Let’s Talk About… Body Image

By Jeremy Godwin

What is body image, why does it matter and how do you improve your body image? That’s what I’m talking about this week on… Let’s Talk About Mental Health — the weekly podcast about looking after your mental health, with simple ideas you can put into practice immediately.

So, get comfortable, and Let’s Talk About Mental Health…

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This podcast episode was originally released on 19 June, 2022.

Hello and welcome to Episode 136, and thanks so much for joining me!

I’m Jeremy Godwin and I talk about looking after your mental health. I spent most of the 2010’s dealing with severe anxiety and depression, after a breakdown in late 2011, and that led me to want to learn more about my mental health… so I went back to school and studied psychology and sociology, and now I share simple tips for how to improve your mental wellbeing, from someone who actually understands what it’s like to go through mental health challenges. Each episode I look at how to improve one specific aspect of your wellbeing.

This episode is all about body image and I’ll be talking about what body image is, why confronting body image issues matters, and how to build a healthier body image for yourself. So, let’s talk!

A quick reminder before I begin that pre-orders are open now for my new book, Let’s Talk About Mental Health (Volume One), which is due for release on July 7, 2022. You’ll find a link to pre-order it in the episode description plus it’s linked on my website at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au; by pre-ordering it you’ll be helping to support my show plus that helps other people to see it who might not be aware of my podcast… so a big thank you to everyone who has already ordered it and if you haven’t done so yet then please do! 

Alright, now on with this week’s episode about body image…

Introduction

Three of my favourite accounts on Instagram happen to be related to positive body image, which is something I didn’t really realise until I started writing this episode. First, there’s @i_weigh (which I discovered via its founder, Jameela Jamil, who was in the TV series The Good Place) and that account focuses on positivity and inclusion. Next, Australian comedian @celestebarber, who somehow manages to take the piss out of celebrity culture and body shaming without ever being cruel (plus she’s just plain funny). And then there’s Lizzo (@lizzobeeating) because, well, it’s Lizzo… do I really need any other reason?! (By the way, to say I’m looking forward to her new album is an understatement, and I currently have About Damn Time playing on repeat in my car, but anyway…)

I mentioned at the end of last week’s episode that talking about body image was going to be a real challenge for me, since I’ve had a not-so-great relationship with the way I look for most, if not all, of my life, and I managed to have a good laugh about that with my therapist the other week when I told her I was covering this topic as a way of forcing myself to confront it once and for all (and considering that I’ve shared quite a lot of my own ups and downs in life, it didn’t feel like this was something that I could really avoid talking about since it affects so many of us, regardless of gender or age). 

The good news is that I’m not alone in this, although having body image issues is hardly something that I think we should be celebrating; in the UK, 20% of adults and 31% of teenagers reported feeling shame because of their body image in a 2019 study by the Mental Health Foundation (which is linked in the transcript https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/body-image-report/exec-summary) and it’s a similar story in many other countries, including here in Australia. There are lots of reasons why it happens and many different ways to approach it so you can build a healthier body image, but before I jump into that let’s first go through some definitions and let’s talk about…

What is body image?

According to HealthDirect (a free Australian government health advice service), body image is, and I quote, “the way you see your physical self — your body — and the thoughts and feelings that are caused by the way you see it. Having a healthy body image means being comfortable and knowing that there is more to you than just your physical appearance. You accept your body, including its limitations, and appreciate it.” 

And the link for that article is in the transcript, which you can find for free in English, Spanish and Italian on my website at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/episodes (find it here: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/body-image).  

So here’s the thing that I may as well just say upfront: your body is the vessel that carries you around through this life, and spending all or most of your time feeling bad about it is going to have some sort of impact on you and your overall wellbeing… trust me, I know from personal experience. I have been overweight for most of my adult life and to add to that I’ve had hang-ups about my appearance dating all the way back to childhood; when I was seven years old, I had a fairly serious condition called a hiatus hernia that resulted in me having to spend three months in hospital after a major operation to correct it, and since then I’ve been extremely self-conscious about the gigantic scar that I have all the way across my belly (when I look down I can see my stomach smiling back up at me, and that’s not really a look I want to see!). Over the years I’ve had to learn to make my peace with it (I mean, I don’t have much choice at this point; the scar certainly isn’t going anywhere!) but it’s one of a number of reasons why I have never taken my shirt off in public, and never will (and I’m OK with that). 

Your body image is a mixture of how you feel about your body, how you think about it and how you behave towards it. Some people are full of body confidence, some people are completely unconfident, and others fall somewhere between those two ends of the spectrum. 

