Therapy Digest 13
Is the media making you dissatisfied with your body?
Now this long, hot summer draws to an end it would seem from many different news sources that the media’s obsession with body perfect, good-looking men and women has increased ordinary people’s dissatisfaction of their bodies.
This influence can be especially powerful for girls and young women who were the target audience of the UK’s ITV2 television series ‘Love Island’ that aired almost nightly for eight weeks in the prime-time 9 pm slot.
It has been reported that the incidence of self-harming amongst young women in the UK has recently alarmingly spiked. There is also the case with an increase in the number of mainly, although not exclusively young women, who dissatisfied with their bodies are seeking professional help for anxiety and depression.
Also, there has been a reported increase in people looking to have plastic surgery for themselves so that they can look like their often surgically enhanced role models on television who have made breast augmentation, lip fillers, botox and other procedures look like the new ‘normal’.
Love Island is now in its fourth series and this year broke all previous UK viewing figures especially with the 14 to 23-year-old female audience segment. Its influence is not going away either as next year it is rumoured, the series will move to ITV’s main channel which will potentially increase the programme’s audience share.
We live in an age of disclosure and the sharing of private and personal information across many social media platforms is commonplace now. Love Island plugged into the trend of disclosure with more people than ever encouraged to share personal information about themselves on social media platforms.
Statistics of body dissatisfaction and body dysmorphia have in the past probably always been under-reported. It might feel as though this is a bigger problem today only because more people are now disclosing how they feel about themselves.
The perfect physiques of Love Island competitors have acted as a catalyst for some people to feel and express their dissatisfaction with their looks. It would be easy to demonise Love Island and blame the programme as the sole culprit for the increase in body dissatisfaction, but the programme is only one aspect of a much more complicated situation.
Some families boycotted the programme as they thought its influence was potentially toxic for their young daughters. However insidious influences on our young people are much more prevalent and numerous than many would like to admit. It’s doubtful that the banning Love Island in households would have kept any children safe from experiencing anxiety and depression about the negative feelings they have about their bodies.
Perhaps better to watch the programme and study the dynamic of the contestants so that scenarios can be discussed and de-mystified.
For instance to audition successfully to be a Love Island contestant their physical attributes was a major deciding factor, (interestingly another factor was the number of followers they already had on key social media platforms).
It’s helpful to acknowledge that the Love Island boys and girls are not ordinary folk. They have committed time, energy and in some cases, large amounts of money in how they look to compete in a particular ‘celebrity’ career trajectory where how they are visually is key to their chance of fame and success.
Many of the contestants were from the world of modelling, or personal trainers, or professional dancers and for them being selected to take part in Love Island is a career move. It may as looked as though they were idling around the pool but they were working!
Those finally selected by the producers came from a very narrow range of body types, ethnicity and age. Using the parlance of the show, all the ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ were young; almost all the girls were white while more of the boys were black or Anglo-Caribbean; all of them had perfect physiques – muscular for the boys and slim bodied, and almost all blonde haired and blue eyed for the girls.
All of the contestants said their ideal partner was blonde and blue-eyed – even Samira the only black female to take part said this was her favoured type of boy.
What the programme has done is to shine a light on the the pressures our young people are under from many different sources to comply to almost impossible to attain physical standards, and it is up to parents, carers, peers and elders to engage in conversation with the young to discuss and decide the values they want in their lives.
Love Island cliches are a rich-seam to mine for how young people are pressured to think and feel about themselves. It serves us all poorly if it is treated as an endgame.
What about the value of intelligence and having something to say about the wider world?
What about shifting one’s gaze from the self or internal to external and the world around us?
What about the role of kindness in one’s life and compare that to how the Love Island contestants behaved to one another?
What about how female contestants were treated differently than the men for their sexual behaviour?
What about how beauty doesn’t stop feelings of insecurity or heartache?
What about discussing seeing the bluster, the judgements, even the falling in love and all those disappointments usually played out in private televised for our entertainment in high definition?
Focussing on dissatisfaction with one’s body can be a distraction instead of the overwhelming feelings of powerlessness and anxiety that are experienced when thinking about school, or university, or the world of work, or everything else external from ourselves that can feel scary and unmanageable.
Opening up channels of communication is critical. Start talking and keep talking. Keep debunking and questioning narrow media assumptions.
We are all the new ‘normal’, and we are so much more technicolour, varied and amazing than any narrow cliche of perfection Love Island and other reality TV contestants and producers would have us believe.
If you struggle with your body image or are experiencing body dysmorphia and it is harming how you feel about yourself, then you can reach out to me to make an obligation free discovery call. The link to my schedule and my contact numbers is on this page.
