Body Image and Mental Health

Coinciding with Mental Health Awareness Week, a YouGov poll alarmingly found that 57% of 18-24-year olds surveyed admitted having felt anxious about their body image compared to 30% of 45- to 54-year-olds and 20% of over 55s.

10% of women have deliberately self-harmed as a consequence of their body image, compared to 4% of men and 13% of all adults admit to having suicidal thoughts due to body image.

Puberty is especially difficult time for most due to bodily changes, but also for women, times like pregnancy and menopause can also be equally stressful. In older populations,  concerns about mobility and the use of walking aids are also a time of extreme stress relating to body image.

Phillippa Diedrichs, professor of psychology at the University of the West of England, highlights that women are more affected than men by body image problems and may be because “…They have been very much valued in terms of their image. That’s the way they have currency in society; most research has focused on young women.”

Research has shown that poorer body satisfaction leads to poorer quality of life, psychological distress and risk of unhealthy eating behaviours and eating disorders.

Hannah Lewis at Rethink Mental Illness reports that “People with poor body image are at risk of self-harm and of potentially harmful sexual behaviour.”

Stereotypical assumptions and societal norms play a great stress on the way that anyone sees their body, but especially LGBT+ collectives and a poll by Stonewall charity found that 12% of LGBT+ collectives had suffered or are suffering from eating disorders.

According to Diedrich, “fat talk” and “old talk” are potentially harming “Telling someone ‘you look good, have you been on a diet’ or ‘you don’t look that old, tell me your secret’ only reinforces our obsession with body image,” she says.

If you would like to talk to someone about body image issues, you can find counsellors and therapists in the ESHA directory here

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