There are a number of factors that fall into the body image discussion, most notably weight and age — two things that we human beings seem to spend an enormous amount of time thinking about, talking about and obsessing over. We’re bombarded with images on social media that tell us, either directly or indirectly, that there is a specific type of body that is desirable and that anything outside of that — too fat, too thin, too lumpy, too bumpy — is just plain wrong… which is a load of crap, because there are nearly 8 billion of us on this planet and we all have unique bodies that are going to do their own unique things based on our unique circumstances. 

Then you factor age into that conversation and it becomes even more of a challenge; women in particular seem to have a lot of pressure when it comes to ageing — just look at the whole plastic surgery conversation, where those who choose to have a little work done (or a lot) are often ridiculed, while those who choose to age naturally are called ‘so brave’ (which basically means you can’t win one way or the other; you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t!). And don’t even get me started on the whole conversation about all of the other potential different physical attributes like skin colour, skin tone, gender identity, height, vision, whether someone might be disabled… there are so many different variations in the way that we look and yet until quite recently we’ve seen a fairly limited set of body types represented in popular culture, and an unfortunate side effect of that is that there has been a clear message reinforced time and time again that if you look one particular way then you have worth, whereas if you don’t fit into that mould then you are less-than. Whether we realise it or not, body image issues build over time and are reinforced by what we see or don’t see every day… both in the media and in the world around us generally. And so that leads to the next part of this discussion… 

Why confronting body image issues matters

So here’s the thing: the way you look does not define your worth as a human being; what you do and how you do it does. 

My view on the world is this: if you’re a decent person who does no harm, is kind, and who gives more than you take, then I could care less what you look like. Now, does that mean that I always extend that same mindset towards myself? No. No, it does not. Just the other week I was editing one of my YouTube videos and I had filmed it on a day where it was 3 degrees Celsius (about 37 Fahrenheit) so I was cold, which meant I was rugged up in several layers topped off with a knitted cardigan… so when I went to edit the video I discovered that I looked like Jabba the Hut from Star Wars had taken on a new job as a professor. Did I think about re-filming it? Yes, I absolutely did. However I was too busy to be able to reshoot and so I had to force myself to sit with my feelings and just let the insecurity go. I mean, honestly, I don’t know that that many people really care; I’ve said many times in this show before that most people are paying far less attention to us than they are themselves, because we all think that everyone is hyper-analysing what we do and how we look when, in fact, we’re mostly too busy worrying what other people think about us to actually focus that much on them.  

When it comes to how you look, most people really don’t care… and those that do are just shallow. Actually, that doesn’t feel strong enough so let me be extra-blunt: those that are hung up on how other people look are dicks. Anybody who judges you by your physical appearance isn’t worthy of your time and energy; there are plenty of places those people can go and admire one another while trying to find a personality trait that doesn’t involve the way they look, so leave them to it and, instead, find people who respect you for who you are, not what you look like. To quote Bianca Del Rio from Season 6 of Drag Race, “Beauty fades! Dumb is forever.” 

If it sounds like I’m being even more blunt than usual this week then maybe I am, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing because I think we’re not really going to tackle the whole ‘negative body image’ thing by dancing around the subject; sometimes, we just need to say what needs to be said, and that’s the mood I’m in today. I say all of that because your body image can be a risk factor for mental health problems; to quote the Mental Health Foundation article I mentioned earlier, “higher body dissatisfaction is associated with a poorer quality of life, psychological distress and the risk of unhealthy eating behaviours and eating disorders… [on the other hand] body satisfaction and appreciation has been linked to better overall wellbeing and fewer unhealthy dieting behaviours. Though feeling unsatisfied with our bodies and appearance is often more common among young women, body image concerns are relevant from childhood through to later life and [can] affect [anyone regardless of gender identity].”

And, again, that article is linked in the transcript. 

So, how do you improve your body image? Well, let’s get into the how-to part of this episode and let’s talk about… 

How to build a healthier body image for yourself

So let’s start with a big one, and it is know your value as a person — because you are worth so much more than your physical appearance, and when you have a healthy level of self esteem you’re better able to focus on who you are rather than what you do or do not look like. I’ve covered a few topics in the past that you might find helpful, like self worth in Episode 78 and self esteem in Episode 43, so you might like to check those out. Next… 

Embrace your body as it is — and by that I mean to practice acceptance for your body today, rather than constantly focusing on what you might want it to look like in the future; you can certainly work towards your future goals while also being positive about yourself here in the present, and that helps you to gain a greater appreciation for yourself now instead of waiting for some distant time in the future that may or may not happen (because life is lived in the here and now!). Remember: there is no right or wrong body type; we are all unique, so learn to accept your body. That leads to my next point, which is… 

