Body image and mental health in the context of today’s society
The rise in hyper-awareness of body image and negative feelings about physical self-perception is taking an extremely destructive toll on our mental health. In a recent survey conducted by the Mental Health foundation it was found that in the UK around 1 in 3 adults felt ‘down or low’ as a result of their body image, and 20% felt ‘shame’, with figures being even higher among teenagers. And it’s only getting worse. The advent of social media especially has made us more intensely and constantly internalize this specific idealized body image portraying beauty as white and thin. Today, it is estimated that 70 million people worldwide suffer from eating disorders. And the majority of these people tend to be women due to the enormous pressure, focus and obsession with the appearance of the female body.
That is not to say that this isn’t an issue that affects men and non-binary people as well, though this is rarely talked about. Gay men are particularly affected, being 12 times more likely to develop eating disorders than straight men. LGBTQ+ people in general are more prone to suffer from eating disorders as a result of unique challenges that many face internally as well as in the context of being accepted for their sexuality or gender identity. But the pressure in gay subculture for men especially to live up to the ‘ideal’ physique of slimness or leanness, and the focus on body image, is very comparable to what women face. This just goes to show how harmful it is to have strong societal expectations of what ideal bodies need to look like to be given value and accepted.
The fact that so much of the media consumed all around the world is westernized is another extremely problematic contributor to these issues. When the idealised version of beauty being absorbed is not even close to being a body type that is achievable to those watching; self-esteem and hatred for the natural shape of the body is even more intense. Westernization of media has essentially changed cultural expectations of ideal body shape and size and led to people around the world being continually fed images that look nothing like them and being told: this is what you need to look like to be beautiful. In India eating disorders have become 10 times more common in the past 15 years than in previous decades, mirroring the general pattern that has emerged. Even though we tend to think of body image obsession and its associated issues with Western culture, this is a global issue.
Destructive and unrealistic images of bodies that contribute to all of this can be found everywhere, from influencers’ instagram pages to advertisements, and the lingerie industry has had a big part to play. The focus on a very narrow definition of ‘sexy’ for so long has meant that lingerie models have had to live up to almost unnatural levels of ‘perfection’ and have completely lacked any diversity in body shape or type up until very recently. Crafting a positive attitude towards our own bodies is vital to improving mental health. But alongside this, making images we see in the media more representative of reality and the diverse range of bodies is key to fighting this problem at its roots.
How can lingerie brands embracing body positivity non-performatively
The body positivity movement has been a great force for good, breaking society’s body standard expectations, exposing how they have been set with a race, sexuality, gender and ableist prejudice, and promoting acceptance of all bodies. By reframing the way we think about bodies as having value for more than just their appearance and their ability to conform to what we’ve been told means beauty, we can have a healthier relationship with them. And if the messaging and images we received from brands was also adopting this attitude more, and showing a diverse range of natural, unedited bodies, we could reduce the harm being caused by this.
But in order to actually be effective in creating change, it’s important for brands to truly believe in the core values of body positivity, rather than just approaching it performatively and jumping on the trend. As it has become easy for the concept of ‘body positivity’ to be misused to promote health or fitness related things that can quickly slip into paradoxically becoming about changing your body to more closely fit the ideal thinner fitter body type. Or praising Victoria’s Secret as a champion of progress for hiring one regular, size 14 model in its desperate attempt to reform its hugely toxic image after losing a substantial portion of its customer base recently. Body positivity is not about tokenistically including very small amounts of body diversity, it’s about challenging the whole way in which we have come to think about and see bodies, and radically accepting them for what they are.
One example of a brand that is doing just that is Boost Innovation. They have tried to revolutionize the way women who have undergone single mastectomies approach their bodies by designing a breast form that doesn’t try to hide this but accepts and celebrates this anyways. It is the first breast form to not try to imitate regular skin tone like regular breast prosthesis do, but comes in many vibrant colours, and has a completely different take on its role. It has been made to try and boost the mood and confidence of women wearing them, and urges them to reconceptualize how they view their bodies and celebrate their individuality. The lingerie brand Curvy Kate’s 2018 campaign encouraging women to speak out about loving their bodies for what they are with the #MyBodyVictory hashtag, is another example of an authentic approach to promoting self-love and body positivity. And this is the attitude we need all brands to adopt.
Written by Carla Mcdonald Heffernan, our Brarista Blog Contributor!
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