findings
2001 was the year which celebrated the first ever Mental Health Awareness week in the UK, hosted by the Mental Health Foundation. Since then, the second week of May is the national week of the UK to inspire against the stigma that is placed upon the topic of mental health, and to encourage more awareness regarding it. Each year, different themes are the focal points of the week. Body Image: How We Think and Feel About Our Bodies was the theme appointed for 2019. According to a 2019 survey conducted by the Mental Health Foundation:

  • 20% of adults in the UK have felt ashamed of their body image in the last year.
  • 34% of adults in the UK have felt anxious or depressed due to body image concerns.
  • 13% of adults in the UK have experienced suicidal thoughts due to body image concerns.
  • 40% of teenagers in the UK stated that images on social media caused them to feel an incessant sense of worry regarding their body image.

I shall not delve into the concept of FOMO (fear of missing out) in this post as that strays away from the given theme of body image, but it most definitely is a contribution of the damage delivered by social media. We live in a very technological era where the use of social media is rife. Every waking day, we are exposing our psyche to how other individuals are leading and living their lives (Instagram). Google delivers 394,000,000 results upon searching “effects of social media on body image” and that itself speaks volume. Every individual I have spoken to regarding Instagram has spoken more about the negatives of it than the positives. When asked to elaborate, I have gotten responses such as:

  • “It makes me feel shit about myself.”
  • “Nothing on it is real, everyone and everything’s fake.”
  • “I keep comparing myself to people.”
  • “It’s a waste of time.”
  • “It makes me care about what people think of me.”
  • “It makes me focus on what I don’t have, rather than what I do have.”
  • “I seem to pay more attention to others than I do to myself.”

These are all responses from adults aged 21-33. A common reoccurring answer apparent in the conversations had regarding Instagram, and social media platforms like it, was that it ultimately did not make users feel good about themselves – whether it was in terms of what stage in life they were at or how they looked. When asked if there were any other factors in their lives which contributed to them not feeling satisfied, the majority could not answer in the affirmative. Due to the nature of this post and the theme of Mental Health Awareness week, the focal point shall be on how the interpretation of our appearances can be morphed into one that does not allow us to feel content, and how a consistent use of social media could be (or is) a contributing factor to this.

Photoshop and Surgery
A quick search of “Photoshop on Instagram” in YouTube will grant you access to videos with titles such as, “BEFORE AND AFTER FACETUNE PHOTOS,” “I photoshopped my Instagram pictures for a week!!!” “Instagram models aren’t real,” “Celebrity Photoshop fails!” A quick search of the hashtag #nonsurgical on to Instagram will display a plethora of results such as #nonsurgicalbuttllift #nonsurgicalnosejob #nonesurgicaleyelift #nonsurgicalnecklift #nonsurgicalbbl #nonsurgicalbreastlift etc. etc.. Non surgical procedures have become immensely popular across social media as they are the somewhat affordable alternative to pricey surgical procedures.

We are constantly looking at individuals who have features and body types which collectively deliver a standard of beauty that would (in most cases) be absolutely impossible to achieve without some form of Photoshop and/or surgery. Exposing ourselves to these images every single day damages our consciousness and affects our ability to practice self love. Our self acceptance disappears as we find ourselves comparing our face and body to faces and bodies that in absolute reality, do not look the way they do. Nothing is real, but constant exposure to these images tricks us into believing that it is the norm and a true reality – people really must look like this. We begin to feel insecure and “ugly” as more and more individuals with unrealistic standards of beauty become apparent.

I am not in any way against cosmetic surgery. Heck, I have considered it myself. However, our reasons for wanting to change something about our bodies should never be influenced by other people. It should never be because we are made to feel dissatisfied with our bodies because of constant comparison to others. Neither should it be because we want to reach the “social media standards of beauty” that everyone now seems to be wanting to attain. Study your body. Study your face. If social media did not exist, would you feel an incessant want to change your body or face in some way? Or would you be satisfied with how you look? Do you think you would possess enough self love to not consider changing something about yourself?

The correlation between social media and plastic surgery is undeniable and it is also worrying because we have adults stating that their viewpoint of their appearance is affected, ultimately due to what their psyche is exposed to on a daily basis. If the effects of social media are enough to penetrate an adult’s brain to such an extent, what must they be doing to the brains of young individuals, whose thought processes and mindframes have not yet fully developed? How will this younger generation grow up to view themselves physically? How will their outlook affect them mentally?

