Mental Health Awareness Week 13th May – 17th May 2019
It is mental health awareness week and the theme this year is Body Image.
Body image is how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind and especially how attractive you feel yourself to be. A negative body image can arise when a person feels that their looks do not measure up to what society, family, friends, and the media expect. The extreme examples of this can lead to eating disorders, self harming and a detrimental impact on your mental well being. Some people develop a disorder known as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). A person with BDD sees their body, or part of their body, in a negative way. They may ask for cosmetic surgery to “correct” their nose size, for example, when to everyone else, it appears normal.
Coming into Sikhi had a big impact on my body image – growing my hair, covering my head, no longer waxing or plucking – (baptised Sikhs like me follow the code of conduct set out by our tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji who instructed us to keep our hair (Kes) unshorn) the last thing to fall into place for me was feeling comfortable with having to cover my head and permanently changing my physical appearance forever.
It is not something that I took lightly and actually agonised over it for a while.
We are so deeply entrenched in society views of what looks beautiful, normal and acceptable that anything outside of that can feel deeply uncomfortable. What would people think? How will I be viewed? Will I be judged?
For me, stepping into my faith and into my visible appearance has been a journey of self growth, discovery and truly getting to know myself better and what makes me, me. The outside changing was a reflection of the internal changes and dialogue that were taking place over a long period of time. These physical changes are an expressed commitment that I am making to my Guru – I am His Sikh and daughter before anything else.
More recently following the arrival of my second child I have been at the heaviest I have ever been, I put on 4 stone during the pregnancy! It has been a very gradual process to lose that weight and I am still not at my end goal. The drive to lose weight was not about body image – having already made big physical changes with my appearance I have a solid sense of my self image and self esteem but clearly being overweight is not good for my health. I have lost 3 stone and 2 dress sizes and the sense of accomplishment I feel at committing to a lifestyle change and seeing the benefits of that has been hugely rewarding. But I have been very careful about talking about this in front of my daughter or nieces – I don’t mention weight loss in front of them, I don’t talk about dieting because I don’t want them to get a distorted view on body image. We talk about eating healthy foods that nourish us, working out and exercising to feel strong and fit. I also feel strongly about cultivating a positive body image in my family as my son was born with three fingers missing – I want him to have a strong sense of his identity and self, being more than his physical appearance.
There are practical things we can do to cultivate a positive body image. Here are some tips on improving how you feel about yourself that have worked for me and others:
Celebrate what your body CAN do: walk, swim, dance, sing, yoga etc
List 10 things you like about yourself and pin it up where you can see it – read it every day!
Remember that beauty is not just about appearances – it’s about your soul, your personality and the light within you
See yourself in the mirror as a whole person, not as a nose or a thigh – you are more than just your parts!
Think positively about your self. Counteract negative messages with positive ones ‘my thighs are not skinny’ with ‘I have strong legs that allow me to walk’ ‘I have great eyes’
Wear clothes that make you feel good
Avoid or be actively critical of media messages and images that make you feel as if you should be something different. That means unfollowing social media accounts that make you feel less than and following those that empower you – I thoroughly recommend Jameela Jamil’s ‘I Weigh’ account!
Use the time you would spend worrying about your body image to engage in a positive activity – volunteering, go for a walk, or a hobby
Avoid “fat talk,” and encourage your friends to do the same. Change the subject -there are so many more interesting things to talk about!
Do something nice for your body, for example, a massage or a manicure, honour the temple that you have been gifted in this lifetime by giving it the respect it deserves.