Negative Body Image Now Affects 10 Million Women in the UK – WH Investigates Why
Negative body image: one of the greatest epidemics sweeping British women – and one of the most dangerous. It’s time to face your demons and embrace your figure, once and for all.
Getting ready in a rush, – dropping your towel, blowdrying your hair, pulling on clothes – you glance at the mirror and catch the reflection of your naked body. Be honest: how does it make you feel? Proud? Satisfied? That there’s definite room for improvement?
If you fall into the former camp, congratulations, but know that you’re in the minority. A recent study by Dove found that British women have one of the lowest levels of self-esteem in the world, with a meagre 20% claiming they feel confident about their bodies. Crunch the numbers and the results aren’t pretty; this equates to 10 million women across the country have a negative body image and feel depressed about their shape and size. And while compared with chronic disease and genetic disorders, taking a grim view of our figures might not seem like the most serious of health concerns, body image has been directly linked to overall life satisfaction and proven in research time and time again to be critical for both good mental and physical health.
The Causes Of Negative Body Image
‘Your body is central to your identity and therefore intrinsic to how you view and value yourself,’ explains Dr Bryony Bamford, specialist clinical psychologist and director of The London Centre for Eating Disorders and Body Image. ‘When you’re dissatisfied or find fault with something so key, your emotional health suffers.’ And there’s no lack of research to argue our physical wellbeing doesn’t swerve the harmful effects either; a 2015 study by the University of Texas found that negative body image can increase your risk of obesity. No surprise then that, according to Columbia University, body image is one of the best predictors of general health – even more so than traditional metrics such as BMI and weight.
It’s time to shift from loathing to loving your body – easier said than done, we’ll admit – so if that calls for an intermediate stage of simply what you see in the mirror, that’s OK. The science suggests the key is in showing yourself compassion and accepting your flaws. comes the love.
‘Recognising and understanding a behaviour is the first way to address it,’ says consultant clinical psychologist Dr Andrew, who recommends trying to trace where negative thoughts about your body may stem from – for some women they’ve been bullied at or grown up surrounded by adults who were continually dieting. One helpful way to identify these influential moments is to keep a note of negative thoughts and consider what triggers them; apps like Thought Diary Pro can be a great help. ‘Look in more detail at your entries and you may notice a pattern. Ask yourself, “When was the first time I remember thinking like this?” or “Did someone ever say these words to me?” Once you’ve identified the trigger, you can begin to rationalise this thought process and challenge that this belief you’ve held for a long time isn’t necessarily fact.’
Equally, take heed if social media is a constant trigger. Last year, researchers at Penn State University found that frequently looking at selfie posts directly linked to a decrease in self-esteem. ‘We’re still buying into the international beauty standard as white, thin and tall, so it’s on you to introduce more diversity to your feed,’ encourages psychologist Dr Amy Slater of UWE Bristol’s Centre for Appearance Research. Unfollow those feeds that are exposing you to unrealistic ideals and instead search for the #bodyconfidence tag and accounts that have a more positive creative.
How you can help yourself
However, even if you have a handle on you think in this way, silencing that body-bashing inner voice can prove tricky. Sophie Boss, a psychotherapist and author of Beyond Chocolate, encourages women to think practically. ‘Spouting positive affirmations in the mirror and telling yourself you’re beautiful won’t work for everyone,’ she says. ‘But you do need to ask yourself whether what you’re thinking is in any way motivating or helpful. Would you say it to someone else? If the answer is no, because it’s too hurtful, you need to ask why you think it’s acceptable to say it to yourself.’
Indeed, according to a 2014 study by the University of Waterloo, the secret to positive body image is self-compassion. ‘It’s really important to show gratitude for all that your body does for you,’ says Boss. Dr Bamford agrees: ‘Understanding what your body is capable of and valuing it as more than just
a facet of physical appearance is vital to improving how you view yourself.’
Why Exercise Helps Create Positive Body Image
Turns out, exercise can play a vitally important part in that. A team at the University of Florida found working out improves body image, regardless of your fitness level, so anything is genuinely better than nothing.
And the key is to keep this idea of kindness in mind at all times, even when you’re getting your sweat on at the gym. Professor Renee Engeln, author of Beauty Sick: , believes the focus of fitness should be caring for your body, not drastically changing it. ‘Regarding your body as a work in progress only plays to the idea of perfectionism and suggests that your body is never going to be enough,’ she says. ‘Your body isn’t a decoration; it’s a part of you that has a very real purpose.’
To promise a quick-fix solution would be to lull ourselves into a false sense of security. But what is clear – crystal in fact – is that to get to a place where you’re no longer swerving mirrors or being a slave to the scales and can actually be #happy with your body, you’ll need to flick the switch in your mind first.