Content Warning: This article contains themes of menstruation and contraception which may be distressing to some readers.
What is body image?
Body image can be defined as the thoughts of oneself, both for internal thoughts and external appearance/actions.
What may be a problem in the construction industry for menstruating women?
1. Lack of period dignity.
Period dignity is a measure of access to facilities and product supply, within the workplace or other. High period dignity is desired.
2. Challenge to achieve the same objectives as others.
Women may have symptoms during menstruation which affect performance. Open communication may relieve anxiety; this may boost performance.
3. A desire for office-based work.
Offices may have better-regulated access to bathroom facilities.
4. Awkwardness to request sanitary bins, products and washing facilities (such as soap).
Women may not feel comfortable to voice this issue without feeling the need to justify themselves.
How may lack of period dignity affect body image?
1. Few chances throughout the work-day to feel clean.
Improper sanitary conditions, such as a poorly-lit mirror, may make it more difficult to look and maintain feeling clean/presentable.
2. Few chances to verify overall body appearance.
Portaloos and temporary on-site offices are not usually equipped with full-length mirrors. There may be fewer chances to check overall body appearance. This may cause a hyperfixation on facial appearance (if using either a head-height mirror or a mobile phone to check). Hyperfixation may prompt extra anxiety. This anxiety may hinder people-facing task performance within the job.
Why might contraception help body image?
1. Contraception can physically stop menstruation, removing a factor for women to worry about daily.
The progestogen-only pill can entirely stop menstruation. Without menstruation, women may feel more confident/flexible in how they dress. This can boost body confidence.
2. Contraception can control associated symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.
Premenstrual syndrome can include symptoms of bloating and greasy hair. If contraception can somewhat control these symptoms, it may be associated with improving body image. Higher body confidence may boost work performance.
Contraception is not a cure, given the associated cancer risk. For the employer, the cost for sick pay may outweigh the small effort to provide women with period dignity.
What are the hidden costs of contraception?
Weight gain + Headaches
Back pain + Depression
Depression + Hair loss
Dizziness + Fatigue
Heavy menstruation after insertion + Pelvic pain
Nausea + Vomiting
Contraception may help women to approach the industry, but may resultantly cause symptoms.
How might contraception-related weight gain affect body image?
A perceived need to:
1. Burn more calories on site through over-exertion.
Women in construction may over-exert themselves to lose either real or perceived weight. This may risk injury.
2. Cover up their bodies with clothing, even in hot weather.
It is generally more acceptable for men to reveal their torso. Being surrounded with those identifying of the opposite gender may emphasise the belief that the individual looks different to others. For women, they may feel the need to layer up clothing, even in hot weather.
What could construction employers do to improve employees' body image?
1. Continue blind recruitment.
Blind recruitment is a process of removing the identifying factors from job applications, such as gender and name. This may reduce bias by hiring those who fit the role. If the construction sector has a more balanced-gender workforce, women may have a feel a greater sense of belonging, regardless of their external appearance.
2. Discreet sanitary stations.
Sanitary stations may help those who menstruate, if caught short of supply. Supply could be checked on a weekly basis. This may remove stigma of menstruation within the workplace. Employer-recognition that comfort and confidence can boost performance is important, especially in social situations such as presentations. Body image may be positively affected.
3. 'Thursday' therapy.
Employers may benefit from ensuring that all employees are encouraged to schedule therapy sessions into their working schedule. Employers may wish to partially contribute to the cost of these sessions. This may improve mental health overall, including body image if discussed.
4. A handbook of company policies which investigate comments made in the workplace.
Employees may benefit on having an explicit and regularly-updated document as to who to contact, should any problems arise, and how that complaint will be dealt with.
5. Stigma-free opportunities to eat alone at company dinners.
On work special occasions, it may be difficult for some employees to socialise or eat with others, perhaps regarding body image concerns or during menstruation. This option may produce a more inclusive event.
Contraception is not the only pathway to improve women's body image in the construction Industry. Before it becomes the employees' responsibility, the employer can consider the following:
1. Provide a common-sense approach.
What would aid an employee to feel clean, presentable and comfortable?
2. Listen to others.
Thinking from the perspective of others is a valuable skill to ensure that the employer continually fulfils their duty to care for their employees. This may allow each employee to fulfil their true potential. Body image should be treated with importance to wellbeing and performance at work.
Three main considerations: inclusion, open communication and continuous respect are paramount to a good workforce, regardless of the concern.