Fitnessentials

Teaching you the essentials of fitness and weight loss

The self confidence crisis – what can we do about it?

This week, you may have noticed that the Fitnessentials blog is talking about self confidence – it seems that Britain is in the midst of a confidence crisis. In a report in 2012 by the All Party Parlimentary Group on Body Image, it is estimated that roughly two thirds of adults have negative body image. The Centre for Appearance Research finding were similar with 60% of adults reporting that they felt ashamed with the way they look. It doesn’t just affect women either – the same centre found that one third of men would sacrifice a year of their life to achieve their ideal body. In this article, we take a look into some of the reasons for this, and give practical suggestions for what we can all do to end this madness!

 

There is a growing amount of evidence to suggest that low self esteem and poor body image is on the rise. According to the latest report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image, the media, advertising and celebrity culture were perceived by almost 75% of respondents to the consultation to be the main social influences on body image. The appearance ideals portrayed by visual media and advertising were seen to be at odds with the general population and it was estimated that fewer than 5% of the population could ever realistically attain the body ideals presented and perhaps because more and more of us are struggling to reach the “ideal appearance”, cosmetic surgery rates have increased by nearly 20% since 2008 – with the rise being attributed to advertising an irresponsible marketing campaigns.

 

So what is self confidence and body image?

 

Body image is defined as how people feel about the way they look and the way their body functions. This can include a person’s thoughts and feelings about their weight, shape, skin colour, size, height and their appearance more broadly. Self confidence is defined as being secure in yourself and your abilities. More often than not, the two go hand in hand.

 

So  we know that a lack of self confidence and body dissatisfaction are becoming commonplace in our society but what can we do about it?

 

Well, the group concluded that focusing on weight as the key goal was counter-intuitive because weight loss is a long term outcome and difficult to achieve, so instead, the focus should be on exercise. However, people who are overweight or obese were seen to be stigmatised and this was associated with a decreased likelihood of engaging in healthy behaviours such as exercise. Many people are afraid of setting foot into a gym because they are  “full of healthy, slim people”. So exercising at home with or without a personal trainer could be an option to consider.

 

There is quite a lot of evidence that body dissatisfaction has emerged by about the age of 7 or 8 in both boys and girls. A lot of this is “learnt” from their parents. If possible, we should avoid letting our own views about our appearance or even nutrition become too apparent to our children. It seems obvious but rather than mummy eating a salad because “she’s fat” whilst the rest of the family enjoys dinner, we should all aim to eat the same food together at the dinner table. This normalises mealtimes and helps food be seen as something to enjoy together rather than something that makes you fat and causes you guilt.

 

90% of girls and young women believe that TV and magazines focus too much on what women look like rather than what they achieve according to the girl guiding association. In recognition of the strong influence the media has on young people’s lives, and the need to be able to critique it, media literacy programmes and workshops have been developed and untaken in some schools. Media Smart is a not-for-profit organisation, funded by the advertising industry, which has developed useful tools for both young people, parents and teachers. You can find out more on their website http://mediasmart.uk.com/.

 

Another useful resource could be the Succeed Foundation, http://www.succeedfoundation.org/. This eating disorder charity is currently running two day body image workshops with female students across some universities in the UK. Rather than focusing on eating disorders, the workshop emphasises creating and reaffirming a positive and healthy personal body image through a variety of structured discussions, activities, and exercises. By doing so, participants learn to embrace the healthy ideal, reduce their own body dissatisfaction, decrease “fat talk” in their daily life and recognise all of the non-appearance related aspects of themselves and others.

Whilst there are resources out there, by working on our own self esteem and body image first, we’ll be more likely to be able to positively influence our friends and family. Let’s start a chain reaction.