Abstract: This research paper examines the relationship between body image and mental health in regards to women. This situation has gotten progressively worse as society continues to believe in the stereotypes of what a woman should look like physically and women continuously harm their self worth by critiquing themselves. This stereotype is one that is constantly reinforced by external social forces such as media, relatives, peers, culture. Psychologically, the lack of self esteem women experience has resulted in a lot of pain and it has taken a strain on their mental health. With the help of community psychology, this paper proposes possible solutions and explanations to this complex issue.
Key words: Body image, self esteem, community psychology, women, mental health.
Summary: Women are often times held to an incredibly high standard of what they are supposed to like and they are very frequently judged based off of physical appearance. Unfortunately in some cases these unrealistic and superficial beauty standards can destroy a person’s well being and be detrimental to their health. In order to thoroughly go this topic I will be explaining what body image is, how it affects the mental well being of women as well as what I believe can be done to make positive progress. Body image refers to the light in which we view our own looks and physique. Self esteem is the estimation of value that we have of who we are and of our achievements. Much importance is attributed to the perception of ourselves because without a positive outlook we risk starting to resent ourselves for not living up to a certain standard and ultimately we risk putting ourselves in dangerous situations. In extreme situations having a negative outlook on our bodies can lead to eating disorders, depression, higher levels of anxiety, body dysmorphic disorder as well as other issues with metal health. On the website of “Project Helping” in regards to their article: “The Skin I’m In: How Body Image Affects Mental Health” it is said the following: “people with weight preoccupations or body dysmorphic disorder display higher levels of symptoms for depression and anxiety, and are more likely to have suicidal thoughts.” (Kruger.J, 2019). This paper will take a deeper and more detailed look into how society’s expectation of what a woman should look like affects mental health and overall well being. The main topic of this paper is how negative body image affects the mental health of women. This big phenomenon is shown by the situation many women are in due to being strongly affected by societal expectations for women’s beauty. It is important to know that many women go through these issues and they are often influenced by external factors such as media, stereotypes society has and opinions of others. Unrealistic body goals, comparison to other women’s physique and harmful critiquing of women based off their bodies are all things that need to stop and it all starts with the stereotype of what the perfect woman is. On an individual level if one is suffering from body image issues that are having a big effect in everyday life then one should consider treatment, positive self talk and other techniques in order to get better. Taking a community psychology standpoint, methods that can be proved effective would mainly include creating a space where people feel comfortable to speak about their own issues with body image. The book “Introduction to Community Psychology” points out concepts that can be helpful in creating change such as: creating collaborative partnerships, community coalitions and capacity building. (Jason et al., 2019). This topic is one that is relatable to my readers because many women go through these same body image issues and I think it will make women as though they are not alone.
Analysis: The question we have to ask ourselves before being able to find solution is why are body image issues more present now and how they are affecting our health. Numerous answers can be given to this question because there is more than one cause. One argument is that women compare themselves to the other women they are presented by the media which are often times airbrushed and intended to look perfect therefore creating a distorted image of what “healthy” looks like. The media as we know is very present in today’s society and often times it portrays to young women a distorted view of heat it means to be beautiful since many of the women presented are either unrealistically thin or photoshopped. Economically speaking, many beauty and magazine companies are in a sense taking advantage of women’s low self esteem to sell their products and they can because a belief has been created that women need to be “made up” before leaving the house. As previously mentioned the source of these issues is in the stereotypes and the social expectations of beauty we associate with women. Women are adopting a negative attitude towards their appearance because the stereotype of what they are supposed to be in the eyes of society has set an unrealistic standard and therefore a woman will expect more from herself. “The Guardian” put this concept perfectly into words:“The trouble is that people’s body image is constantly being discussed everywhere – on television, screens, magazines. And if you’re somebody who’s vulnerable, it’s really easy to snap into a very low mood and think dieting may be the answer.” (Warren,2019).It is also possible that because of people criticizing and judging each other based off of appearance that too much value has been assigned to superficial appearance that will disappear over time. Taken to the extreme, women’s negative perceptions of their bodies can possibly lead to eating disorders, body dysmorphia, anxiety and even depression. The way one thinks of themselves is ultimately the way they will treat themselves and this is a big problem for people with low self esteem because they attribute little to no worth to themselves which can lead them to very dangerous behaviours. If progress is not made unfortunately the situation will only get worse and it’s likely that the rate for suicide, depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders associated with body image will rise.
Appreciate and address: The situation regarding women and their body image needs to change as soon as possible because lives are at risk. Women need to know their true value and rebuild their self esteem. In order to influence a positive change we first have to get women to change the way they think about themselves and this can be done through behaviour modification and positive reinforcement. Ultimately by getting women to change the way they view themselves with these techniques they attribute value to themselves and therefore are more comfortable in their skin and don’t feel why they should harm themselves in any way. Community psychology proposes techniques that can help to better the situation such as collaborative partnerships and community coalitions which means that ties would be created with women who feel that they have an unhealthy body image and the goal would be to listen to them and to try to find solutions for them. In some situations individual therapy may be necessary in order to treat those who are suffering from mental health issues related to body image and body confidence. Through the organization of collaborative partnerships with organizations that support mental health we can promote the idea of overall body acceptance and ultimately healthy body image. Through putting an end to the cycle of oppression and speaking up against those who bring us down we can create lasting social change because hopefully the message will go through loudly enough for all to hear. Lasting change can also be created throughout education and awareness about body image. Through community activities that will teach girls how to value themselves so that hopefully they realize that they are not worth being put in dangerous situations. I can personally be a part of this change by implementing myself in organization who stand up for these beliefs and talks about them openly. I can educate myself on the topic and work on my own self esteem in hopes of modelling this behaviour and speaking of it openly in hopes of educating others.
Adams, D. F., Behrens, E., Gann, L., & Schoen, E. (2016). Gender conformity, self-objectification, and body image for sorority and nonsorority women: A closer look. Journal of American College Health, 65(2), 139–147. https://doi.org/10.1080/07448481.2016.1264406
Jason, L. A., Glantsman, O., O’Brien, J. F., Ramian, K. N., BCcampus, DePaul University. College of Science and Health, DePaul University. Department of Psychology, & DePaul University. Center for Community Research. (2019). Introduction to Community Psychology. Rebus Community.
Kruger, J. (2019, March 10). The Skin I’m In: How Body Image Affects Mental Health. Project Helping. https://projecthelping.org/body-image-mental-health/
Warren, R. (2019, May 17). How much does poor body image affect mental health? The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/may/17/poor-body-image-mental- health