Social media only exacerbates pressure on body imageMay 17, 2019 Off By readly
Body image and mental health have a big impact on each other. Young people tell us that worries about their appearance can go hand in hand with times when they’re struggling to cope, while when they’re feeling mentally well, their body image can be in a good place too. Body image is how we think and feel about ourselves physically, and how we believe others see us, and this can fluctuate depending on things that happen to us throughout our lives.
As a teenager, it’s common to become more aware of your body and to start feeling more self-conscious. Things that can make you feel good about yourself – like your relationships with others, doing things that you love, or being praised for things you’re good at – can build up your self-esteem and make you feel positive about the way you look.
There are also external factors that can affect body image, including what you see in the media and reflected around you. When you start to feel bad about yourself, it can be easy to feel bad about your body, compare what you look like with others, or hold yourself to unrealistic standards.
It’s important for young people to develop an internal voice that helps them build a positive, honest sense of self, without focusing too much on just one area. But it doesn’t help that advertising, TV and films often only show one kind of body, which can send the message that young people shouldn’t feel good about their bodies unless they conform to the images that mainstream culture promotes.
That’s why at YoungMinds we think it’s important that there are more bodies of different shapes, sizes, ethnicities and abilities reflected in what we see around us every day. It’s why we have signed up to the Be Real campaign, which aims to diversify beauty standards.
Pressure on body image can be exacerbated by the online world and social media. An NHS report last year showed that girls who said that they compared themselves to others on social media were more likely to have a mental health condition than those who didn’t – and this is likely to be related, at least in part, to body image.
Our advice to young people who are feeling overwhelmed by social media is to take a break from your phone and do something you like instead – you can always come back to your phone when you’re feeling better.
We also recommend being kind to yourself, spending time with other people who make you feel positive, and remembering that there’s no right or wrong way to look. It’s important to find things you like about yourself, to help shift your self-image to a more positive place. Above all, it’s a good idea to seek out someone you trust to talk to if you’re struggling to cope. It could be a family member, a friend, a teacher, a counsellor or a helpline.
It’s also crucial that young people are supported to develop “digital resilience” at school and beyond. This includes being able to learn to assess images critically, to understand they’re often fake, and realise there are many positive role models that don’t conform to a single view of perfection.
From a young age, every child should be learning to use the internet in a way that will have a positive effect on their mental health.
Deirde Kehoe is director of training and services at YoungMinds.