Would you be surprised to hear that there is some sort of relationship between body image and mental health? Chances are, your answer is no.
When I was asked to write this post, I was excited! I’ve been at the crossroads of body image and mental health for as long as I can remember. I know firsthand just how related body image and mental health can be. I’ve struggled, lived with, and tried to heal from an eating disorder that began sometime around age 10, but maybe even earlier. Even then, I recognized how much my negative body image affected my mental health. And it wasn’t good.
After years of acquiring tools and increasing awareness, I am much healthier. Now, I’m curious. Why? Why does one’s body image so greatly affect their mental health? Or should the question be asked in the opposite way; why does one’s mental health affect their body image? Are we back to “chicken and egg” questions?
Here is what I know for sure: the answer has layers and is somewhat nuanced for each individual.
As a culture, we are terrible, just plain terrible at promoting anything close to a healthy body image. When we see unrealistic visuals of bodies, we feel shame that we don’t fit. When we are told that we should constantly be trying to reshape ourselves, we feel shame that we can’t. When we are told to reject ourselves, talk poorly about ourselves, and put ourselves through hell in the name of fitting in, we have no energy left for the real stuff of life. It doesn’t take long to see how exhausting it can be just to exist in our culture. It doesn’t take long to understand how we can begin to experience our bodies as not okay and, unfortunately, we must live in our bodies 24/7. So of course our mental health takes a blow. Of course.
There are other factors that influence our body image and our mental health. Family culture, race, gender, socioeconomic status and many other factors influence us all. However, I believe that the one thing that all factors, including the influence of the greater culture, have in common is shame. And shame only lives in the dark and quiet.
My mission in this post is to let you know this: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
If you feel negative feelings about your body: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
If you feel like you are never going to fit it: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
If you are trying to change your body: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
If you are struggling with your body image and your mental health, so is the person next to you in line at the grocery store or in the car next to you in traffic.
So, let’s talk. Let’s open up and begin to care for one another instead of hiding in the dark and quiet with the shame. Shame sucks. Let’s shed some light in on it and let it dissipate. Let’s care for one another as we so badly want someone to care for us.
You are not alone!
FoodPsych Podcast: A weekly show dedicated to helping you make peace with food and break free from diet culture.
Be Nourished & Body Trust: Creating a body-compassionate and weight-inclusive world.
Size Diversity & Health: A non-profit organization committed to the practice of the Health At Every Size® (HAES®) Principles.
Health At Every Size®: An inclusive movement supporting people of all sizes in addressing health directly by adopting healthy behaviors.
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