Focus on the positives — because what you focus on is what you focus on (and I might have said that once or twice in past episodes… or maybe even many, many times by this stage!). If you focus on all of the things you feel negatively about or that you don’t like about yourself then you’re going to find more and more things that you don’t like, whereas turning your focus to the positive helps you to find more things to be positive about. The choice is yours, but remember that what you look for is what you will find. Speaking of, my next point is…

Practice positive self talk — because the way you talk to yourself shapes the way you feel about yourself; again, this is that whole positive reinforcement versus negative reinforcement thing… whatever you choose will shape what happens next, so choose to improve your self talk and treat yourself in a more positive way (and I talked about how to do that back in Episode 9, about self talk). OK, next…

Remember that body standards change over time — in the 1990’s, Kate Moss became one of the biggest supermodels in the world and her thin frame suddenly changed what designers saw as being the ideal body shape; so if you had a bit of meat on your bones, it was a case of ‘good luck!’ if you were trying to find something to wear that wasn’t a potato sack! My point is that beauty standards are constantly evolving, however that doesn’t mean you need to try and keep up with them; if it feels right to you and you can do it in a healthy way then do what makes you happy, but honestly you can put all the time and effort in to try and look a certain way then I guarantee you that a week later things will change again; instead of worrying about that, focus on my next point which is… 

Work on health goals rather than weight management — because there is an entire industry that has been built up, over the last hundred years or so, designed to monetise your obsession with the way you look (especially if you happen to be carrying a little extra weight). Dieting can potentially lead you to extremes and we shouldn’t be celebrating celebrities who talk about going on a crash diet to drop a bunch of weight before a big event (you know the one I’m talking about, I don’t need to name that person)… in some cases, crash diets can cause organ failure or even death (sorry to be so blunt, but it needs to be said); instead of dieting or obsessing over your weight, instead set reasonable health goals (for example, that might mean being able to climb a set of stairs without losing your breath). If it’s going to take you a bit of work to achieve health goals, consult with your doctor to ensure that you’re making progress in a healthy way (and if you need help with an eating plan, consult a qualified nutritionist rather than following that diet plan in a magazine). OK, my next point is…

Less judgment, more kindness — and by this I mean towards yourself and towards others. If we all stopped judging one another and ourselves, and if we all started being consciously kinder to one another and to ourselves, this world would be a very different place. One way you can do that is with my next point…

Be aware of how you speak — and again this is in terms of how you speak to others and to yourself. We have a lot of expressions baked into our language like, “You look great today!” or “Wow, you don’t look your age!” and while I know most of us mean well when we say those things, they actually reinforce that our worth is determined by our physical appearance… which it’s not. Instead, choose to focus on someone’s personality rather than how they look; for example, if someone just came back from a holiday instead of saying, “You look well!” you could choose to say, “You seem really relaxed! Did you have a nice time?” — the focus in the second example becomes on the person, rather than their outward appearance (and that matters because what you look like on the outside doesn’t necessarily show what you look like on the inside; you can be incredibly attractive physically but have an ugly personality… just watch reality television if you don’t believe me!). I’m really conscious of the age thing (maybe because I’m turning 46 in July); the other week I just said to a friend that she looked great for her age (I didn’t say it out of nowhere; she was talking about how she felt about the way she looked) but the thing is that, afterwards, I realised that I might have meant it as a compliment (which I did) but it wasn’t particularly helpful, simply because it’s one of those things that reduces a person’s worth down to a physical attribute, and we’re all so much more than that. So my point is to just take a moment to think before you speak and consider what type of message it is that you want to share with others (and with yourself). OK, next…

Remember what other people do and say is about them, not you — and this point applies to many different situations but there are two in particular that spring to mind: social media, and dating. Both situations can be absolutely brutal and the unfortunate fact is that there are some people who will say horrible, nasty things to others, or who will reduce someone down to a thumbs up or thumbs down. There’s honestly no point giving it any second thought, because the fact is that someone who is willing to be horrible to other people is telling you everything you need to know about them: that’s someone who is not worthy of your time or attention, so move on and leave them to their little world of spitefulness… you don’t need to participate. And remember that opinions are like podcasts: it seems likes everyone’s got one, because they’re easier than ever before to put out into the world, but most of them are full of crap. Alright, I mentioned social media and so my next point is…

