Have you ever scrolled through a social media page or leafed through a magazine and instantly felt imperfect? You are not alone. Today we are bombarded with images and videos of the perfect body, and if you do not match up, you are considered to have failed. Celebrities are airbrushed to perfection, but because we do not see the real deal, we start to believe that this fake image is actually real. This can create tremendous pressure to live up to these ideals even if they are actually not true at all. Many women spend excess amounts of time and money trying desperately to live up to these picture-perfect photos. It can sadly be damaging to mental health, and it is not something that should be encouraged. It is essential we learn to love the skin we are in.
Obsession Breeds Negativity
The problem with developing an obsession over the way we look, especially when we are always comparing it to these unreal ideals plastered all over the media, is that negative behaviours can start. It is worth mentioning that we are not talking about the basic principles of self-care, eating well, getting exercise, etc. When it becomes an obsession that creates feelings of disgust and self-loathing we can be confident in the knowledge that this is not healthy self-care.
So what exactly happens when someone becomes obsessed with their physical appearance and how it matches up to media projections?
When someone obsesses over their body image, they can really punish themselves for things that are not within our control. Often people will get angry with the things they inherited in terms of looks: Why did I get brown hair, why not blonde? Why are my eyes blue not green? Why have I got such a strange nose? We call these unanswerable questions as this is not something we can control. However, this can spiral into self-bashing. I am ugly; I am so fat, I hate myself. Clearly, this is not a good mental health state and is a reflection of the obsession rather than the truth. From here the thought process progresses to what if fantasies. If I was prettier would I have a partner by now, if I was taller would I be more successful in my career? Comparing ourselves to others is also damaging, asking why we weren’t born looking like Angelina Jolie is not actually going to solve the problem we are creating.
So What Can We Do?
Many approaches are offered to deal with self-image obsession. However, I would like to introduce you to Attention Training as I believe that this brings positivity and confidence in a natural way. Attention Training is the principle of refocusing the mind away from the constant barrage of negative and obsessive thoughts that swamp the mind. It is all too easy for the brain to perform more than one task, so we can still get on with our day while allowing the negative thoughts to keep processing. Bringing your attention back to the moment and retraining the brain to focus only on the task at hand can help to lessen the preoccupation.
Mundane Task Focusing
Attention Training starts here. Pick a task, any tasking. Washing dishes, ironing, whatever you are doing that your mind can comfortably handle while letting the thought processes run riot. You need to focus your mind on the here and how. Using the principles of the five senses of touch, sight, taste, hearing and smell. Apply them to the task at hand and force the brain to focus only on these things. Whatever you are doing, consider what you can touch, what you can see, what you can taste, what you can hear and what you can smell. Build an in-depth picture as if you had to describe the scene in as much detail as possible to someone who isn’t with you. The aim is to take the percentage of time spent obsessing down and bring the amount of time spent focusing on the task at hand up. When we spend time criticising ourselves we only become unhappy. So by reducing the time we spend in negative thought we improve our mood. It also teaches us to focus on other things rather than being preoccupied with our appearance or things we can’t change and are therefore pointless. Attention training might sound like a simple exercise however it can actually be difficult at the beginning that you realise. The negative thoughts are more likely to come back within the first few seconds as we are not used to ignoring them. This is the reason why it is called ‘training’, as we need to train ourselves to become good at it, and thus reap the benefits.