Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs from 13 to 19 May, encourages us to talk about and explore all things related to our mental well-being.
This year, the emphasis is on body image, and the impact it can have.
I thought it would be useful to share some links, and thoughts, about developing body confidence, being aware of the impact it can have.
Body image and self-esteem start in the mind, not in the mirror. They can change the way you understand your value and worth. Healthy body image and self-esteem are a big part of well-being.
Body image is mental and emotional … it is both the mental picture that you have of your body, and the way that you feel about your body when you look int he mirror.
Maintaining a healthy body image is more than simply tolerating what you look like, or ‘not disliking’ yourself. A healthy body image means that you truly accept and like that way that you look right now, and aren’t trying to change your body to fit the way you think you should look. It means recognising the individual qualities and strengths that make you feel good about yourself beyond weight, shape or appearance, and resisting the pressure to strive for the myth of the “perfect” body that you see in the media, online, in your communities.
Self-esteem is how you value and respect yourself as a person—it is the opinion that you have of yourself inside and out. Self-esteem impacts how you take care of yourself, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Self-esteem is about your whole self, not just your body.
When you have good self-esteem, you value yourself, and you know that you deserve good care and respect—from yourself and from others. You can appreciate and celebrate your strengths and your abilities, and you don’t put yourself down if you make a mistake. Good self-esteem means that you still feel like you’re good enough even when you’re dealing with difficult feelings or situations.
Why do body image and self-esteem matter?
Body image and self-esteem directly influence each other—and your feelings, thoughts, and behaviours. If you don’t like your body (or a part of your body), it’s hard to feel good about your whole self. The reverse is also true: if you don’t value yourself, it’s hard to notice the good things and give your body the respect it deserves.
Below, see how good body image and self-esteem positively impact mental health:
These are just a few examples. As you can see, good body image, self-esteem, and mental health are not about making yourself feel happy all the time. They are really about respecting yourself and others, thinking realistically, and taking action to cope with problems or difficulties in healthy ways.
Below, see how poor body image and self-esteem negatively impact mental health:
As you can see, the problem with negative thinking and feelings is that once people start to focus on shortcomings or problems in one area or one situation, it becomes very easy to only see problems in many other areas or situations. Negative thinking has a way of leading to more negative thinking.
How can I encourage a healthier body image?
Treat your body with respect.
Eat well-balanced meals and exercise because it makes you feel good and strong, not as a way to control your body.
Notice when you judge yourself or others based on weight, shape, or size. Ask yourself if there are any other qualities you could look for when those thoughts come up.
Dress in a way that makes you feel good about yourself, in clothes that fit you now.
Find a short message that helps you feel good about yourself and write it on mirrors around your home to remind you to replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts.
Surround yourself with positive friends and family who recognize your uniqueness and like you just as you are.
Be aware of how you talk about your body with family and friends. Do you often seek reassurance or validation from others to feel good about yourself? Do you often focus only on physical appearances?
Remember that everyone has challenges with their body image at times. When you talk with friends, you might discover that someone else wishes they had a feature you think is undesirable.
Write a list of the positive benefits of the body part or feature you don’t like or struggle to accept.
The next time you notice yourself having negative thoughts about your body and appearance, take a minute to think about what’s going on in your life. Are you feeling stressed out, anxious, or low? Are you facing challenges in other parts of your life? When negative thoughts come up, think about what you’d tell a friend if they were in a similar situation and then take your own advice.
Be mindful of messages you hear and see in the media and how those messages inform the way people feel about the way they look. Recognize and challenge those stereotypes!
About the author
CMHA BC Division is a member of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information and HeretoHelp. This info sheet was written for the BC Partners in 2015 and can be found online at www.heretohelp.bc.ca to read, download or order
Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)
Explains what body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is, the symptoms and possible causes of BDD and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and advice for friends and family.
What is body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)?
Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is an anxiety disorder related to body image.
