Many people with a mental health problem have poor body image, that is, they’re unhappy with their shape, size, level of fitness, or hair.
But why is body image so important?
It goes back to our innate human needs, and our innate resources.
Our key emotional needs relate to our need to connect with others, with the community in which we live or work, and with one intimate relationship with a person who is accepting of us, for all our strengths and weaknesses.
Our emotional needs derive from a time when we would have belonged to a group, necessary for our survival, where we would have shared responsibility for meeting our physical needs, such as eating, keeping safe, and reproduction. Nowadays, whilst we still need to belong, we yearn to ‘fit in’ and be accepted by like-minded people for social purposes.
In order to feel socially accepted, as humans, we unconsciously match our behaviours to others who we are physically similar to and those who we aspire to look like and be like.
To attract people to us, it’s important for us to feel that we look alright, and the marker for that is often told or shown to us through the media – bright white teeth, the perfect body, beautiful hair, stunning clothes.
Perfection is hard to achieve
As perfection is hard to achieve, is it any wonder that many of us have a poor body image, don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies and skin.
TV shows that focus on attracting partners, concentrate more on what someone looks like rather than personality, as do many online dating sites.
The pressure to conform so as to be liked by a group, can lead to misery and a mental health problem and young people are a particular vulnerable group, when it is a key time in their development to be liked and accepted by others for how they look.
Professional help is available
Samaritans 116 123
NHS Emergency Services 999
Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) 0300 500 6184
British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) 01455 883300
Mind 0300 123 3393
Young Minds 0808 802 5544