The perfect body myth

The rise of social media has seen some incredible developments and benefits. You can meet new people who you would never meet in your everyday movements, speak to people on the other side of the world and just generally keep up with all 900 of your Facebook friends. But wow does it have its downsides.

If you’re anything like me, you’re being bombarded everyday with pictures of people with perfect lives, bodies and diets that definitely don’t match up to your own. Fitness pages on Instagram are full of men and women with incredible bodies, rather than help and advice on how to stay fit and healthy. How does this way of posting help anyone apart from boost the egos of those in the pictures?! No thanks.

Being a bit of a gym and health freak myself, I can’t confess to having an awful diet and no exercise, but these images we see every day affect me just as much as you. I’m a very anxious person and worry about pretty much anything my mind can get its grubby hands on, and my body is no exception. Due to a very destructive relationship and a subsequent bout of depression, I lost about a stone in weight in under a month about a year and a half ago – a stone I didn’t need to lose in the first place.

Despite this extremely unhealthy and unhappy way of losing the weight, I got complimented left right and centre about my body even though I was pretty underweight. This triggered a change in me, and one I’m still grappling with the effects of. Since going to the gym and taking my fitness seriously, my body has changed – in a good way – but I’m left with worries about the food that I eat and the exercise I do. If I have a ‘naughty’ food day, in which I eat cake or a big meal, or skip a day at the gym, I beat myself up for at least a day afterwards.

I truly think that if I put on weight my boyfriend won’t fancy me anymore and leave me. And I know far too many girls and guys who feel exactly the same as me and it’s all because of social media. There’s always a skinnier, prettier girl, or a musclier, more attractive guy you come across that, according to your anxious mind, your other half will fancy way more than you and wonder why they ever looked twice at you in the first place.

WRONG. If you’re in a healthy relationship, your other half is in it for far more than your body. And the chances are they’re having very similar thoughts about themselves as you – so do your best to relax. Also, those pictures you see on social media? Yeh. Fake. Photoshopped. And you can guarantee that all those men and women have their insecurities too and get bloated bellies after a meal AND don’t actually look like that a lot of the time. But this is how mental illness develops, through our insecurities and anxieties. More and more young people are being diagnosed with eating disorders or body dismorphic disorders because of the huge emphasis we put on our outer appearances.

We can so easily get obsessed with creating the perfect body – which, let me tell you, DOES NOT EXIST – that we miss the important things. You’re not going to lay on your death bed and wish you went to the gym a few more times a week. You’re going to wish you spent more time with those you love, went on more holidays and enjoyed the little things. It’s about loving your partner for the way they make you feel, treat you and love you even when you’re sat with no make up on stuffing your face with pizza. It’s about spending time with your family in the evenings rather than forcing yourself to go to the gym when your body actually doesn’t really want to. Of course, eating healthily and getting some exercise is important, but sometimes we can become too engrossed in that lifestyle. Life is also about taking care of yourself and your mental health and also having a damn good time.

So, if you’re getting a balanced diet and as much exercise as you have time for (because let’s face it, life is busy and exciting) then my only advice is EAT THAT CAKE.

Melissa Kirwan is a full-time postgraduate student currently studying for a MSc in Clinical Psychology and Mental Health.

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