Although Mental Health Awareness Week has been and gone, I strongly feel that one week a year shouldn’t be the only time we all come together to discuss the matter of mental health. Mental health should be talked about every single week, because mental illness can strike anyone at any time and there is so much stigma surrounding them. Surely, the only way this stigma can be tackled is through continuing conversation, not just starting them.
The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week was body image. As a recovered anorexic, body image is a serious topic I feel very strongly about.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with the way I look. I have acne scarring all across my chest, shoulders, chin, jawline and cheeks—which nothing will ever cure. It paints a distorted, unsatisfactory image of myself in my mind, which is subjected to an interior monologue of scrutiny whenever I come across a mirror. This used to bother me so much, that I figured if I couldn’t change the way my face looked, I could at least change the way my body looked. And so, I battled an eating disorder throughout my first two years of university.
I would love to say that I’m fully recovered, because I’m at a healthy weight, I eat well and I love eating out with my friends and family. However, recovery is not linear—not in the slightest. I still find myself totaling up calories on the items I buy in the supermarket.
Eating disorders are surrounded by so much stigma. They’re the biggest killer amongst all mental illnesses, and they’re not limited to anorexia and bulimia, either. When I was at the height of my eating disorder, sure, I looked slim, but I wasn’t resembling the usual portrayals of anorexic girls. This meant I could easily hide what I was doing to myself. I was even getting compliments on my figure, which only added fuel to the fire.
However, I soon realized that what I was doing to myself and what I was thinking about wasn’t normal, and forced myself to reach out for help. It felt relieving to open up about my struggles, thanks to my amazing support network. However, the harsh reality is that not many others are as fortunate to have that. Additionally, I felt incredibly guilty when I told my parents and friends what was going on. I had a nice life, lots of things going for me—why would I want to ruin everything by starving myself? That’s why it’s so important to challenge the stigma surrounding eating disorders, encouraging more conversations about them and letting people know that if they’re struggling, the best thing they can do is to speak to someone. Those who struggle with any mental illness should not feel guilty for the state of their mental health, because it’s not their fault. It’s never their fault.
Many negative thoughts we feel about ourselves concerning our body image definitely stem from social media and the perfectly filtered, angled, correctly lit photographs of others. We compare ourselves to others online, but by doing so, we compare ourselves to something that isn’t real.
What we need is a conscious effort to step away from searching for and glorifying the physical qualities in someone. Instead, we should give out compliments to people that are in no way related to appearance. Here are a few of my favorites:
- I always look forward to spending time with you
- Your smile lights up this room
- I appreciate you more than words can say
- Your laugh makes me so happy
- You are the most incredible friend
- I believe in you, always
- You inspire me
- You make this world so much better
- I don’t know what I’d do without you
As Robert Ingersoll famously stated: “We rise by lifting others.”
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