Your Body and Your Mind – Mental Health Week 2019

The month of May has brought us back into another awareness discussion: “the body and the mind”. As an Ambassador of the Nous, my contribution was a write up on my thoughts on the subject.

My reflection led me to mentally canvass the changes in the way the female body particularly has been viewed and the effects on the mental wellbeing of men and women. The change has been largely affected by social media, celebrities, diets and magazines giving rise to eating disorders and even body dysmorphia. Eating disorders are no longer seen as a “white” only concern.

In Africa, the “traditionally built” woman as referred to in Ma Ramotswe book, The No. 1 Lady’s Detective Agency of Botswana, was a larger woman, with big bust and hips for birthing and mothering. This was the traditional view of the African woman, as such if you were seen to be skinny, or have lost too much weight a question quickly followed “are you well?” or rumours of a strange disease.

In the UK indicators show there is an increase in black girls being referred into mental health services with eating disorders. This is a personal story:
The attempts to have the size 0 -4 figure has resulted in dangerous diets, depression and at times self-harm. Body Dysmorphia has seen some mutilating their bodies to increase the busts, butts with dangerous injections or surgeries that result in the damaging the body long-term. There have also been cases of people dying under the knife. In the last year also there has been an 80% increase in eating disorders among men. This is the same rate as women.

France was one of the first countries to ensure that models on the catwalk were a certain weight. This was due to the eating disorders with some models living on ice-cream to maintain their weight. This has been applied in some of Europe, however the same cannot be said in Africa. This being said there is a steady rise in including plus size clothing and models. Eating disorders are yet to be seen as a problem however skin bleaching is badly affecting our women and men.

Skin bleaching has horrendous effects such as cancer, septic infections due to skin peeling. This has largely affected African women and documentaries on the BBC can be viewed to see the desperation to be seen as lighter skinned. The idea is that the fairer skinned you are, the more beautiful you are and darker the skin viewed as ugly. This is a post-colonial malaise and Hollywood where fairer skin is defined as more beautiful. You cannot please everyone while compromising your health. In Rwanda skin bleaching cosmetics have been banned and it is hoped other nations will follow.

The question would be, why are we so insecure about our bodies? How we view our bodies is largely affected by how our families and our peers accept us. As hormones changes and genetics come into play the reality of a smaller figure may not be possible with some people. As women get dissatisfied with their bodies or pressure to look a certain way, they compromise on the simple value of loving and accepting themselves.

Standing slightly under 6ft and a big lass, the larger African woman stereotype is aggressive has resulted sometimes in avoiding being seen. Someone asked me “at you comfortable being this big”. Stumbling for an answer I responded “I cannot do much about my height you have to take it up with my dad!” The journey of acceptance of my unique gene make up and the added-on effects of medication that has negatively affected my weight is a journey.

To the parent, words have power “ You are too thin, too tall, too short, too fat, your stomach is too big, loose the hips or why are you not like you sibling” is not acceptable. Accepting your child as he or she is will lead to a healthy view of themselves and confidence.

Your body is your temple and how you view it and the feelings you have towards it will greatly affect your mental wellbeing. What you say to your body affects it too. Begin by being grateful for the things you like and improve on the rest. To accept your uniqueness or working with a therapist is an tool you can use to help yourself. The celebrity lifestyle is not our real life. The cut and paste hoping to look younger, doesn’t stop aging.

We need to be sensitive to those who view themselves differently; support ourselves with healthy self-care and a lobby for funding to be increased not cut for the younger ones..

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