Your body image and mental health: What you need to know
Whether we like it or not, most of us like to be aware of how we look. We worry about bad hair days and whether we’ve dressed appropriately for certain events.
The mismatch of the body we want to have and what we actually have brings about negative body image.
Having a healthy body image translates to you feeling comfortable in your body and how you look. A negative body image on the other hand makes you judge your self-worth and positions you at a higher risk of self-disgust and mental health conditions such as depression, low self-esteem and unhealthy eating habits.
It is unfortunate that some eating disorders are rarely diagnosed and assumed not to exist in some parts of the world.
Due to the lack of awareness, such mental conditions end up untreated. Kenya is a rapidly globalising society where mental health disorders may have deep-rooted causes in body image dissatisfaction impacted by the media and Western culture.
Body image in women versus men
Mental health researchers suggest that dissatisfaction with physical appearance is one of the main reasons more women tend to suffer from depression than men.
There is powerful evidence published in the US National Library of Medicine that shows that even though negative body image can affect people of all ages, gender differences in depression peak during adolescence and narrows down in adulthood.
From teenage years, girls are more likely to develop negative body image as compared to boys. This is emphasised by Evelyne Kerubo in her research on the predictors of body image dissatisfaction among undergraduate students at the United States International University (USIU), Nairobi.
There is unwarranted pressure to conform to unrealistic beauty ideals that do not relate to the real world. In addition, children of parents who have a negative body image are at a higher risk of developing unhealthy thoughts about their own bodies.
Statistics show that 10 per cent of women have purposely caused harm to themselves due to body image issues as compared to 4 per cent of men.
The scars of motherhood
Even though puberty is notoriously stressful, pregnancy, motherhood, menopause and old age continue to provide a constant worry about self-image.
How many of us can openly flaunt our scars without fear of online bashing? From stretch marks to sagging skin, how much do they affect how you view yourself?
When Olympian Faith Kipyegon effortlessly won the 1500m final in Tokyo, Kenyans showed their admiration about her visible motherhood scars as she represented Kenya to victory.
Many Kenyan women took to social media relating to her scars and praising her at the same time. Speaking to Spikes close to a year ago, Faith acknowledged that her body experienced many changes during pregnancy including weight gain.
It takes active acceptance
We are living in the age of social media influencers that would awaken most women to change their appearance after viewing photos and videos that persuade audiences to purchase clothes and beauty products.
A positive body image does not mean the absence of things we do not like to have. Rather, it is about self-acceptance, care and love for our bodies.
It is not only tolerating your physical appearance but more of recognising your unique qualities and strengths that shape the opinion you have of yourself.
Since body image and self-esteem directly influence each other, it is important to value yourself so as to notice the positive things in life.
You are more likely to engage in healthy habits, cope with difficulties better and significantly boost our mental health.
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