Mental Health Awareness Week: Exploring body image
Posted by Admin
9th May 2019

Monday marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme for this year is body image.

There’s been a lot of talk in the media about body image recently, exploring growing pressures for people to look a certain way and controversy around the availability of ‘thinspiration’ material on the internet.

Obsession, stress or worry about body image is often assumed as something that mainly affects women. However, it’s important to recognise insecurities about body image affect people of all genders, ages or races.

There’s a growing body of research showing the impact worry about body image is having on men. For example, a survey by Psychology Today found that men believe their appearance to be much more important to women than women report it actually is.

Body esteem is something the UK generally performs poorly in on global scales, showing it’s a problem that needs more attention and focus on. British girls aged 10 to 17 ranked third-bottom on reporting low body esteem out of 14 countries in a 2017 international study, with many saying they were skipping meals and avoiding seeing friends and family as a result.

In 2018, the Mental Health Foundation found that three in every 10 adults were so stressed by appearance and body image that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.

People may have issues around their body image, which can be fuelled by social media and unrealistic media images generally, but this is quite distinct from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), a mental health condition where a person becomes fixated with one part of their body that they feel is ugly, misshapen or in some way flawed.

It’s estimated that 1 in 100 people may have BDD, but the true number may be higher. The condition usually starts in teenagers and young adults. It often occurs alongside generalised anxiety disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder, and it may also exist alongside an eating disorder.

Improving our body esteem is something that requires a multifaceted approach as there isn’t a single answer. One thing we do call for greater recognition of is the serious danger of people becoming reliant on the connections they make online, using them as a virtual community – a substitute for social and family contact and emotional support. This can play upon the extreme loneliness and secrecy of those suffering from poor body esteem.

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