Body Image – Why it may affect our Mental Well-being?

[Updated in February 2021]

In the UK, this week is dedicated to Mental Health Awareness and this year’s theme is Body Image (May 17, 2019). I really wanted to add my own contribution to such a crucial topic, especially nowadays when social media seem to be a place where we are all constantly reminded of looks and image.

Society, media, popular culture, entourage, family members, they all have an ideal in mind. This ideal is then projected onto you, us, and we are asked in a way to conform to it however we may feel about it. This can make you feel uncomfortable about the way you look, the image you think you convey. It can affect your mental well-being horrendously, leading to depression, eating disorders, unhealthy interactions and relationships. So why are we so affected by our Body Image and how to overcome this?

1. Why are we so affected by the way we look?

There are many reasons, but I will try to keep it short.

First, our desire to conform and be part of a group is clearly one of the biggest causes. This is especially true for teenagers – this stage of personal development when you need to be accepted into a group and be liked, validated. Adolescence is a vulnerable phase and this pressure can damage the mental health of a young teen, which may lead to permanent harm.

Social media can also be quite hurtful. We are all asked to post the best pictures of us, showing off the best times of our lives in the best locations ever. And if you think the pic doesn’t look so hot, no worries, filters and airbrushing techniques are generously offered to save you, literally.

This need for acceptance, to be an accepted member of a community, to find our tribe, goes back to our origins when we needed to share and allocate tasks in order to survive, to be fed, nurtured, and procreate of course. If this basic need for connection is not met, we may then feel distressed, anxious, and isolated. This isolation could have terrible consequences on your mental well-being leading to different sorts of mental disorders. If you have been belittled because your look does not fit in, you may feel wounded with a strong desire to detach yourself from the group/community/society you are longing to be part of. No wonder we are so anxious about our physical appearance!

Besides, the way we feel about our body image is also strongly linked to our self-esteem. Society pressure can indeed have an awful impact on our mental wellbeing, especially if our self-esteem and self-acceptance have not been laid with good foundations. We may then compare ourselves with others, see ourselves and body in a distorted way, have a negative and unrealistic view of ourselves. Again, this can lead to isolation and depression.

Finally, media and society have a heavy tendency to omit tough challenges we may face in our lives. How about cancer treatments, their side-effects? How about accidents you may have suffered from? How about genetic deformations? And so on. Body Image and our appearance have necessarily been affected by these traumas or accidents. It is totally unfair to be victimised, or worse rejected, because your look doesn’t match a group’s ideal view. And though it does happen, which adds another unhealthy emotional burden to your situation.

2. How to overcome this?

That’s a tough and critical question! It makes sense that the more you are comfortable with your body and looks, the more likely you are able to face this commercial and peer pressure.

However here are a few tips to help you overcome the awkwardness you may feel at times:

  • List 10 aspects and features you like about yourself and focus on them.
  • Try to overpower negative thoughts with positive ones.
  • Do not set unrealistic goals based on media pressure or on what an ideal size/shape should be.
  • Wear clothes you feel good in whatever people may think, you come first.
  • Try to detach yourself from and spend less time on social media.
  • Avoid airbrushing every pic of you – this leads to an unrealistic view of yourself and unreachable targets.
  • Do not accept messages or pay attention to posts that make you feel you should be different from who you are!
  • Focus on things/activities you feel good at, you enjoy doing, and make you feel positive.
  • Focus on your achievements, things/activities you have been proud of.
  • Remember that beauty is not restricted to physical appearance.
  • Be happy about what your body can achieve and do, even simple acts.
  • Try not to be tough on yourself when you see yourself in the mirror. Remember that your whole body is not restricted to your nose, legs, waist, etc. Your look is also not restricted to your body image!

Your mental image of you strongly influences your interactions, behaviours and people you tend to be surrounded with. To overcome any distorted image you may have about yourself, relate to people who make you feel good, who help you pinpoint your qualities. If you feel extremely low and unable to face your depression, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Reaching out to others is actually extremely courageous. It shows strength, not weakness.

If you have any other questions or thoughts, please do not hesitate to contact me!

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