Mental Health Awareness Week: Be Body Kind

Mary Palmer

A little tweak here; a little filter there. It’s probably safe to assume that most of us have made our Instagram pictures look a little more “polished” than their original state. I always joke, myself, that if I ever go missing, they’re going to have a real problem locating me since I look nothing like the doe-eyed, flawlessly-skinned woman in my pictures.

And – if we’re being honest – whatever image makes it onto Instagram isn’t “take one”. You’ve probably tried tilting your head different ways, holding the phone at several different angles and attempting different lighting. Then, once you’ve bitten the bullet and uploaded your picture, there is the little rush of dopamine that comes from seeing the likes flood in.

And, with the average person spending one in every six minutes on social media, it can be a struggle to marry the image you present of yourself and your lifestyle with reality. Social media platforms can become an addiction – and they can also heap further problems onto existing or underlying mental health issues.

In addition to altering pictures, how many times have you bemoaned the fact that those you follow seem to be leading much more exciting lives than you are? We are constantly exposed to endless reams of exotic locations, Michelin star lunches and painfully proportioned bodies.

And none of this is doing us any favours – not least because it’s so far from realistic, it’s hard to believe there isn’t a Pixar logo on it.

But, the images of cellulite-free, perfectly tanned bodies (which, let’s be honest, are largely targeted at women) are facing something of a backlash. As an example, actress and broadcaster Jameela Jamil has started the “I Weigh” campaign on Instagram, wherein women are encouraged to share real, unedited pictures of themselves, surrounded by positive messages about themselves. She is quoted as saying “I like myself in spite of everything I’ve been taught by the media to hate about myself.”

That’s a fairly sobering thought – are we learning to hate ourselves because of what we see on social media? Is our mental health suffering as a result of the apps we use? Are we able to clearly differentiate real life and life through a filter?

I use social media on a daily basis, owing to the nature of my job. I’m the first to hold my hands up and say that it has had a negative impact at times. Why am I not skinnier? Why am I not travelling to a new location every week? Why can’t I do my make up like that?

Every so often, I take breaks wherein I switch off all the notifications on my phone and make an effort to do anything other than check my phone. The creeping sense of FOMO and inferiority is not worth the dopamine rush that a re-tweet may bring.

That being said, I do believe that – like Jameela Jamil – we can use social media for good. We can use it to spread messages of encouragement, empowerment and positivity. We can open up conversations about mental health on a more regular basis, in a bid to finally shed the stigma.

We can be kind. And we can use less filters.

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