Is the media totally to blame for how we now view our bodies?
Culturally we are always looking for somebody to blame and when I was growing up magazines were the source to blame. Now it’s becoming social media. What we all need to be mindful of is that what magazines did then, is very much what social media is doing now. It’s catering for something that we, as a culture, are asking for. We are very critical of others; we are comparing ourselves with other people; we are extremely punitive towards ourselves; we want examples of other people who are bigger/don’t look good to make us feel good or are slimmer/more fabulous to make ourselves feel less than.
Social media reflects back to us the appetite that is there culturally and if we want to change that, then we need to play a part by unfollowing, blocking and reporting those that fuel these things. It’s about challenging our own choices of who we follow and doing something about the harmful things we see, read and hear online.
On the other hand, social media has the potential to create more communities and safe spaces for people to connect with other like-minded individuals. If you are somebody with mental health problems and you manage to connect with other people online, who are going through similar experiences as yourself, then that can be a really healing part of your recovery.
Do you think porn is negatively affecting our relationship to our body image?
Yes, I do think the porn industry portrays women and women’s bodies in an extremely negative way because what we can see (and culturally this is something that is seeping into everyday life) is that all of the women look the same. One of the things that makes humans so beautiful and so interesting is that we all look so different.
This kind of uniform of really big fake boobs, plumped lips, strong cheekbones, is becoming so standardised. Women are aspiring to look very much like one another rather than celebrating their individual attributes and what makes them who they are. So aside from any of that, how women are portrayed and how women are interacting with men in porn is problematic. The whole thing just becomes quite a negative source for people and the issue of whether porn itself is a good or a negative thing is really merged with all of that and it becomes difficult to separate the two.
So ultimately, yes, I think it does have a very negative impact on how young women perceive other women because they don’t have any other examples to compare them to.
What are your thoughts on plastic surgery and body image?
My thoughts around plastic surgery and body image are that it is a complex issue. If you’re somebody who has low self esteem and a very negative perception of yourself physically, putting all your hope and happiness on resolving one particular issue physically is unrealistic that that’s going to make you feel good. Even if you get some temporary reprieve from your sense of self loathing, your focus will potentially shift on to another part of your body that you can become unhappy about. So really the focus needs to be on making sure that you feel good about yourself regardless of how you look physically.
I think there is reason for plastic surgery to exist in this world and it can be a really useful tool for people, particularly people who have undergone significant physical trauma but as a way of resolving self esteem issues, it’s not the route to go.
Isn’t body positivity just promoting obesity?
I don’t think body positivity is promoting obesity. It’s promoting a revolution against this highly critical, highly punitive, cultural norm that we’ve all become accepting of, which is to really criticise anybody who doesn’t fit into this very very tiny demographic of what it is to be normal. Body positivity is about saying I’m just accepting myself as I am and that could be big, that could be small, that could be tall or short, it’s just about embracing who you are, as you are in the moment.
Do you think it’s OK to not want to be curvy or thin?
It’s fine for us to find different body types attractive either for ourselves or for other people. What is really important for each of us though is to embrace what we’ve been blessed with; to recognise that our lives don’t necessarily need to be a constant battle to shoe-horn ourselves into looking one way or another. We need to work towards recognising our gifts for what they are and to learn to accept and embrace them. That can be a more challenging journey for some than it is for others.
If it is something you are struggling with and you are having a really negative relationship with how you see yourself, then it’s time for you to work on that. You can heal this.
Does negative self-image always lead to disordered thinking?
This is a really good question because we are so mindful now of scrutinising our thoughts and thinking about what we are thinking about. So many of us will have a negative perception of ourselves, particularly physically and that doesn’t mean that we have all got eating disorders.
An eating disorder is something that happens when we lose control over our relationship with food and how we see our bodies. It is becoming increasingly commonplace to be extremely punitive of ourselves for not being how we perceive perfection to be and when we are not what we perceive to be ‘perfect’ we can be extremely self critical. It’s time for us to start to think about how we are talking to ourselves in a much more general sense and to start being kinder and more compassionate to ourselves.
Why do I feel fat on some days and skinny on others?
How we feel about how we look is so tied into our moods and that’s why some days we can look in the mirror and think we look fine and other days we can look in the mirror and think that we don’t. It’s not that our bodies have radically changed overnight, it’s just actually how we feel we look. It’s so intrinsically tied to how we feel as people so if you are finding you are having big swings in how you view yourself, then really the focus on the work is for you to consider why it is that your emotional state is so connected to how you view yourself physically.
If you do recognise that there is a link there for you and you do have those days when you’re not feeling so good about yourself, just remind yourself that actually it’s because you are probably not having a good day. Try not to place too much weight or emphasis on resolving seemingly what the problem is, i.e. how you look, because the problem is actually deeper than that.
How can you manage to stay at a healthy weight when you are so uncomfortable in your body?
The thing that is really important to remember is not to turn to your eating disorder to solve the problem. If you don’t feel good and like you want to change something, thinking that the solution is going to be found in changing your body is really keeping yourself locked in with that eating disorder and with that problem.
You can recognise that you are having those thoughts but keep your attention focused on changing how you feel about yourself in a positive way. Think about how you can take better care of yourself and be more compassionate towards yourself; everything else will get better. You just have to hold your nerve a little bit.
How do you cope with a weight restored body?
This is tough and one of the problems with a weight-focused recovery. Your body has recovered at a different pace to your head and we need to help it to catch up. I would suggest drawing on all of your resources and focusing on all of your attention on healing your mind.
Do you support people who are trying to lose weight as well as those who are trying to gain?
My job isn’t to support people with regards to how they feel about their weight in terms of whether they are trying to gain or lose weight. My job is to support somebody’s mental health journey. Sometimes that means that people need to physically heal and potentially weight-restore; sometimes that means people need to physically look at living in a slightly healthier body, whatever that means for them. Weight isn’t really the focus for me and the work that we do.
Is it healthy to be plus size and pregnant?
Yes, it’s healthy to be plus size and pregnant. If you are worried about your health then one of the things that happens to us in pregnancy is that it gets really monitored. Weight is not always a good indicator of how healthy or unhealthy somebody is.
You just need to be taking care of yourself. Health comes in many different sizes and many different forms and certainly at the thinnest points and the lowest weight of my life, I wasn’t at my healthiest. I think that could be true for lots of people.
Why is there so much pressure for women to “snap back” to their pre-baby body?
So much of it comes from this huge pressure that we put on ourselves. I don’t think I know a mother out there who doesn’t have massively high expectations of themselves in just about every area, whether it’s how she is performing as a mother, how she is performing at work and how she is physically. We just really need to ease up on ourselves.
There is so much blame put on social media where people put these before and after pictures and messages sharing there is no excuse not to lose any weight gained but actually social media is reflecting an appetite which is already there. We are contributing to it – we are wanting to see those images, we are wanting to put this pressure on ourselves and we have these really punitive relationships with ourselves so I think from my perception, rather than us seeking out someone to blame, it’s about looking at how hard we are on ourselves and just easing up on ourselves a bit more. We need to be willing to enjoy the ride a bit and not put so much pressure on ourselves.
Get In Touch
You Might Like To...