Sally Baker was invited as a guest on BBC Radio Wales ‘Good Evening Wales’ programme at the end of August 21018 to comment about the possible influence of programmes such as Love Island and other reality TV shows on the increase in self-harming amongst young women.
Two Little Known Lessons in Sport
Boys and young men have had poor examples of leadership in sport in the UK for too long, and it has added to the growing trend of toxic masculinity that can seem so prevalent today. When your heroes misbehave it can influence fans to behave in the same way.
Often fanatical about football our young men in the have seen their favourite team players arguing and disputing the judgments of the referee or match officials on countless occasions.
Earning on average £50,000 a week in the UK premier league the players have demonstrated the manners and habits of the gutter so much so that it has become the new normal to respond to unpopular decisions on the pitch with dissent, visible disrespect and aggression.
Even football managers act up on the sidelines and in post-match interviews. Snarling and blaming. Carping or in their petulance even refusing to comment at all.
It’s no wonder that similar behaviour is commonplace in schools and out on the streets with some of our young men. How could they know better when all they are doing is following the lead?
Even fathers are sometimes ordered to rein in their behaviour or are banned from watching their son or daughter play in their Saturday morning kids league game for unacceptable language or threatening tone. Poor behaviour begets poor behaviour as there is no-one of influence raising the bar.
It felt like the old-world style of Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United for 26 years until his retirement in 2013 had gone for good. Never again would we see his measured approach of toughness balanced with fairness. The days were gone when players were encouraged to improve their performance instead of being undermined and berated for failing.
What this summer’s World Cup bid from England gave us was a glimmer of the traits of heroes we can all appreciate and value.
In brief, the English team behaved well. They were unified and played with commitment. With Gareth Southgate, England had a manager with a high quotient of emotional intelligence. He even comforted the opposition player from Sweden whose penalty chance was thwarted by the English goalkeeper.
In one of the many memes flooding social media was a photoshopped image of the waistcoated Southgate of today comforting his younger football playing self when he too missed a penalty opportunity in The Euro 96 championship.
The meme reminded me of a powerful hypnosis-visualisation I might create for a client to heal his or her younger self. As part of a therapeutic approach, it can be a transformational experience that works on a profoundly deep level to go back through time and rescue one’s younger self and place them somewhere they will be safe for evermore.
Our next lesson in a sport was from Serena Williams who had hardly played any tennis in the last couple of years since her marriage and the difficult birth of her daughter almost a year ago after which she needed several surgical repairs.
Every time she plays she is pitched against the latest top player from the newest crop of young, perfectly fit and expertly trained aspiring tennis players hungry for their chance of taking the top accolade.
Even without winning key games and having to face defeat her record this year of recovery and intention is her most significant victory. To come back as a mother and to sometimes win when so many entirely wrote her off.
Several commentators have also noted profound changes in her personality.
Although always the pro when interviewed and ready with the typical sound-bite she expressed herself in ways they hadn’t heard her before with by being more open and vulnerable.
In particular of course, the commentators noticed Serena’s sheer joy when she speaks of her daughter but additionally they said it seemed as if her intuition and sense of herself was deeply assured.
She was playing like a titan for sure, but there is a sense that she’s emotionally grown and more at peace with herself too.
As with many working mothers, her commitment to her profession has not come about without the personal sacrifice of missing special times with her child. Recently she spoke about missing her baby daughter, Alexis Olympia, taking her first steps because she was training. It caused a social media storm as working mothers the world over commiserated and supported her choices to juggle the impossible demands of work and family. Many working mums supported Serena’s struggle to balance work and home by sharing their sacrifices too.
Working mothers are titans too who achieve super-human feats on a daily basis while giving themselves no credit for how hard it is to accomplish in the work arena while also being present for the family. If anything Serena, even from her elevated and privileged position has reminded all of us of our humanity and human strength.
So for me looking back at this summer’s little-known lessons in sport what has shone through is the impact emotional intelligence has on how famous sportsmen and women express themselves and how when they are vulnerable and empathetic we the audience and lifted and carried along in support of them – even when we don’t really know why. Except that on a profoundly primaeval level when they open up and share their humanity we can all hear, and all connect, and it’s powerful and enriching beyond all measure.
Do you want to speak your truth better? If you struggle to make a human connection, then you can link here with me on this page to book an obligation free discovery call, and together we can transform how you think and feel about yourself.
If you want to lead a happier more fulfilled life it’s almost impossible when you’re doubting yourself or sabotaging your chances of success. Therapy isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve ‘tried everything’ it could be just what you need. You can book an obligation-free 30-minute discovery call to find out for yourself.