The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 is Body Image – how we think and feel about our bodies.
In our second guest blog post this week, one of our Peer Support Workers has shared her story about the importance of body image, how airbrushed images of ‘perfect bodies’ can have a devastating impact and how she has learned to deal with this.
I stood there looking at the magazine shelf as I waited in line at the supermarket. You see the men and women on the front pages and find yourself mesmerised by them.
Everyone else in that line might just glance at the images, or take a brief interest in catching the headline of a story. For me it’s an intense thought that is followed by a number of punishing thoughts that will last with me for the rest of the day and maybe the week ahead. It might even lead me to putting back the food I was going to buy for fear of looking fat or out of place in a society where body image can be important.
The images of those airbrushed bodies are all around us: we find them even when we are not looking and this can cause more impact and harm then the people who produce them know.
Images like this have led me to look in the mirror, seeing the stretchmarks that everyone has and hating them. Hating every inch of my body and leaving me so shattered that I can no longer look in the mirror or even shower without wearing swimwear at times, or allow others to see me without a cardigan on to cover up my ‘chubby arms’.
A simple comment on someone’s weight, chatting about that diet you are on, or that joke about that night out when you ‘ate to much’ can lead to tears for some people, especially me. It can lead to me hiding away to eat my lunch so no one judges me, or simply skipping the whole meal or even leading myself to purge till I am numb.
This is the world I live in and what I tackle every day, from the moment I wake up to the very second I go to sleep.
Trying to learn to cope with it has been hard and it’s still a work in progress. It is still something that creeps up on me when I least expect it.
I have learned tricks though: Writing positive statements on myself when I find myself lost. Checking out the facts about what is real and isn’t real in the world around us. Being more mindful and trying to be non-judgemental about myself.
I accept they are not easy things to do but the more I try the better in time I seem to get at them.
I have hope in those around me that keep me going. They judge me not on my body but rather on the intellectual conversation I can bring, the humour that leads them to laugh and the views that make them think. I have hope that if my small group of friends can enjoy my company then the rest of the world can see me shine.
The more I work as a Peer Support Worker the more I learn, the more I share, the more confident I become within myself and who I am as a person. The more I learn that I am worth more than the skin, bones, muscle and fat that looks back at me in the mirror.
Specific information on the help available in the North East is available on our website at https://www.ntw.nhs.uk/need-help-now/