May is Mental Health Awareness month and this week is Mental Health Awareness week in the UK.
The focus of this year’s campaign is body image.
I personally feel this is a very emotive topic and one to be approached with caution and a healthy dose of respect.
Body image isn’t just about who’s too fat or too thin. It covers a huge range of things that can cause people to be self-conscious about themselves. Body image issues can relate to height, to hair colour, to freckles, to wearing glasses, to having scars, to …. to absolutely anything about physical appearance. The list is almost endless.
Sadly, the media puts so much pressure on people, both male and female, particularly young people, to look “perfect.”
No one is perfect but we are all unique. However, if you are experiencing a period of anxiety it was very easy for that to manifest itself in fears about your image. You can swiftly become overly self-conscious about the smallest of things.
My own personal brush with this topic could easily be argued as being more than a little vain. I accept that. I’ve shared my own tale in the past of reaching a point in my life, about seven years ago now, that triggered a few physical signs of stress/anxiety so I won’t repeat myself.
I also appreciate in relation to some of the more serious aspects of the mental health connections to body image issues that my tale is trivial.
However, at the time, it was a huge issue for me. A huge issue I kept silent about for a very long time.
I’ll back track a bit here if you’ll allow me the indulgence. I’ve written before about being bullied as a child. Again, I’m not about to repeat that tale either. When that started all of those long years ago, one of the things that adversely impacted my self-esteem was my haircut and my horrendous blue NHS 1970’s specs! I grew the awful “pudding bowl” haircut out, developing a lifelong fear of hairdressers along the way. As a teenager, I was able to hide behind my long hair, using it as a shield to protect me. (The NHS specs were eventually replaced with a more modern pair when I was sixteen but not before I’d damaged my sight by not wearing them in school. The glasses were eventually replaced by a contact lens – yes, one.)
Since then, my hair has always been long. I’ve never been fortunate enough to be blessed with thick or wavy hair. It’s always been silky fine and poker straight.
When my stress levels went through the roof a few years ago, one of the physical signs associated with the anaemia that I experienced was hair loss. Gradually, over a period of a few months, I lost between a half and a third of the volume of my hair. I was fortunate in a sense that it thinned rather than fell out in clumps leaving bald patches. The hair loss was the main factor that led to me going to the doctor to get checked out.
The anaemia was resolved with a lengthy course of iron pills but the hair’s condition remained. I became incredibly self-conscious about it. It was ridiculous! Here I was in my mid-40’s stressing about my hair. Worrying myself silly about what folk were thinking.
In all honesty, I was and still am scared of going bald. I accept that it’s a trivial point in the grand scheme of things but for quite some time I became extremely self-conscious about it.
I stopped tying my long hair back – my ponytail looked like a long skinny rat’s tail to my biased eyes. If I tied it up, as I had done for years, my bun looked like a crumb! There was so little volume to my waist length hair that 4 kirby grips/bobby pins held it all securely in place.
I researched shampoos and vitamin supplements to encourage hair growth. After a period of time, and a lot of expense, I gave up on the fancy shampoos but, to this day, still take the supplements.
About four years ago, I noticed one particularly thin/bare patch emerging. My blood ran cold. Fear and panic swept in. The area at the front of my hair, where my parting and fringe met looked to be separating like the Red Sea. In reality, yes, it was thin, very thin, but what other people saw wasn’t what I saw in the mirror every morning. I saw bare scalp! My fragile self-esteem began to plummet.
Once I calmed myself down, I realised that there was an easy-ish solution. The fringe had to go! I had to grow it back out and add the hair volume of my fringe back into the rest. This was something I hadn’t done since I was thirteen years old! It took over two years but finally the fringe was gone- the thin/balding patch was hidden/disguised/gone.
Gradually the fear of going bald subsided… for now.
The self-esteem repaired itself again.
New hair, mainly grey strands, began to grow in. Going grey doesn’t phase me in the slightest but that in itself can be another body image trigger for people. I view these strands of grey as strands of glitter and I’ll expose them proudly. Each new grey one represents new hair, more volume and boosts the self-esteem a little.
Friends and colleagues laugh when I say that I don’t mind gradually going grey. I’m not, in general, vain about my appearance. (At least I don’t think I am!) I acknowledge that at times I can be very self-conscious almost to the point of paranoia.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is that it can be the little things that trigger body image concerns that can quickly escalate into more serious issues as well as the big things.
However, even if to you, a person’s fears and concerns seem trivial, don’t belittle them. These can be huge fears to them. Show a little empathy and understanding. Encourage them to be proud of who they are as they are. Encourage their self-belief and self-love.
A little supportive understanding goes a very long way.
For more information on MHAW please check out the link below: