When I first saw that the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week was body image, I thought, my mental health isn’t really affected by my body image, as it’s not something I think about obsessively.
But, when thinking back over my life, actually it is a common thread. From being a teenager and feeling bigger than all my slim friends, having acne and being overly obsessed on never being able to lose weight from my tummy. As an adult, a constant theme has been being on a diet and having a preoccupation with my weight, including starving myself to get into my wedding dress and then eating everything in sight on my honeymoon!
Talking about weight and diet is such an ingrained part of our culture that we almost don’t notice it. It’s a topic of conversation – whether we’ve been ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and basing our self-worth on whether we’ve fallen off the diet wagon or not. Berating ourselves, starving/bingeing, having an all or nothing mind-set and never seeming able to achieve that elusive ‘balanced diet and exercising 3 times a week’ state. Making us feel that we will never be happy unless we are at our desired size. That happiness is external to us and can never be found within us.
These things over a period of years, all cemented the feelings of low self-esteem, low self-worth and the swirling thoughts of “I’m not good enough and I’ll never be good enough” in my head. Thinking that everyone else was more important than me because they looked better than me. I felt that I was being judged on my appearance whereas actually I probably judged myself the most.
And our inner critic feeds off these feelings and actually we can feel ‘less than’ in every area of our lives. You get used to feeling rubbish about yourself every day, beating yourself down in front of others and feeling self-conscious in public. Dimming your light and being afraid to be your true self, for fear of being judged.
Low self-esteem and low self-worth makes us think that our opinion doesn’t matter and we can fall into constant people pleasing. Prioritising everyone else apart from yourself, scared of telling others how you really feel to the point where it causes huge anxiety and overthinking. I still have this thing now that if I tell others how I really feel or put my needs first, I will be told off. I’m challenging this daily.
The body positive movement has been a huge step forward in teaching us to accept how we look and to embrace our individuality. I’m not going to pretend I am 100% happy with my body (I wish I was), but I don’t obsess over my weight as much as I used to and can catch myself before I go down that negative spiral. Self-care definitely helps, as it sends a clear message to ourselves and others that we matter too.
During my two pregnancies, I’ve loved having a bump, a big one at that with having two 10lb babies! But even then you get comments like, are you sure it’s not twins? And I had a burst of confidence when I was postnatal in the first few weeks after my second pregnancy and wore tops that clung to my stomach, I was proud of my body and thought I don’t care if I show my bump. In 3 weeks, I had 3 comments on when I was expecting…umm I’m not, my son is 3 weeks old!
I know that now, we are even more obsessed with appearance than ever in our culture and I really worry for my kids, that even if we teach them that they are good enough as they are at home, it’s hard for them not to be influenced by their friends and society. I always consciously tell my daughter how amazing her hair is (she’s got wild curly hair), never comment on weight around my kids, and try to use different adjectives with her – instead of telling her she looks pretty, telling her she’s creative, imaginative, kind, loving etc rather than basing everything on appearance.
Can you relate to any of these feelings linking body image and mental health?
Do you talk to your kids about body image?