Silva Neves

Silva Neves
Psychosexual, Relationship and Couples Therapist

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Are you happy with your body?

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week 2019. This year the theme is body image. 

If you look at popular magazines, you will notice that there are some many cover headlines about dieting, looking good, or shaming a celebrity with an unflattering beach photograph. It may all be for fun and light-hearted, but underneath, we can easily internalise body shaming. 

Slowly, days after days of reading, looking and hearing about what kind of body is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’, we can develop distorted thinking about our body and start to hate it. It can have a huge impact on our mental health, leading to acute anxiety and depression. 

Hating our body can also create big problems in our sex life and relationship. The more we dislike our body, the more we might push our partner away. Over time, it can cause distress in the relationship. 

Feeling bad about our body used to be predominantly a problem with women and gay men – the gay scene is quite harsh about body image, just as the rest of the world is to women. But now, heterosexual men are starting to have the same problems: there is one type of body that is ‘desirable’ and there is pressure to obtain that body. 

Of course, needless to say that most of what is considered the ‘right’ type of body, the ‘desirable’ shape or the ‘worthy’ look is largely unrealistic, promoting obsession going to the gym and eating disorders.  

Muscle dysmorphic disorder is becoming more and more common amongst gay and heterosexual men. It is an acute obsession with going to the gym to ‘beef up’, and the muscles can never be too big. Those men with this disorder feel the need to gain more and more muscles no matter how big they already are. This goes unnoticed because it is socially accepted, even desirable to have big muscles. But underneath the muscles, there often is unhappiness and distress. 

Here is a check list to figure out if you might have an issue with your body image. 

You may have a problem with your body image if: 
1-   You have frequent preoccupation with your body image and body shape to the extent of controlling your life. 
2-   You feel distressed, unhappy or depressed when you look at your body. 
3-   You do excessive exercise.
4-   You’re always on a diet, juicing, detoxing, etc. 
5-   You have problems with relationships: avoiding social occasions because you think you look bad.

You may have body image distress if you feel bad about your appearance: 

1-   At social gathering where you know a few people
2-   When you look at yourself in the mirror
3-   When you are with attractive people
4-   When someone looks at parts of your appearance that you dislike
5-   When you try on new clothes
6-   When you exercise 
7-   After you have eaten a full meal
8-   When you wear revealing clothes
9-   When you get on the scale to weigh
10-When you think someone has rejected you
11-When in a sexual situation 
12-When you are in a bad mood
13-When you think of how you looked when you were younger
14-When you see yourself in a photo or on video
15-When you think you have gained weight
16-When you think about what you wished you looked like
17-When you recall hurtful things people have said about your appearance
18-When you are with people who talk about weight or dieting

Here are five tips of what you can do to help feel better about your body: 
1-    Speak to yourself like you would speak to your best friend. Don’t be unkind about your appearance. Challenge your critical thoughts. 
2-    Avoid focusing on the body parts that you don’t like. Instead, take a broader look at your body and also look at the parts that you like. 
3-    Don’t go on a scale every day. Moderate your exercises. Take some time to do other fun things and hobbies that do not involve working on your fitness or body. 
4-    Have a balanced diet that include all types of food group, including a dessert once in a while. Make meals a time for relaxation and fun. 
5-    Learn to love the body parts that you don’t usually like. It is all part of self-love, self-compassion and self-acceptance. You don’t need to have a six-pack in order to be handsome, attractive and a worthy person.  

If you feel much distress to a level that it stops you from living the life you want, it is a good idea to find a therapist who specialises in working with body image. 
We have only one body for life. Take your first step to make peace with it today. Be really proud. We are all beautifully imperfect. 

This Mental Health Awareness Week, let’s help each other be kinder with conversations about our body.