Body image and mental health

Body image and mental health

Monday, 21 June 2021

Body image is the way we feel about how we look. Most of us experience dissatisfaction with how we see our body at different points in our life.

Very few people are 100% confident about their appearance at all times. However, if the way we feel about our body starts to impact what we do in a negative way, we need to address this.

Difficulty with body image affects people of any gender. In today’s society, there’s a focus on physical appearance and the ‘perfect body’ and social media can emphasise this.

Scrolling through Instagram and making comparisons between ourselves and what we see is very common. This can distort our sense of body image, creating unrealistic expectations of how we should look.

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Body image and mental health

A negative body image can have a significant impact on your mental health. It can become a problem over time.

How a negative body image could be affecting you:

  • Stops you from doing things you enjoy such as going to events, holidays, having meals out, or playing sport
  • Makes it difficult to eat in front of others
  • Hinders your ability to focus on things that are important to you such as work or study
  • Stops you from wearing the clothes you want
  • Causes you to spend a long time getting ready or checking your appearance in the mirror
  • Makes you avoid going swimming or getting changed in front of other people
  • Prevents you from seeing people
  • Doesn’t allow you to be the person you want to be.
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Most of us experience dissatisfaction with our body at different points in our life.

How to develop body confidence

As with all confidence, body confidence takes time and focus to develop. It may be helpful to see confidence as a muscle that you need to exercise.

If your body image is negatively impacting your life, here are some things to think of:

Think about how our bodies are amazing

Each part of our body is designed to do something incredible. Noses allow us to smell a gorgeous bunch of flowers. Legs carry us to where we need to go. Skin holds all of our internal organs together. Lips help us to have conversations with others.

Rather than focusing on what we don’t like about the different parts of our body, be body positive. Look at what each part gives us or allows us to do.

Feet showing diving into water

Social media and body image

Who do you follow on social media? Are they balanced in the way they present themselves?

Many celebrities, YouTubers, and influencers gain sponsorship based on their image. They spend a long time applying filters and adjusting angles to get ‘the perfect shot’.

Remember, that is their job. They gain financially from their social media personas.

When our feeds constantly display images of perfection, it can distort our sense of reality. Think about who you are following and ask yourself “why am I following this person”? Do they make you feel better about yourself when you see them on social? If the answer is no, unfollow and look elsewhere.

Take a wider focus

When you are feeling critical about your body or looks, take a wider focus. Consider yourself as a whole person.

man looking in the mirror over his shoulder

Accept the compliments

In Ireland, we can be very quick to dismiss compliments from people. We often focus on negative feedback we get on our body image and filter out the positive too.

The next time someone gives you a compliment, try to listen and note it. Accept it without dismissal. Respond with a simple ‘thank you, I appreciate that.’

Focus on your strengths

As human beings, how we appear on the outside is only a small part of who we are as a person.

Make a list of all your strengths, qualities, and interests. These strengths cards may help. When you are feeling critical about your body or looks, take a wider focus. Consider yourself as a whole person.

Treat yourself as you would treat others

Do you say things to yourself about your appearance you would never say to someone you care about? Listen to your ‘inner voice’ and what you are telling yourself.

Write down all the negative things you say to yourself about your body image. Imagine how you would respond to a friend if they said those things about themselves.

It can take some retraining but it’s important to learn to be as kind to ourselves as we would be to someone else.

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