Iain's story: the pressure to look a certain way

I was probably about 15 when I first became aware of a pressure to look a certain way.

Beginning to compare how I looked to others at school

Being in physical education (PE) in school or being in the PE changing rooms was never a nice thing. When I got to about 15, people started to get more confident if they ‘looked good’ and other people started to feel less confident if they didn’t fit into what society said you should look like.

I started to feel a pressure to look a certain way

It was probably around then that I started to feel pressure to look a certain way or to try to at least. Up until then I was happy just keeping myself to myself and accepting the way I looked. This changed when people started to get nasty and focussed on looks. I started to feel bad about how I looked. Personal stresses, feelings about my sexuality and identity added to this!

I also felt pressure to act and look more 'manly'

I felt pressure to be leaner, stronger and more ‘masculine’. I was never the ‘manliest’ of men and I started to feel a pressure to act more ‘manly’ and to conform to what people saw as the norm. This was not helped by negative messages from society, teachers and staff in PE and school.

This pressure made me feel s**t. Just completely worthless and ‘othered’ like I wasn’t like the other boys, so therefore I must be bad.

I started to avoid things to cope with the pressure

Sometimes I coped with this by purposefully leaving my PE kit at home, so I didn’t have to be a part of that situation. I also used to skip school if I knew I was going to get picked on. I started doing unhealthy behaviours like drinking and not eating properly because I could control that.

The image society portrays is rubbish

The picture society paints of the type of life you’ll have if you look a certain way is rubbish. I would probably be labelled ‘not hot’ right now, but I have a happy life. I’m succeeding in the things that I want to do; I have a partner; a happy family and I feel happy.

Body image and mental health has impacted my friends too

I know a lot of my female friends struggled with negative feelings about the way that they look – one of them developed an eating disorder near the end of high school which saw her fail her exams and not progress onto the university that she wanted to.

She had to take a few years out and it impacted on her self-esteem and development. It is only now, after 8 years out of school, that she is getting back on the track that she wanted.

Practical tips to improve how you think and feel about your body

  1. If your body image is a significant cause of stress, or if you’re being bullied about how your body looks, consider talking to a friend, a trusted adult or a health professional.

Read all 7 tips