Help us protect young people from the crushing pressures they face in today’s society
Today, we live in a society where body image is a constant pressure. Our own research shows that this can have a damaging effect on our mental health.
Here at the Mental Health Foundation, preventing problems before they take hold is at the heart of what we do. So it’s clear that body image is something we have to address – and urgently. That’s why we have made it the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week and why we will be stepping up our campaigning in this area while also developing practical tools to support resilience.
We are an influential voice on the topic of body image
The Mental Health Foundation is already an authoritative and influential voice on the topic of body image. For example, when we wrote to ITV last summer to lead the charge against cosmetic surgery ads being targeted at young people during the popular TV ‘reality’ show, Love Island, the channel agreed to review their policy. And as you can see from the cuttings below, the ads themselves were later banned by the Advertising Standards Authority.
We know that adverts like this, which paint a false picture of perfection and imply that people can only enjoy body confidence and an aspirational lifestyle by undergoing cosmetic surgery are dangerous as they feed young people’s insecurities and in some cases, can cause real distress.
And it’s not just young women who are feeling the pressure.
As 24-year-old Iain so clearly puts it, being sold idealised images of people as if they are ‘the norm’ distorts reality and it has often left him feeling excluded and somehow ‘wrong’.
“You’re made to feel like a lot of it is your fault, because you aren’t trying hard enough to make yourself ‘better’"
Like so many young people, Iain started to worry about his appearance at around the age of 15 - and school PE lessons were a complete ordeal.
The pressure to be thinner, stronger and more masculine and the nasty comments of some teenage boys made him feel completely worthless:
‘Sometimes I purposefully left my PE kit at home or I’d skip school completely if I knew I was going to get picked on’, he says. ‘I know a lot of my female friends struggled with this issue too; one of them developed an eating disorder and it caused her to fail her exams and not to progress onto the university she wanted to. Eight years later, she is only just getting her life back on track.’
We are developing new resources to help young people learn about body image from a young age
Clearly, there is an urgent need to reach young people before their lives are so dramaticaly affected, which is why we are creating a new module on body image for our Peer Education Project (PEP) to help students gain a better understanding of what a healthy body image is and the way this can be influenced – right from their first year at secondary school.
Our Peer Education Project keeps going from strength to strength. Young people have already been involved in creating this new module and they have identified home life, social media, fashion, relationships and talking about body image as things that can all have a significant effect - both positive and negative.
Helping young people to build resilience is one of the most valuable things that we can do as a society.
If they are better able to protect their self-esteem, to differentiate between media spin and ‘normal’ life, and to be more sensitive and informed in how they support themselves and each other, they are less likely to feel overwhelmed, crushed and unable to cope.
We speak to those in power to prevent people of all ages from going through a body image difficulty
However, while such tools are a vital start, we also need to influence policy change to address the risks and unprecedented challenges young people face, so that their mental health can be better protected as they grow to become adults, parents and grandparents.
At the Mental Health Foundation, we’ll also be working to move mental health up the political agenda by taking our Body Image report and recommendations to Parliament and speaking with Ministers and government officials about the action needed in this area, for example in relation to the regulations that govern the body images used and promoted in advertising.
This work is crucial. And with mental health being recognised as a top priority at such a senior level, it’s vital we do all we can now to protect the mental health of this and future generations.
It is only thanks to your donations that the Mental Health Foundation can continue to gather compelling evidence and be the trusted voice that those in positions of power sit up and pay attention to. Now we have a window of opportunity that we can’t afford to miss.