Mental Health Matters: Body Image and Society

“God, I hate her thighs”

“She’s so wide!”

“He is WAY too skinny for my taste”

“I would kill myself if I had her body”

 “I managed to lose weight because I didn’t eat for 4 days. I just smoked cigarettes or had cups of coffee for meals instead”

“She’d be pretty if she wasn’t so fat – what a shame.”

 

Above are just a few of the phrases I had the displeasure of hearing in the past 2 weeks from friends, acquaintances, and even strangers walking by. One thing is certain: we need to talk about body image.

You may not think this is serious. You might be thinking there are bigger things to worry about – people with “real” problems, and that anyone who is affected by physical appearance is just futile, or immature, or looking for attention. You would be wrong. Body image problems affect an alarming number of people to a terrifying extent, leading to eating disorders, insecurities, loneliness, depression, and even suicide.

I cannot claim to know the details behind the effect of body image issues on other people’s mental health. I can, however, speak of my personal experience.

I am a 19-year-old girl, and like many others, I am constantly engulfed by society’s overly-expressed importance on what we look like. The instagrams and Victoria’s secret fashion shows of the world, magazines, TV shows, advertisements, song lyrics, the list goes on. We are constantly told how we should look, convincing us it is necessary in order to be happy and reach our dreams.

I don’t know if magazine editors reshaping pictures of models realise, or care about, the butterfly effect of their actions. Neither do the kids making comments on girls’ legs when they change into their PE kit. Nor the moms who force their daughters to go to the gym or a ‘juice-cleanse’ to lose weight. These small attitudes accumulate, creating a never-ending, all-consuming ocean of unattainable goals and scrutiny.

It was not the boy who made that one comment that one time that led me down a mental health spiral. These ideals are hammered into us from all directions, and we carry them as baggage everywhere we go.

Anorexia, bulimia, restrictive dieting and excessive exercise, self-loathing. You name it – I had it. For two years, I lost my period, my hair began falling out, I felt constantly cold and tired, and experienced extreme mood swings. I had completely depleted my body, all because I wanted to look a certain way.

Imagine hating your body so much you cry yourself to sleep most nights. Looking in the mirror and only hearing “disgusting” whispered in your ear. Being too ashamed of your appearance to go to lectures, fearing that everyone is looking at you and judging you. Withdrawing from your friends because leaving your room terrifies you. Imagine how much that hurts.

I was depressed. Nothing brought me joy, and I could not visualise a future where I was happy. I just wanted to fall asleep and never wake up.

Thankfully, in time, I was able to realise how these distorted values that I’d been brain-washed with were slowly killing me. It is an everyday battle and takes time, dedication and a lot of support from friends and family, but I am getting there. And because I remember how broken I once was, I’d like to raise awareness on the issue, and try to cut the disease off at the source. Which is why I will challenge the girls scrutinising themselves as they pass shop windows, or those who search online for ‘10 easy steps for weight loss’, and especially those commenting on other people’s bodies.

It has to stop.

The mind is fragile, it listens. We should treat it with love and acceptance, and encourage others to celebrate what our bodies do for us, and how beautiful it is that we are all different.

 

This article was published in conjunction with ‘Heads Up Durham’

‘Heads Up is a student-led society and the Durham branch of Student Minds. Student Minds is a nation-wide charity with the aim of raising awareness and support for mental health problems in university.

We ultimately aim to set up student-led support groups, improve student welfare, reduce the stigma and raise the profile of mental health issues within the university setting.’

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/durhamheadsup/

WordPress: durhamheadsup.wordpress.com

 

If you feel like you are suffering from any mental health issues, or feel that you need some help, there are a variety of different services you can turn to which can be found at:

https://www.dur.ac.uk/counselling.service/ 

https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk

 

‘Mental Health Matters’ is a new feature column in ‘The Bubble’. We are in need of more people to write. If you are interested in writing about your experiences for us, please email studentlife@thebubble.org.uk.

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