“Work is love made visible”. Those were the words emblazoned on a waiter’s uniform at a restaurant in South Africa many years back.
To round off this Mental Health Awareness Week, we asked Dr Jane McNicholas, our Positive Body Image Series creator, about her thoughts on body image.
Tell us what you enjoyed most about writing this body image Series?
For me, the most inspiring thing about writing it was getting a chance to debunk some of the myths about body image that exist in popular culture, particularly, social media. It was reassuring to read and report on the sound research that exists in this area and to write a Series that reflects what body image is actually about. This allowed me to take the topic from a relatively “two dimensional” view point of body image being about weight and shape and opening it up to a “3 dimensional” view that body image can be about any way in which we appreciate, respect, and understand our bodies. Focusing on functionality was a really interesting part of this journey for me, and I hope that those who access the Series feel the same.
"Body image can be about any way in which we appreciate, respect, and understand our bodies"
In the Series I also talked about how changing your body image is not about changing your body. Of course, that is not to say that exercise and fitness are not important, but I felt that it was really important to share that changing body image is about developing acceptance, self respect, self compassion, and positivity rather than being driven by a need or desire to have perfectly toned legs or arms.
Has writing this Series changed your view on your own body image?
Like most people, I think I’ve had a rollercoaster ride with body image, certainly throughout my teens and twenties, spouting the usual ideas about wanting a somewhat idealised body. Thankfully with age I have come to appreciate my body more, and I feel that this has been further enhanced by increasing my focus on how my body works and also how it reacts in different situations. I am more tuned into what my body needs and doesn’t need and how to keep myself well, all of which I believe are core aspects of demonstrating appreciation and respect for ones’ body.
What advice would you give to someone struggling with their body image?
The Series contains lots of advice about challenging the negative thoughts and ideas that we often hold about ourselves and suggests a focus on acceptance of one's body. At one point in the Series, the focus is on committing to the things in life that have meaning and value to you despite the negative opinions you may hold about yourself. In short, don't let a negative image you hold in your mind stop you from achieving all the things you want to achieve in life.
Another piece of advice is to spend some time every day noticing all the work your body does for you and spending a quiet moment reflecting on this and appreciating it. This exercise alone can be a real game changer in the domain of body image and I would encourage everyone to try this.
"Don't let a negative image you hold in your mind stop you from achieving all the things you want to achieve in life"
Any final thoughts on body image?
When thinking about oneself it can be easy to focus solely on the negative, for example, having a mental list of flaws and imperfections, not just limited to our body image. When we think about improving self-esteem and confidence I think it is really important to expand this view and take time to reflect on the positives. Lots of people find this task daunting but it is definitely a worthwhile exercise. Take time out each day to remind yourself of what you've done well, moments of kindness and helpfulness, skills that you have utilised, and acts of self-compassion. This task will take a couple of moments each day but it is an excellent building block for moving towards a more confident, appreciative, and resilient version of you!
Thank you for those inspiring words, Jane!
If you'd like to learn more about Jane, you can find her LinkedIn profile here.