Calm's guide to
What it is
Hair, height, weight, gains… most of us have got something we feel a bit self conscious about – it’s normal to feel crap about your looks from time to time, no matter who you are, what you look like or what gender you are
What you can do
How you feel about your body can impact your mental health and make you feel really low, worthless or alone
Why it happens
Body image is influenced by loads of stuff, including our childhood, the people around us, and the types of bodies we see in the media
We all feel crap about how we look sometimes. No matter who you are, where you’re from, or your gender, the way your body looks can make you feel rubbish.
But if the way you look is making you feel really low and affecting how you live your life, you’re not alone. You can talk to CALM’s free and anonymous helpline to chat through whatever is getting you down.
Body image is how we see or imagine ourselves to look, but sometimes how we think we look doesn’t match up to reality. In recent years, and with the development of social media platforms, selfies, photo filters and fitness ‘challenges’, it can be easy to forget that the perfect body doesn’t exist.
We’ll say that again – the perfect body doesn’t exist. No matter what the scale says, no matter the definition of your muscles, or the hairs on your head, that image of the perfect body in our heads is make believe.
And chasing after it? It can make life pretty tough and sometimes can lead to other mental health issues such as eating disorders, obsessions and anxiety.
Body image can be influenced and distorted by all kinds of things, like how we were brought up, our mood, what we see regularly on the TV and in the media, and loads of other stuff.
The way we see our bodies and the way we look can have a huge impact on our mental wellbeing, self-esteem, relationships and even quality of life.
How does it feel to struggle with how you look?
Anyone can struggle with their mental wellbeing because of how they look or feel they look. Our body image can impact our mental wellbeing and it can be difficult to take a step back from negative thoughts and feelings.
It’s not always easy to love every part of our bodies, but once we start to focus on a ‘flaw’, it’s easy for those thoughts to get louder. When it becomes hard to switch off from these negative thoughts it can have a huge impact on our mood and mental health.
If you or someone you know is struggling with their body image, they may feel some of the following:
- Can’t stop thinking about how they look
- Obsession on a perceived flaw
- Believing they are unattractive or ugly
- Isolation and loneliness
- Avoiding social engagements or certain activities
- Constantly comparing their appearance to others
- Relying on reassurance from others about appearance
- Obsessing over what other people think
- Low Self worth/ low self esteem
There are some damaging stereotypes when it comes to body image. The issue is often misunderstood as superficial or vain. It’s not. Dismissing someone’s worries can stop them from talking about how they’re feeling and prevent them from seeking support.
If body image is affecting your behaviour or making it difficult to go about everyday life you should talk to someone about how you feel. That could be a friend or family member, a GP or medical professional or the CALM Helpline.
WHY DO PEOPLE STRUGGLE WITH THEIR BODY IMAGE?
Jamie Laing’s Story
“An immediate shame came over me, I then, from that moment on became conscious that I had to not eat certain foods... I was skinny because I thought skinny meant attractive”
Stevie Blaine’s story
“I have struggled with my body image my entire life... I was in a
terrible place with food and exercise and I was the lowest I’ve ever been and there wasn’t the resources or people there but by having these conversations, breaking down the social norms about men being these unmovable creatures who don’t talk about how they’re feeling it lets other men and boys know that it’s okay to speak about these things”
Russell Kane's story
"Newsflash. You haven’t evolved to compare yourself to 1000 people a day, the human brain can’t handle it."
Everyone is different and how we experience body image varies for everyone, but there are a few things that can have an influence on how we see ourselves.
These can include:
- Pressure to look a certain way or match a certain body type
- How people we know speak about bodies and appearance
- Exposure to idealised or unrealistic bodies through the media
- Our relationship to friends, family and communities
WHERE CAN I FIND HELP?
- Talk to CALM from 5pm to midnight everyday. Our professional helpline staff are there to talk and to help you find ways to move forward. Calls and webchats are free, anonymous, non-judgemental and confidential.
- Outside of these hours, call the Samaritans on 116 123.
- Contact your GP for an appointment (which might be done over the phone or by video during Covid19).
- Self-refer yourself to NHS Psychological Therapies.
DEALING WITH BODY IMAGE WORRIES
Noticing you’re struggling with your body image can be a positive first step in starting to feel better. When you feel ready, there are a few things you can try which can help how you’re feeling:
- Remember everyone’s body is unique and there’s no such thing as an ‘ideal’ body
- Focussing on being healthy and happy can build self-esteem and confidence
- Think about all the things your body does. Pretty impressive
- Limit the time you spend scrolling social media or unfollow people who are overly focused on the way they look/promote unhealthy body images
- Every single body is different, and that’s not a bad thing
- Wear clothes that make you feel good
- If you’re worried about your relationship to your body image, talk to someone.
TALKING ABOUT YOUR BODY
It can be difficult to talk about body image with your friends, family or a medical professional. Here’s some ways you can start a conversation around how you’re feeling: