This week is Mental Health Week, and this year the topic is Body Image. Body dissatisfaction can start as young as age 6 and lead to depression, anxiety and eating disorders. For too many of us, our bodies are sources of shame and distress, recent research by the Mental Health Foundation reported that nearly 1 in 3 people in the UK have felt stressed to the point of being unable to cope because of thoughts about their body and how other people perceive them. From an early age, we are bombarded with images that define what an ‘ideal body’ looks like. Sometimes we have faced bullying or cruelty as friends and family have used how we look as a way to put us down for a cheap laugh.
Teenagers and young people are especially vulnerable to the effects of poor body image. In 2017 the UK government was urged to commit more time and resources to combat this growing problem. One expert consulted in the study said that it was now ‘normal’ for young people to be unhappy with the way that they look.
We are all aware of the proliferation of fad diets, often endorsed by a celebrity that promise to change the way we look in a short space of time. Often these diets are unhealthy and unsustainable, leading over time to metabolisms which aren’t as effective. Research has shown us that the more the more comfortable you are with your body, the greater your overall wellbeing, and the better choices you make when presented with fad diets or dangerous exercise programmes.
Concern over body image led the Mental Health Foundation to seek a ban on a series of cosmetic surgery ads shown around the TV show Love Island. They warned the Advertising Standards Authority that the ads ‘painted a false picture of perfection’ and ‘exacerbated young people’s insecurities’, leading to a removal of these kinds of advertisements around the show.
It’s not just advertising which sends young people the message that their bodies are not good enough. Social media has been regularly criticised for lowering teenager’s overall feelings of self-worth and wellbeing. In 2017 a report by Nuffield Health found that children as young as 9 were being targeted by games featuring plastic surgery makeovers. The report identified several factors that contribute to poor body image in young people These include increasing levels of anxiety around appearance, the rise of social media where photos can receive positive or negative ratings and pop culture pictures of celebs with airbrushed good looks and perfect lives.
So how do we promote positive self-esteem and body positivity to our children and teens? We can limit their access to social media and engage in conversations with them about body image. By talking openly about how bodies change over time and what their purpose is, we can take a role in shaping an inclusive culture. Shift to praising them for what they’ve done, rather than how they look. Emphasise health and activity over fashion.
The Mental Health Foundation suggests posting on social media a picture of a time or a place when you felt comfortable in your own skin – this could be now, five years ago or at the age of five. It can be a photo of yourself or something else that reminds you of the moment. Use the hashtags #BeBodyKind and #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek to participate in the activity.
If you suspect that your child or teenager is struggling with their body image, early intervention is important. Dealing with low self-esteem and body image issues can be effectively done with clinical hypnotherapy. During a session of hypnotherapy a qualified therapist will build self-confidence and a positive self-image using a range of different techniques. The National Council for Hypnotherapy (NCH) says its therapists are trained to help people improve their self-esteem, self-confidence and body image.
Access a fully trained and insured therapist near you today. Use the NCH therapist finder.