The Simple Things - - WELLBEING -

For most of us, look­ing back on old pic­tures can be a bit­ter­sweet trip down Mem­ory Lane. We were so young, we were so beau­ti­ful… yet some­how we didn’t even re­alise it. If only our younger selves had em­braced our looks and cel­e­brated our bodies at the time – seen the beauty hid­den in plain sight.

But whilst hind­sight might give us enough space to see our­selves more ob­jec­tively and more com­pas­sion­ately, is it pos­si­ble to change how we feel about our bodies in the present?

Re­search around body im­age – put sim­ply, the way we think and feel about our bodies – sug­gests it’s an area with room for im­prove­ment. Bri­tish women have some of the low­est body im­age scores in the world. Re­search by the Men­tal Health Foun­da­tion re­veals that nearly half of Bri­tish adults feel that “how you look af­fects what you can achieve in life” and nearly one third feel that “your value as a per­son de­pends on how you look”. Only 19% of women felt sat­is­fied with their body im­age in the past year, whereas 34% of women felt down or low. And the ef­fects of this dis­sat­is­fac­tion go well beyond in­flu­enc­ing what we wear – hav­ing an im­pact on hap­pi­ness and con­fi­dence, at one end of the spec­trum; at their most

ex­treme, man­i­fest­ing as eat­ing dis­or­ders and body dys­mor­phia.

So why is dis­sat­is­fac­tion with our bodies so preva­lent? Ex­perts agree that por­tray­als of women in the me­dia do noth­ing to help. Cer­tain ‘ide­alised bodies’ are dis­pro­por­tion­ately rep­re­sented on TV, in films, mag­a­zines and on so­cial me­dia: images of women who are young, white, slim, able-bod­ied, beau­ti­ful and clearskinn­ed are wide­spread, yet rep­re­sent only around 2% of the pop­u­la­tion. Lit­tle won­der, then, that so many of us feel marginalis­ed by th­ese per­sis­tent ‘ideals’. A grow­ing body pos­i­tiv­ity move­ment says that this can­not go on.

High pro­file cam­paign­ers such as Jes­samyn Stan­ley (@my­nameis­jes­samyn), Natalie Lee (@styleme­sun­day) and Me­gan Jayne Crabbe (@body­posi­panda) of­fer an al­ter­na­tive. Me­gan shares pos­i­tive mes­sages, in­clu­sive images and lots of joy­ful danc­ing with over a mil­lion fol­low­ers on In­sta­gram who are in­spired by how she em­braces her body as well as her knowl­edge – the ba­sis of her best­selling book,

Body Pos­i­tive Power (Ver­mil­ion). Coun­ter­ing the bar­rage of un­re­al­is­tic images with more rep­re­sen­ta­tive bodies and pos­i­tive mes­sages gen­uinely does help, both on­line and off.

Some­times, how­ever, it’s real life that’s

an­swer­able for lower body con­fi­dence. Low self-es­teem around looks is some­thing most of us as­so­ci­ate with teenage years, as our bodies are trans­formed. Yet change doesn’t end with pu­berty; moth­er­hood, menopause, and age­ing in gen­eral all prompt the need to re­cal­i­brate your re­la­tion­ship with your body.

Suzi Grant is the au­thor of a blog and book, both called Al­ter­na­tive Age­ing, in­spir­ing read­ers to look good and feel great re­gard­less of age. “I hate the term anti-age­ing be­cause we are anti-war, anti-poverty, anti-cru­elty…”, she says. “Why on earth would we be ‘anti’ some­thing that we can’t avoid? I have lost so many rel­a­tives and friends younger than me, some­times much younger, that I am grate­ful for ev­ery ac­tion-packed day.”

As Suzi says, health scares or loss often trig­ger a dif­fer­ent ap­proach. Midlife and beyond can be a time when our fo­cus shifts away from ap­pear­ance and to­wards func­tion­al­ity. There’s noth­ing like the spec­tre of se­ri­ous ill­ness to re­ally make you grate­ful for a body that works. But other changes can have an im­pact, too.

Per­haps the most sig­nif­i­cant change of all ar­rives with the menopause, which, among a long list of symp­toms, can also af­fect body im­age. GP Dr Louise New­son, founder of

“In­stead of fight­ing against our chang­ing bodies as we age, we should fo­cus on what we can do”

New­son Health Menopause & Well­be­ing Cen­tre, ex­plains: “Many women ex­pe­ri­ence menopausal symp­toms sev­eral years be­fore pe­ri­ods stop – things like fa­tigue, mem­ory prob­lems, low mood and con­cen­tra­tion.” Ad­just­ing oe­stro­gen lev­els can in some cases counter th­ese symp­toms: “When our hor­mones are bal­anced, it be­comes eas­ier to ex­er­cise and eat bet­ter, so our weight sta­bilises,” says Dr New­son. “Anx­i­ety often re­duces, too, and women gen­er­ally feel bet­ter about them­selves and their bodies.”

In­stead of fight­ing against our chang­ing bodies as we age, we should fo­cus our en­er­gies on what we can do and the things we have to be grate­ful for, right now. As the late Doris Day so wisely said, “The re­ally fright­en­ing thing about mid­dle age is the knowl­edge that you’ll grow out of it.” Think ahead a decade or so. Will to­day’s swim­suit shot re­ally look so bad in ten years? It’s time to start lov­ing our bodies as they are now.

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