You might be given a diagnosis of BDD if you:
experience obsessive worries about one or more perceived flaws in your physical appearance, and the flaw cannot be seen by others or appears very slight
develop compulsive behaviours and routines, such as excessive use of mirrors or picking your skin, to deal with the worries you have about the way you look.
If you have BDD, these obsessions and behaviours cause emotional distress and have a significant impact on your ability to carry on with your day-to-day life. In this way, BDD is closely related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
BDD can vary in severity from person to person and from day to day. For some of us, concerns around appearance may make it difficult to go out in public or see other people. This can have an impact on our work life and relationships with other people.
It varies day-to-day. It can sit quietly or it can be completely debilitating.
BDD may also cause other problems, such as:
feelings of shame, guilt or loneliness
isolating yourself to avoid situations that cause you anxiety or discomfort
misuse of alcohol or other drugs
feeling you need unnecessary medical procedures, such as cosmetic surgery
Many people with BDD do not seek help because they are worried that people will judge them or think they are vain. This means that many people with BDD are likely to experience it for a long time before seeking support.
Body image is how we think and feel about ourselves physically, and how we believe others see us. Find out what you can do if you're struggling with the way you look.
What is body image?
Body image is how we think and feel about ourselves physically, and how we believe others see us.
During adolescence and puberty, your brain and body go through huge changes. Your body releases hormones which make you more aware of how you look, and more aware of other people’s bodies. These changes happen to everyone, and can sometimes make you feel out of control or anxious.
What to do if you're worried about how you look
Many people feel insecure about the way they look at some point in their lives. It's important to remember that there isn’t a single type of beauty - everyone sees it differently. And there simply isn’t a right or a wrong way to look. But if you're struggling, here are some things you can do.
Be kind to yourself and try not to compare yourself to the many images you see online and in magazines, which are often digitally changed to make them look ‘perfect’ – they don’t reflect how people look in real life.
Focus on the things you like about yourself, and the parts of your body that you like.
Spend time with people who make you feel positive about yourself. It might help you to write down the nice things people say to you, and not just about how you look. Remember, people value you for many reasons.
Think about what advice you would give a friend if they told you they were struggling with the way they look, and remember that advice whenever you start having negative thoughts.
Talk to someone you trust. It could be your parents or wider family members, like older cousins, aunts or uncles. Outside home, it could be a teacher, a neighbour, close family friend or someone from a club you attend.
If you feel unable to cope, or particularly worried about one part of your body, talk to your GP about how you’re feeling. They can listen, tell you about local services and support groups or they may suggest specific treatment for the way you’re feeling.
How you can support a friend
Talk to them and encourage them to focus on what they like about themselves and what they can do – not just how they look. Help them to see all their good points and the things you like about them – these can be simple things, like being a good sport, a caring friend or making people laugh. And If you think they’re feeling overwhelmed, encourage them to see their GP for professional help.
Where to get help
YoungMinds Crisis Messenger
Provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK if you are experiencing a mental health crisis
If you need urgent help text YM to 85258
All texts are answered by trained volunteers, with support from experienced clinical supervisors
Texts are free from EE, O2, Vodafone, 3, Virgin Mobile, BT Mobile, GiffGaff, Tesco Mobile and Telecom Plus.
A place for you to get advice and information about counselling in the UK, if you're aged 12-25.
If you're under 25 you can talk to The Mix for free on the phone, by email or on their webchat. You can also use their phone counselling service, or get more information on support services you might need.
Freephone: 0808 808 4994 (13:00-23:00 daily)
If you have an eating disorder, or someone in your family does, b-eat is the place you can go to for information and support.
Helpline number for under 25's: 0808 801 0711 (Daily 3pm-10pm)
To know what local help and support you can get, put your postcode into HelpFinder
Anorexia and Bulimia Care
If you're being affected by an eating disorder, you can ring the helpline.
Helpline 03000 11 12 13 (option 1: support line, option 2: family and friends)
Men Get Eating Disorders Too
Information and advice for men on eating disorders.