The role of body image on mental health
What is ‘body image’?
Body image is a term used to describe how we feel and what we think about our body. The way we view our physical self can significantly impact us throughout our life, not only influencing how we think of ourselves but the state of our mental wellbeing as a whole. Body image is said to be both mentally and emotionally connected, “it’s both the mental picture that you have of your body and the way you feel about [it] when you look in a mirror” – Here to Help.
Nowadays, the way we view ourselves is so often dictated by comparisons we draw with others. And with the rise in social media, access to idealised beauty standards is hard to avoid.
Social media has a considerable influence over our body image, and, to a great extent, it shapes our concept of beauty – defining what is ‘perfect’ or even ‘acceptable’. We are continually taking in images posted online, and this undoubtedly presents unexpected challenges regarding our mental health. One survey found that female university students reported that they tended to compare their own appearance negatively with their peers and with celebrities. For the full survey, please click here.
Body imagine should instead involve recognition of our individual qualities and strengths that make us feel good about ourselves – beyond what we see on the scales or in contrast with other people. It is easy to say, but we all need to play an active role in resisting the pressures of the “perfect” body, AKA the versions we so often see in the media and online.
Effects of body image
Below are just some of the things your body Image can influence:
Body image and self-esteem influence each other directly. It becomes difficult to feel good about yourself when you dislike a part of – or indeed your whole – body. That also goes to say that it is hard to notice the good and give your body the respect it deserves if you don’t truly value yourself. A positive body image, self-esteem and mental health are not about being happy all the time. Rather they are based on respecting yourself and others, thinking realistically, and taking the necessary steps to manage difficulties in healthier ways.
How can you encourage a positive body image?
- Self-affirmation. Note down some messages of positivity, things that you like about your physical self or that make you feel good. This can help to replace negative thoughts with positive ones and encourage you to be kinder to yourself.
- Notice when you start judging yourself based on your weight, shape, or appearance. Ask yourself if there are any other qualities you could look for when these thoughts come up. It can be challenging to disrupt this negative pattern of thinking, but being mindful plays a vital role, and the first step is acknowledging what you are doing. Ask yourself this: would you speak to a friend or loved one the way you talk to yourself?
- Surround yourself with positive influences, i.e. friends and family who like you just as you are.
- Social media detox. Firstly, social media often isn’t the safest place to be for any length of time, particularly if you are experiencing negative thoughts around body image or if you are susceptible to drawing comparisons. You may want to delete and unfollow a few pages if they make you question or compare your body image.
If you are struggling with issues regarding your body image and feel it is starting to impact your mental health negatively, it is crucial to seek help. These thoughts and feelings can become overwhelming and disruptive, so it’s best to address them as they arise. If you are considering therapy, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.
We offer a variety of different sessions, from CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and guided self-help to counselling. Our sessions are available seven days a week, and you can book them at a time that suits you. Carried out by secure audio, video or typing, you can take part in online therapy from the comfort of your own home. For more information, please send us an email.