By Justine Hodgkinson, CEO of Advocacy Focus and Champion of Women

Nearly a week has passed since Mental Health Awareness Week and whilst we saw a lot of things were shared and spoken about, once again, the social world has gone quiet. It's important to keep the conversations going after these awareness days and weeks. It's important to reflect and to think about how the things we shared and spoke about affected us, and more importantly, how we move forward.

This year's 'theme' was body image - or rather, how our body image impacts our mental health. A survey was carried out by the Mental Health Foundation in 2018 and it was found that nearly 1 in 3 adults (30%) have felt so stressed by body image and appearance, that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.  Why is that I wonder?  Well the answer is, nobody seems to know fully, but what is obvious is that with statistics like this, it cannot be ignored. 

I know from firsthand experience that there have been times in my own life that I haven’t felt at my best.  During puberty, post-childbirth, post-divorce, after suffering a loss and now as I am going through perimenopause.  For me, many have been hormonally linked, natural experiences, others have been life events and transitions. All have been a challenge one way or the other.  All have had some impact on my mental health and wellbeing.

My daughter started high school in September last year. The transition was huge. She simply wasn’t prepared for the step up from primary to high school and to be honest, neither was I.  She soon became conscious about the way she looked and began comparing herself to other girls of the same age that looked years older in terms of their development. 

She was subjected to some name calling and soon she ‘hated’ her eyes.  Which, for the record, are big, blue and still curious about the world. However, they made her stand out at a time when she just wanted to blend in.   No amount of reassurance changed her mind about how she looked.  I explained that puberty was a time when you ‘grow into your face’! I told her about how I was the world’s gawkiest teenager and that I hated walking into a room full of people in case they talked about me, judged me or worse still, tried to have a conversation with me.

Conversations about body image and self-esteem take place in our home regularly.  I talk to my daughter about how unique she is and that there is only one of her in the entire world, and how that is a thing to celebrate and embrace.  When she tells me that she is one of the smallest girl in her class, I tell her that ‘they don’t make diamonds the size of paving stones’. 

Sometimes she hears me, sometimes she doesn’t.  It is difficult to drown out the white noise of social media and the digital world in which we find ourselves.  So very hard to ignore when people are being cruel about how you look. Magazines that convince you that you need to have the perfect beach body, that it is possible to get your figure back after giving birth six weeks earlier (it really isn’t), and editors that tick boxes by using the occasional ‘plus size’ model on their cover. Plus size?  I have gained at least two stone in weight since I began my journey towards the menopause, so not only am I a ‘woman of a certain age’, I am now plus size? 

Maybe we need to stop judging people.  Maybe we need to stop labelling and putting people into boxes. Maybe we should embrace different, love the unusual and promote any type of body – warts and all. 

Our bodies are an incredible feat of engineering and have got us to whatever stage of life we are at. However, something has gone wrong somewhere. If 1 in 3 adults are so stressed with their bodies that they feel unable to cope, then that’s not ok and we have – in my humble opinion – to do something about that collectively. 

Society needs to change. We need to do and be better. So let’s start with the people in our lives. Let’s celebrate them instead of drawing attention to their faults. Let’s communicate positive messages about our bodies. Let’s model a healthy relationship with food. 

Above all, let’s be kind to ourselves and to others and let’s change that statistic one beautiful body at a time.