This year Mental Health Week focuses on the discussion around body image: how we view our bodies, the relationship we have with our bodies and how that affects our mental health.
In a survey conducted with YouGov last year, the Mental Health Foundation found that one in five adults felt shame when they thought about their body image. That is 20% of the population. A further 34% said their perceived body image made them feel low, while 19% admitted to feeling disgusted about their body.
Poor body image is considered to be a mental health issue largely caused by situational circumstances. Social pressures to conform to certain type of appearance and body type, exposure to unrealistic and completely idealised images of the human body and even attitudes surrounding gender and sexuality can play a role in contributing to poor body image.
The Mental Health Foundation found that 40% of teenagers said social media caused them to worry about their body.
So how do we change this? It seems interesting that social media, which gives us a much greater ability to see the diversity of the world than we have ever had before, should play such a large role in making us think negatively about our bodies.
This discussion around body image coincides with the body neutrality movement. Body neutrality, spearheaded by Instagram influencer Stephanie Yeboah and actor Jameela Jamil, is primarily concerned with moving our focus away from our bodies. Rather than fixating on helping ourselves love how we look, it seeks to remind us that we are more than how we look. Appearance is just one part of what makes us.
The Mental Health Foundation calls for an active approach in improving mental health and poor body image. They suggest being mindful of the content you choose to view online and onscreen, being aware around others how you talk about your own bodies and the bodies of others, and modelling good and healthy eating habits for those around you.
They also believe in a more legislative approach and suggest that, “If you see an advert in a magazine, on television or online that you think presents an unhealthy body image as aspirational, you can complain to the Advertising Standards Authority.”