Upon deleting my Instagram almost a year ago, I Google searched “I deleted Instagram” just to see if and why others may have done the same thing. Every single link described how individuals upon ridding their lives of the social media platform, felt better. They had titles such as “I deleted Instagram and feel better,” “Why I deleted Instagram and you should think about it too,” “I felt free after deleting my Instagram,” “Deleting my Instagram was the most fulfilling thing” and “I deleted Instagram and it changed my life.” The common points in these articles described how positive changes after the absence of social media slowly became apparent as a result of no exposure to FOMO or comparison to others.

Self Image and Self Love
I was bulimic for an extensive period of my teenage years. Every meal I ate, I would vomit out. Instagram did not exist then and social media definitely was not used how it is today. My lack of care for my body was not formed as a result of comparison to others or wanting to look like others. It was apparent due to a deprivation of self love. I only realised this 3 years ago when I began to research the concept of self love in detail as the topic of my thesis revolved around it. I have never looked at myself the same since. My perspective of my self image was very distorted and I only began to fix it once I truly understood the value of self love and the worth I possess, as a female human being.

I have never been 100% satisfied with my appearance, I don’t think anyone is, but I am constantly working on loving myself, regardless of what I look like. Sometimes it works to an extent where I convince myself that I am in need of no cosmetic surgery, but on some days, it doesn’t have much of a positive effect. However, my journey and experience with self love has been effective enough to allow me to have more good days than bad and I can only hope this continues for me.

The relationship you have with yourself inevitably affects the way you view yourself. When I think of an individual I love unconditionally, I see no flaws. I am in awe when they disclose to me something about themselves they are not satisfied with because my love for them is so much that it simply does not allow me to see any “imperfections.” This is the relationship we must have with our very own being. We must hold ourselves in such high regard with so much love that if we were to see someone beautiful, we appreciate their beauty and say, “they are beautiful and so am I,” not “they are beautiful and I wish I looked like them.” There are numerous ways to practice self love and I encourage you to embark on a journey of self discovery and love if you have not yet already.

How We Think and Feel About Our Bodies
I am aware that there exists, other factors other than social media that affect the way we view ourselves. We have advertisements, magazines, catwalks, billboards, even our own friends and family members. Ultimately, it depends upon our internal monologue which either tells us, “I am affected by this negatively because it is making me focus on what I do not possess” or “I am not affected by this at all because I value and love myself enough to not to let it phase me in a way that will prove to be unhealthy for me.” This internal monologue we possess is transformed through our numerous life experiences to be a voice that is either uplifting or one that is not. Lev Vygotsky, a psychologist, referred to this as “inner speech” and described how it is an internal dialogue that is self directed. It is thought connected with word. According to Vygotsky, inner speech first begins to develop in childhood from “private speech” which is a result of social dialogues with the child’s parents or with oneself when playing with toys. It later on is internalised as inner speech. This internal monologue is a result of our lived experiences and has been nurtured through what we subconsciously take heed of. We have either nurtured it well or we have not and this affects whether it is one of encouragement or whether it demotivates.

Consciously working on our inner monologue can aid in manouvering our thought processes to uplift us and to view our body, as well as many other aspects of our life, in a manner that brings fulfillment. Working to think well about ourselves can encourage us to feel more empathetic with our bodies. This can slowly encourage a healthy self image and a sense of self love.

What Can You Do?
Some things I would suggest from experience and from what I have learnt during conversing with others about how we view ourselves are:

  • on social media, follow people who inspire you to be better in different ways.
  • limit the time you spend scrolling through social media.
  • do little things to look after your body such as a face mask, having a bubble bath or going for a massage.
  • dress in clothes that make you feel good and do not be afraid to experiment.
  • do not weigh yourself every morning and every night.
  • have fun cooking your food and become a mindful eater.
  • make your workouts fun and try Zumba.
  • have fun with make up.
  • put together a skincare regimen for your body and face and try your best to stick to it.
  • partake in yoga to ease your mind and to also stretch your body.
  • work on feeling proud of everything about your body in whatever way you can.
  • buy sexy lingerie just to feel sexy.
  • surround yourself with individuals who are uplifting and encouraging.

Happy Mental Health Awareness week. (: I hope you found this post insightful and helpful. Please refer to my previous post regarding social media and my other previous post on the topic of mental health as a whole.

May the spirit be with you and thank you for reading.

    1. thank you for reading, Shantanu. (: yes, i truly hope it is a source of help for many. i have been okay, thank you. very busy with this whirlwind we call life. i hope everything has been well with you. i intend to catch up on your posts very soon.

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