Although the conversation around mental health is becoming more open, we are still very much in the mindset that there are only certain occasions throughout the year, such as World Mental Health Day, when we can truly acknowledge it.
It is our responsibility to change this, and, more importantly, it is within our capability. We need to talk more, learn more, and fund more.
Body positivity is strongly correlated with mental health. In 2019, the Mental Health Foundation reported: “just over one third of adults said they had ever felt anxious (34%) or depressed (35%) because of their body image.”
When people do not feel good about how they look it reflects negatively on their mental health. There is no doubt that these two issues must be tackled together. According to Beat, it is believed that 1.25 million people in the UK suffer from an eating disorder, having an unhealthy relationship with food and their bodies. Unless things change in wider society, we cannot expect this figure to decrease any time soon.
So why is it exactly that we are all so obsessed with what we look like?
It all bottles down to consumerism. What we are exposed to every day is an onslaught of images; captions; posts; porn, etcetera, which makes us feel bad enough about ourselves to spend money trying to have an unattainable body.
It’s not really surprising that this doesn’t make us happy.
Instagram plays a large role here, with influencers promoting toxic products and ‘miracle’ diets. Furthermore, as children are getting social media accounts at younger and younger ages they are becoming more exposed to these negative mindsets. TikTok, which has a targeted audience of under eighteen, has ads promoting fasting and other toxic weight-loss strategies.
As a teenager, although knowing that what I saw online wasn’t real, I was still influenced by social media to starve myself. If I managed to avoid eating until after school had finished I would be proud of myself, and, unsurprisingly, this unhealthy relationship with food and my body has had lasting impacts on my mental health. Sadly, simply recognising the problem is not enough.
The problem needs to be solved.
On a positive note, many celebrities are refusing to be airbrushed altogether, like social activist Jameela Jamil. To make a change they are posting about their own struggles with mental health. They’re also posting what they actually look like, compared to what many hours of hair, lighting and editing can achieve.
But we still have a long way to go.
Another huge issue is the lack of equal representation. Black people; members of the LGBTQ+ community, such as transgender people; and those with visible disabilities are just some of the minority groups who are vastly ignored in this global conception of beauty.
When people are not represented, they are essentially being told that they’re not good enough. It is heartbreaking that we are conditioning children to be ashamed of who they are from such a young age.
One way we can feel more positive is to stop thinking of our bodies simply as objects of pleasure. Athletes have shown what dedication and training can achieve and it’s awe-inspiring; our bodies have so much more to offer than a reflection in the mirror.
Childbirth is another incredible feat of human nature and one that not everyone can experience. The shame regarding stretch marks should be put to bed. What we should be focusing on is health, not looks.
And yet, a further issue is that the conversations that we do have predominantly surround women; it is not just those who identify as women who are urgently in need of body confidence and support.
Men’s mental health has been dangerously disregarded in the past, and it’s about time this changed and toxic masculinity was removed once and for all. Movember is coming up and I urge you to take part in fundraising. However, if growing your body hair just isn’t for you, there are many other ways to take part.
For example, I will be taking part as a member of the Women’s Lacrosse Team and running 60km throughout the month of November. So get fundraising!
In the current COVID-19 pandemic, people are struggling more than normal. Suicide statistics are believed to be increasing; according to Samaritans, one in four calls received by them daily have regarded suicidal thoughts and behaviours.
I think it’s safe to say that many of us put on weight during lockdown due to increased consumption of alcohol and a decreased level of activity due to the restrictions, leading us to feel less positive and less inclined to want to go outside.
All in all, our body positivity is pretty much at an all-time low.
But it doesn’t all have to be doom and gloom. It is never too late to make a change. Lockdown was a turning point for my own personal mental health and body positivity. Over the last few years I have been quite ill and have put on a lot of weight. I was actively shunning exercise and dreading the family walks that I used to look so forward to.
I found my lack of fitness and shortness of breath embarrassing and had pains from travelling even a short distance. But keeping myself indoors only made me feel worse and fed into a vicious cycle of comfort eating and hiding from the world.
With all this time to myself, I realised that I really wasn’t happy or healthy at all. Previously, one of my best friends had lent me the book Jog On: How Running Saved My Life by Bella Mackie and I decided to follow in her footsteps and give running a go. I would recommend reading it; it’s a very genuine, heartfelt book.
One day, I went for it and I set off on a run with my boyfriend. Although he was new to it too, he was in much better shape than me, and it didn’t take me long to realise how unfit I really was. It was excruciating. I couldn’t even run to the end of the street, and when I eventually crawled back in the door I was wheezing and coughing blood.
But I felt so proud of myself for going and the unfamiliar rush of endorphins made it so worth it. I started to go out more and more, using my runs as some solo time for myself, and as this went on for several months my mindset gradually changed.
Having something to focus on gave me back a sense of routine and an escape from my thoughts and as my mindset gradually improved. I started to gain back some confidence and began to tackle some of the toxic traits that had made me so unwell.
Running didn’t ‘cure’ my anxiety and I’m no athlete, but it did improve my body confidence as I started to think of myself in a much more positive way. Doing exercise provided me with an escape, and focusing on getting healthier and stronger rather than weight loss made me so much happier.
Instead of feeling embarrassed about how I looked running, I started to hope that seeing me, an absolute beginner, would lead to someone else giving it a go. Since moving back to Stirling last month I have climbed four Munros.
I am still a little slower than my friends but seeing what my body can do, seeing as I can’t even imagine achieving this six months ago, fills me with such pride. I still have days when I don’t feel up to doing much, so I’ll just go for a walk around the block. Don’t feel guilty for what you don’t feel you can do, but be proud of anything you can, even if it seems little.
We have a long way to go before social media is a completely safe space and trolling is a thing of the past, but we can make little changes to our own lives to be healthier, in body and mind.
If you or someone you know is struggling with some of these issues then please do reach out to the charities such as Samaritans (116 123), Mind (0131 662 4359), Papyrus (0800 068 41 41), SAMH (0344 800 0550).
It’s okay not to be okay and remember to be kind.
Featured Image Credit: Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com