When talking about body image, the stereotype is that this is an experience unique to teenage girls. However, the reality is that 60% of adults have felt a negative emotion about their body image, and 30% of all adults have felt so stressed by their body image that they’ve felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. That’s almost 1 in 3 people. Body image concerns can affect anyone of any gender, age, or background.
Experiencing feelings about our body that cause emotional distress such as symptoms of anxiety, is different from living with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental health condition and is characterised by practicing habits and activities to relieve the stress associated with your appearance.
Body image isn’t simply looking in the mirror and feeling bad about how we look. Anxiety and issues with our body image can be complex.
People experience body image concerns in many different ways. Some people may worry about something that makes them different from others such as a birth defect, or disfigurement. Others may have a strong disliking for certain areas or parts of their body. The reasons for why we feel emotional distress about the way we look are complex, and there are many potential factors. This may include how the media promotes the healthy body type to look a specific way, with little representation of different body types. Likewise, adverts, health campaigns, and education in schools may present the healthy body as being just one way visually. Many people also find that social media allows false portrayal or representation of how we look, which can lead to negative perceptions of our body.
People can experience anxiety surrounding their body image all year, but the summer months may be particularly difficult as there is pressure to dress a certain way, and you may feel less able to cover your body due to the weather conditions.
We spoke to Rebecca, who told us about her own experiences struggling with her body image and how she’s changed her mindset about her body to deal with anxiety.
“Anxiety and issues with our bodies can be complex, be felt in many ways and situations, and can stem from various sources, from childhood trauma, race, religion, and background, to our life experiences.
Throughout my teenage years and adulthood so far, how I have felt about my body has affected my mental health and lifestyle in many ways. As a teenager, concerns about how I looked impacted how I dressed and what I decided to eat. As an adult, I still have to remind myself that it’s our body’s health and how we feel inside that counts for being ‘healthy’, and not what size we may appear from the outside.
I feel there is a stigma around feeling anxious about how you look, as people can assume you’re vain or believe you think everyone is looking at you. This is far from the case, and often people who feel anxious are wanting to blend into the background due to how they feel, and do not wish to be the centre of attention.
Living with health anxiety also means I can often find myself linking the way I look to a health concern I might have, such as one leg appearing more swollen than the other, which causes additional anxiety and stress. I find in warmer weather this amplifies as I’m more aware of biological symptoms that the heat can cause such as sweating, which can not only make me feel more anxious about how I look but also cause me concern for my health.
In recent years I have learned to cope with anxiety surrounding body image by treating my body with kindness and respect. Your body is an amazing machine, and it’s there to look after you. I see it as something to nourish and keep close care of, and having this mindset helps me to banish unkind thoughts towards myself should they arise. I treat myself how I would treat others, if I wouldn’t say something so hurtful to someone else, I won’t say it to myself.
I think there needs to be more awareness about the causes of negative body image and the impacts they can have on daily life. I also believe educators and the media should take more responsibility to ensure all bodies are represented in what they label as healthy or beautiful.”
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