Curate your social media — because what you consume (physically, mentally and spiritually) shapes your reality, so choose not to expose yourself to messages that serve to reinforce negative stereotypes or harmful life choices. I mentioned the @i_weigh account on Instagram at the start of the episode and one of the things I love on there is that throughout the year, Jameela Jamil will post a reminder to stop following accounts that promote diet shakes and so-called ‘miracle cures’ for dramatic weight loss, and that’s why I love that account so much (you all know by now how much I enjoy a nice blunt and direct message!). So the short version of this advice is: don’t follow accounts that make you feel bad about yourself or that encourage you to do things that aren’t healthy. And let me say that this point extends to pretty much everything you consume — news, magazines, TV shows, music, etc. — so just think about how you can make positive choices about what you give your attention to. OK, next… 

If you do want to make changes, do it for you and not someone else — because you have to live your life for you, not for others. You get to decide what feels right for you, and I think the more you can connect with what you want and need then the more you can make choices that are in your own best interests. Speaking of choices, my next point is…

Make healthy choices — which just happens to be what I talked about last week in Episode 135, so I’ll keep this brief; know the difference between ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ and also find a healthy balance so that you can enjoy your life as well… remember: moderation in all things (and I covered moderation in Episode 128).  One of the best choices you can make for yourself is my next point, which is…

Choose to treat yourself with respect — because if you don’t then who will?! When you see your value and you make the effort to treat yourself respectfully (which means doing no harm to yourself, being kind to yourself, and giving more than you take from yourself) you are able to build a more positive relationship with yourself today and into the future; after all, you’re going to be with yourself for the rest of your life, so you may as well get along! I talked about how to build greater self respect in Episode 96, so check that out for more tips. OK, next…

Get support — and by that I mean either general support from a friend or family member or, if you’re struggling with your body image, from an appropriate professional (like a counsellor or therapist). If you are experiencing serious issues then know that there are specialists who can support you and help you to better understand what is happening in order to find solutions that work for you… you are not alone and you do not have to go through challenges on your own. At the very least, talk to someone if you’re having a tough time — because the more we talk about it, the easier it gets.

Summary and Close-Out

Because when it comes to body image and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: What you look like really does not determine your worth as a human being, and yet we spend so much time obsessing over our physical appearance thanks to the constant messages that are reinforced time and time again throughout the media and society in general. What matters most is that you like who you are, and if you’re someone who does no harm, is kind, and you give more than you take, then you’re someone who is pretty damn special, and don’t ever let someone else make you feel less-than or unworthy simply because of a physical attribute that you have little or no control over. Beauty really is only skin deep, and it’s what’s inside that matters most, so choose to treat yourself and others in a way that prioritises personality over physicality.

The choice is yours, as it is with all things related to your wellbeing… so, what choice will YOU make today? 

Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by Confucius, and it is:

“Everything has its beauty but not everyone sees it.”

Confucius

Alright… that’s nearly it for this week.

Next week I’ll be talking about needs. We all have basic human needs, but how do you know what they are and, more importantly, whether they’re being met or not? And how do you know the difference between a ‘want’ and a ‘need’ (and why does that matter)? Well, that’s what I’m exploring in the next episode of the Let’s Talk About Mental Health podcast. I’ll be talking about what needs are (and what they are not), why understanding your needs matters, and how to manage your needs in a healthy way.

I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Sunday the 26th of June, 2022. 

If this episode helped you then I’d love it if you left a five-star review on the platform you’re listening to me on, or head over to my Instagram @ltamentalhealth and let me know. And if you’d like to support me and my work then I have a Patreon where I offer exclusive benefits for my supporters; you’ll find the link in the episode description, plus it’s linked on my website at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au (where you can also sign up for my free newsletter, where I share a quick dose of mental health inspiration every Thursday).

And I also have a YouTube channel where I publish new videos every Wednesday… so, if you’d like even more content about looking after your mental health, join me over there (and that’s linked in the episode description as well)!

And a quick reminder that pre-orders for my book are open now, ahead of the book’s release on July 7 (2022); check the episode description for links.

Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time!

Jeremy 🙂

Let’s Talk About Mental Health is proudly produced by Reconnaissance Media, helping you find gratitude and meaning. For more information visit reconnaissancemedia.com

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Find more content at www.letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au

Let’s Talk About Mental Health.
Simple ideas for better mental health.

Let’s Talk About Mental Health. © 2022 Jeremy Godwin.

The information provided in this episode is for general awareness on the topic and does not constitute advice. You should consult a doctor and/or a mental health professional if you are struggling with your mental health and wellbeing. You’ll find additional information on the Resources page of this website.

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