The Relationship between Body Image and Mental Wellbeing
This week is Mental Health Awareness week, an initiative hosted by theMental Health Foundation. This year’s focus is self-perceived body image and its relationship with mental health. Body image has been a significant part of public discussion for a number of years. More and more people are discussing how people, and especially their bodies, are portrayed in media, advertising and films. Specifically, we have started realising the impact of these portrayals on our beliefs about beauty, attractiveness, and what is considered acceptable.
Body image exists both within the individual and externally. On an individual level, body image is both how you feel about your body (mental), and what you see when you look in the mirror (emotional). How we think and feel about our bodies, and body image in general, can be influenced by a range of factors. For instance, different cultures can have different views on what is desirable, or considered ‘ideal’ - some cultures may value a heavier body weight whilst another may place more emphasis on being a specific height. Time is another factor that influences perceptions of body image. In the 20th century, the ‘ideal body’ for a woman in Western culture has gone from full-figured, to flat-chested and narrow-hipped, to athletic, to curvy - it never remains static. Of course, media and advertising can be especially powerful in promoting a specific ideal, for example by publishing articles with tips on how to look like a trend currently in vogue.
How we think and feel about our bodies can have a significant impact on our overall well-being. According to a survey carried out by YouGov, 20% of adults reported being unhappy with how their body looks. A number of participants (34%) also reported their negatively perceived body image significantly impacted their mood. When we are unhappy with the way we look there can be a preference to want to change something about ourselves, hoping that this will make us feel better. For instance, someone who perceives themselves as overweight might engage in dieting and exercising. There is nothing wrong with considering both. However, this behaviour can become unhelpful if the ideal we are striving towards is unrealistic or based on misperceptions.
Talking about how we view our bodies, how bodies are portrayed and idealised publically, and how this affects our well-being can be an excellent starting point towards the promotion of body image diversity and representation in our society. Expecting everyone to live up to a standardised, narrow ideal can not only be harmful to our bodies but also to our minds. Human beings come in all shapes, colours, and sizes and this needs to be reflected in traditional media, advertising and social media.
If you want more information about what is being done to promote a healthy discussion on this topic, you can visit the Mental Health Foundation’s website for stories, discussion and downloads.