Mental Health Week is a timely reminder of the impact of low body confidence as a national epidemic which affects all of us, irrespective of age or gender.
One of the hidden consequences of body image dissatisfaction are the mental health issues that often accompany it – 60% of adults say that they feel ashamed of the way they look, which inhibits their social interactions and enjoyment of life, and can lead to isolation and poor mental health. Children as young as five are already starting to worry about their weight and how they look - we know that the major causing of bullying in school is appearance, and bullying often leads to depression.
Likewise, according to the charity Beat, “all bullying lowers self –esteem and low self-esteem is proven to raise the risk of eating disorders”. Hating how we look means that we can miss out on so much and we often don’t look after ourselves properly – YMCA evidence show that low body confidence in young people can lead to unsafe sex, drug and alcohol abuse and youth unemployment.
This vicious cycle has to stop, which is why the Be Real Campaign is calling for the Government to make it mandatory for Body Confidence to be taught in schools via PSHE (Personal, Social Health and Economic education). We are also working with our stakeholders to draw up a Code of Practice for advertisers, retailers and the media so that the body images we are bombarded with every day start to truly reflective what we as a nation look like, not unattainable fantasies which leave us feeling inadequate and depressed.
As individuals we can make a difference, whether it’s by ensuring that we act as positive body image role models for the children and young people around us, or by choosing to only shop with businesses who use realistic images in their advertising. At Be Real we are not anti airbrushing per se, as long as it is used responsibly like our sponsor bareMinerals, who will airbrush a spot but not a freckle.
The recent public backlash around the Protein World “Are you beach body ready?” ads show that there is a groundswell of opinion that enough is enough, and that we will no longer tolerate unrealistic imagery that makes us feel bad about ourselves. This is fantastic but we need to keep the pressure up to ensure change happens.
We need to start putting health above appearance in order to improve our mental resilience and we all have a role to play in this. We need to start loving ourselves for who we are, not what we look like. Life’s just too short.