Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 was hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, which is the UK’s charity for everyone’s mental health. The purpose of the awareness initiative is to highlight the problems and stigmas related to talking about and diagnosing mental health issues. Every year, a theme is chosen to help shed light on an important topic related to mental health. The theme for 2019 was body image – how we think and feel about our bodies. Body image concerns are something that most people experience at some point in their life. The concerns by themselves are not a mental health issue, but it is thought to be a risk factor for related mental health problems. Furthermore, research has found that higher body dissatisfaction is associated with a poorer quality of life, psychological distress and the risk of unhealthy eating behaviours and eating disorders (Mental Health Foundation, 2019). Generally speaking, feelings of dissatisfaction with our bodies and appearance are often more common among young women. Research has indicated that images of thinness as an ideal in the media directly or indirectly impact women, resulting in distorted body image and body dissatisfaction, and this may be among the risk factors for developing an eating disorder (Saito & Izumi Barton, 2018). Nevertheless, body image concerns are relevant from childhood through to later life and affect both women and men.
Body image in JapanIn Japan, a growing body of research has found that many young Japanese women are discontent with their own bodies. In a recent study aiming to assess the ideal body image among Japanese women residing in Tokyo, the results showed that most participants wished to be slimmer. In addition, they believed that their same-sex peers wanted to be even thinner than they were themselves (Saito & Izumi Barton, 2018). Similar results could be identified in an earlier study, where both young and middle aged women had significantly higher desire for thinness. This desire was also higher among women living in metropolitan areas (Hayashi et al., 2006).
The Body ProjectThe Body Project, which was recently introduced in Japan, is a group-based intervention that provides a forum for women and girls to confront unrealistic beauty ideals, and engages them in the development of healthy body image through verbal, written, and behavioral exercises. What are the objectives of the Body Project?
- Define the “appearance” ideal and explore its origin
- Examine the costs of pursuing this ideal
- Explore ways to resist pressures to conform to unrealistic standards of beauty
- Discuss how to challenge personal body-related concerns
- Learn new ways to talk more positively about our bodies
- Talk about how we can best respond to future pressures to conform to societal standards of beauty
Available resourcesThe Body Project is curated by the National Eating Disorders Association, which has a helpline available Monday–Thursday from 9AM to 9PM ET, and Friday from 9AM to 5PM ET. There is also an option to live chat with a trained Helpline volunteer if you prefer instant messaging to speaking on the phone. For more information visit https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline If you are looking for English-speaking resources and support in Japan, counseling and support is available in English, Japanese and Spanish at Tokyo Mental Health:
- [email protected] (9:00 AM to 9:30 PM daily)
- For more information: https://www.tokyomentalhealth.com/counseling-and-psychotherapy/#contact_form
What causes body image concerns?The way in which our experiences and environment affect our body image will be different for everyone. However, overall, the research suggests that body image can be influenced by:
- Our relationships with our family and friends
- How our family and peers feel and speak about bodies and appearance
- Exposure to images of idealised or unrealistic bodies through media or social media
- Pressure to look a certain way or to match an ‘ideal’ body type
- Long-term health conditions
- Cultural differences around body ideals
- gender and sexuality