CW: This article discusses topics of body image issues which could be distressing to some readers.
When the Covid-19 pandemic started and the lockdown restrictions were placed, I was already struggling with health issues. Coming from a life-threatening situation and still not feeling well made me decide to go for further investigations and take a break from work until everything gets sorted.
Luckily or not, a couple of months later, I found myself jobless and having to stay at home all the time, so I had to put my effort into something: food. Cooking, baking, and trying new recipes made me happy at the time until I realised that I’d gained a lot of weight.
I must admit that I’ve always had body image issues, which we all have at some point in our lives, but not the type that will keep me away from seeing friends or not wanting to look at myself in the mirror. My anxiety started to increase; I felt ashamed and social media did not help.
But then I realised I wasn’t the only one feeling that way.
What studies say
“Researchers have highlighted many important socio-cultural factors that influence appearance enhancement behaviour including physical ideas in the media, pressure from parents, siblings and peers, social norms, patriarchal cultures, conceptions of beauty, sexual objectification, and gender role conformity.”
Yet, as Heraclitus said, "change is the only constant in life". The world is changing, and so are we and our perceptions.
Studies show a “strong connection between body image, disorder eating and psychological well-being”, and there are increased levels of body dissatisfaction in recent years, but so has the level of social media campaigns promoting body image diversity.
Did you know that, for example, a UK social media survey from 2020 has shown that:
· “61% of adults and 66% of children feel negative or very negative about their body image most of the time.”
· “Lockdown made people feel worse about their body image” with increased anxiety (76%), shame (72%), depression (46%) and only 46% feel acceptance and 43% confidence.”
Whilst I’ve seen many posts about body positivity that focus on “loving their bodies regardless of shape, size, colour, gender or ability”, I knew this is not something I could easily integrate into my life because it’s not who I am. I mean, we all have that little dose of narcissism, but saying that I love myself every day in the mirror? It is not something that represents me. It’s not bad, but it simply is not for me.
Body neutrality is “a middle-of-the-road approach between body positivity and body negativity, and it is based on the notions of acceptance and having respect for one’s body rather than love," according to psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD.
It promotes the idea of recognising our bodies as “only one part of who you are, and it’s largely influenced by genetics and that’s all out of your control”, focusing on what the body can do for ourselves rather than if you feel beautiful or not.
And I can agree with that to a certain extent. I have days when I like to stay in my pyjamas all day, and I am happy; however, that does not mean I don’t have days when I need to feel beautiful. I then realised that self-acceptance is a journey. It is not something that will happen overnight; indeed, it does not mean that you should get stuck into a vicious circle where you lose your willingness to change and to change not because of anyone else’s standards, just because this is how you feel.
So, where is the gap?
We can clearly see that steps are being made, and different approaches are adopted. People want to see diversity from a more idealistic path of body positivity to a more realistic path of body neutrality. It is no right or wrong in choosing which approach you are using. We are all unique individuals, and what might work for one might not work for another.
Maybe these new approaches to promoting body image diversity haven’t produced much change because they haven’t been lived enough. The key thing is that essential steps are being made, there is an increasing level of awareness, and we are a part of it.
Sometimes we get so caught up in our problems and work that we forget about ourselves, until one day when you look in the mirror and ask yourself “Is this really me?”. It happened to me.
So, take time, take time to get to know yourself, and take time to observe yourself in the mirror. It doesn’t have to be every day, and you don’t even have to say a thing; you’ll just get to know yourself a little better and understand your actual needs.
Body neutrality practices might or might not be the answer for you. How do I define beauty? Do I accept my body just the way it is? Should I treat my body as a temple? Does my body reflect who I really am? I am more than my appearance! We all have these questions.
But my question for you would be: are you happy? And if the answer is no, what did you do for yourself today?