Saturday 3 August 2013

On Body Image, Mental Health, and Responsibility ... (A Rant)

I’m not a journalist, and I’m a very poor ‘writer’ even by ‘writer’’s standards so this probably won’t read all that well; I’m also obviously not an expert in any of the topics covered, but I’ve got a few opinions, and unusually I want to share them, so here goes:

Recently Vada Magazine (who I really hope have at least given a nod to this piece) launched a ’30 day challenge’ []; a fitness competition which prize was various sports nutrition goods. Readers were invited to take part and submit ‘before and after’ images, with the body deemed ‘most-improved’ by the author. Initially the article contained the sentence “Fed up with the twigs you have for arms?” (though thankfully this was hastily removed when umbrage was taken).

Now I really quite like Vada and a lot of its content, they post articles covering a wide range of body and mental health issues. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been discomposed into writing down, what many have written down (with an awful lot more knowledge and elegance) before me, by a competition (and the message at its heart – ‘you’re not good enough, be better’) that really is ten-a-penny.

I really wanted to say here that I couldn’t give a fuck about this particular competition and the messages that come from it, but I can’t.  Each one perpetuates the body ideal that many (notably in The Queer Community[i],[ii] – Vada’s seeming main readership) feel that they have to strive for. Goals that are often unrealistic and unhealthy are set up, fuelled by media and society. This sort of competition encourages the expectation of a quick visual body change with little structure or support, no mention of nutrition or health warnings.

What happens when a vulnerable person latches onto the idea that they need to look differently but they can’t see any change? The thought isn’t to wait a bit longer and see, or ask somebody close to you what they think. The thought is definitely not to accept yourself as who you are. The thought is to work yourself harder, that food must be the problem and that less of it might get you to that image in your mind; The image that’s conjured up at every turn, as you’re bombarded by judgement (both real and perceived) and imagery, of manufactured beauty. The image changes. You don’t get any closer. Your physical and mental health deteriorates.

Mental health issues affect an awful lot of us (1 in 4 of us in the course of a year[iii]). We’re all a little screwed up and the media and societal pressures can often worsen the situation[iv]. Ideas that we’re disgusting as we are and need to become something that is forever out of reach can plague sufferers of eating disorders, body dysmorphia and anxiety disorders. They can plague everybody. Thoughts of inadequacy can be triggered by anything; taking progress photos of oneself could easily become destructive.

I'm under no illusion that I'm going to change societal prejudices and trample media sustained ideas of beauty in a few paragraphs, but if I make a couple of people think then I guess it was worth my time. I’d only be wanking otherwise anyway.

You’re all beautiful. 

Support Links (UK)
Men Get Eating Disorders Too –
Beating Eating Disorders –
Mind -

Update 10/10/2013: Vada have linked to this post in their World Mental Health Day editorial ( apologised for inappropriate advertisement / wording.

[i] Patricia L. Kaminski, Benjamin P. Chapman, Sandra D. Haynes, Lawrence Own, Body image, eating behaviors, and attitudes toward exercise among gay and straight men, Eating Behaviors, Volume 6, Issue 3, June 2005, Pages 179-187, ISSN 1471-0153,

[ii]Melanie A Morrison, Todd G Morrison, Cheryl-Lee Sager, Does body satisfaction differ between gay men and lesbian women and heterosexual men and women?: A meta-analytic review, Body Image, Volume 1, Issue 2, May 2004, Pages 127-138, ISSN 1740-1445,

[iii] The Fundamental Facts – The Latest Facts and Figures on Mental Health, Mental Health Foundation

[iv] Yuko Yamamiya, Thomas F. Cash, Susan E. Melnyk, Heidi D. Posavac, Steven S. Posavac, Women's exposure to thin-and-beautiful media images: body image effects of media-ideal internalization and impact-reduction interventions, Body Image, Volume 2, Issue 1, March 2005, Pages 74-80, ISSN 1740-1445,