... who has the worst inner critic of all?
Today is the first day of Mental Health Awareness week and to mark it Moodscope has a special offer for members, details of which I'll come back to. But let's kick off with a few words about body image, the focus of this year's campaign.
Yesterday a friend took a photo of me for a work project, for instance, and I hated it. This set me thinking about my own physical appearance and how self-critical I can be. My nose looks like a witch's, I thought, and that turkey neck – ugh! As for the rest of me, I've bingo wings, my tummy sticks out... the list of defects went on, and in seconds I'd hit delete.
It's rare to find anyone who is completely happy with how they look, but in a world of selfies and Instagram, we are more focused than ever on appearing perfect. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian have access to an army of stylists, photographers and retouching experts so it's no surprise they are flawless in every shot. The result is the widespread promotion of unrealistic beauty standards which wouldn't matter, except these constructs influence our self-perception and self-esteem. In this respect body image is not simply about our size or shape; it is the product of peer, social, cultural and familial values. What led me to believe, for instance, that my nose is awful? Somewhere along the line, I learned that if you're a woman, a pert little one is better.
Body dissatisfaction can affect anyone at any age, but in adolescence it is particularly common. A recent study of 11,000 14-year-old girls showed that girls spend far more time using social media than boys, and also that they are much more likely to display signs of depression linked to their interaction on platforms such as Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook. Yet whilst the issue is particularly prevalent among teenage girls – 8 out of 10 are unhappy with their body image - 45 per cent of adolescent boys want to change their weight or body shape too.
I'm no teenager but I'm not immune either, so how can we stop ourselves from getting caught up in such negative beliefs? I can't quite bring myself to look in the mirror and go 'Sarah, I love you' without wincing, but what I can manage is to be kind to my body. This, according to Mark Rowland of the Mental Health Foundation, can help us 'guard against the individual, family and cultural influences that can lead to a gnawing and sometimes debilitating sense of dissatisfaction with our bodies'.
Here are three ways I'm going to #bebodykind this week.
1. I'm going to try to quieten the inner critic who always wishes my body were different. I'm going to accept my body for what it is. Yes, I've got wrinkles and cellulite, but it's my body that gives me life, and for that I am grateful.
2. I'm going to listen to my body's needs. Sometimes my body needs to stretch, at others to exercise. Sometimes it needs to be nourished, and it needs to rest, too.
3. I shall take time to be in nature. This will allow me to connect with every living being and shift my focus away from human perfectionism.
How might you be kinder to your body this week? I'd love to hear.
A Moodscope member.
PS Here's news of that offer I mentioned. To mark Mental Health Awareness week, you can get 70% off my little book, Making Friends with Anxiety. The book started life as a series of blogs on Moodscope five years ago this week, which makes it doubly topical! The ebook is 99p on Amazon today. To take a look, just follow this link: https://amzn.to/2Q2dCuf
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