This time Late Night Thoughts will be very personal. (If you missed the first part in the LNT series, click here.) For the blog I have to take pictures of myself and I really don’t like that. And when I was awake at night again, I realized once more why: I struggle with my body image and I’m pretty sure that I’m not alone with it.
[Warning: if you struggle with your body image, the following text could trigger unpleasant feelings in you. Please talk to a mental health professional or another person you trust.]
First of all, what is body image? According to the Oxford Dictionary, body image is ‘the subjective picture or mental image of one’s own body’. So it’s our self-perception and like many others I don’t have the best feeling about my body.
I am slim, blond, tall and have no physical limitations (except that I need glasses). So why should I complain? Well, when I look in the mirror or see pictures of myself, I only see what I feel is ‘wrong’ about my body. When I look at my face, I see my eyebrows of different heights. Well, I don’t really see them, because just like my eyelashes, they are barely visible. Besides, my eyes are differently shaped and my chin is too long. When I look at my body, I see my knobbly knees and my hips that are too wide compared to the distance of my legs. I’m not model thin either, rather comically thin.
In other words, it’s almost impossible to compliment me. But why do I have such a bad image of myself?
Reasons for body image problems
According to the Mental Health Foundation, there are various reasons why you may have a disturbed body image. There is, for example, the way others talk about our bodies, our social media consumption, and how bodies are portrayed on such platforms, and the pressure to conform to the social ideal. But also diseases (psychological and physical), gender and sexuality and cultural differences between body images have an influence.
For me personally, my social media consumption and how people talked about my body in the past have an influence on my perception of myself. Comments like: ‘Ew, you look like a naked mole’ have had a lasting impact. My weight, too, has always been an issue, both negatively and positively. And getting that together, especially as a teenager, is very difficult. While it’s no longer an issue for the people who have made these comments, probably just in passing, it still shapes me today. I wish it weren’t like that, but that’s my reality.
But what are the consequences? Researchers come to the conclusion that a poor perception of oneself is associated with a poorer quality of life, psychological distress and the risk of unhealthy eating behaviours and eating disorders. Your own body image therefore has an influence on mental health.
I can confirm that. The worse my body image is, the worse I feel. My perception of other people also changes. I start to evaluate them, which is nothing more than projecting my dissatisfaction on them.
I’m not alone
Many people have this negative body image. According to a study by the Mental Health Foundation, one in five adults in the UK have already felt shame because of their body image. More than a third of the adults felt anxiety or depression because of their body image.
Social media plays a major role in this process. One in five adults said that social media had a negative impact on their body image. The proportion is even higher among teenagers.
I think that due to the exposure of children and teenagers to social media this will get worse if we don’t change something.
What needs to change?
In order to prevent people from having a negative body image, it is important that there are meaningful regulations that govern how bodies are represented. In addition, social media companies, marketing agencies, and large corporations etc. must be held accountable for their dissemination of body images and become more inclusive. Furthermore, there must be a concept for the health care system so that health care professionals are comprehensively sensitized to this problem.
What we as individuals can do
Talk to your friends or someone you trust about your self-image. Most of the time it turns out that you are not alone. And if your friends make stupid remarks, they should ask themselves why they don’t support you. You certainly don’t have to feel bad!
Observe your social media consumption. What makes you feel good, what makes you feel bad? Sort out what makes you feel bad. If you can’t do it alone, get help from a friend. My social media consumption is very high because of the blog, but I now pay attention to who I’m following and that it doesn’t make me feel bad.
Be an example for your friends and family and call them out if you feel that their behaviour may harm themselves or someone else. Also consider how you talk to and about others yourself. I’m not always the best example of how to deal with others myself. In the future, I want to pay even more attention to how I talk about other people.
In the past, friends sometimes didn’t take me seriously when I talked about this subject, which is why I felt quite alone. But especially the conversations I recently had about it encouraged me to write this blog post that it is a general problem that we have to tackle together.
Although it may not seem so, my body image has improved. I try to pay more attention to the positive things about me and not attach too much importance to my body in general. It’s a journey and sometimes it’s better and sometimes it’s worse, like everything else in life.