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Lockdown and Body Image: An Interview with Dr Tony Ortega

The COVID-19 pandemic has had clear and serious consequences for the physical health of people across the UK and around the world - but it has also taken a severe toll on people’s mental health in a way that should not be overlooked.


A recent survey of more than 1,100 people from Cosmetic Surgery Solicitors showed that 69% of people felt self-conscious about their own appearance during lockdown, due to being restricted to communicating through video conferencing. The findings suggest that lockdown conditions are impacting people’s self-esteem and body confidence in a major way - especially among vulnerable young people.


To shed some more light on the reasons behind this, we spoke to Dr Tony Ortega, a licensed clinical psychologist and author of the self-help guide #AreYouHereYet: How To STFU and Show Up For Yourself. He has been working as a mental health professional since 1992, and was able to provide some eye-opening insights into the reasons why people are feeling the mental effects of lockdown - as well as how to make changes that can make a real difference....

Have you observed a trend of people becoming more self-conscious about their own appearances since the beginning of lockdown? If so, what would you identify as the main drivers of this trend?

There is no doubt that folks have become more self-conscious about their physical appearance since the beginning of lockdown. We were all completely devoid of all of the things we were so used to, or - at the very least - restricted in our ability to access things to enhance our physical appearance, with stores selling cosmetics and clothing and gyms being closed for a significant period of time.


Added to this was the global anxiety we were feeling from this unprecedented pandemic, which likely caused increased consumption of food and/or alcohol. For many, we were the only person we got to look at on a day-to-day basis in person; many of us found every single wrinkle and areas of perceived fat possible, because we were all we had.


As the world begins the slow process of reopening and the initial panic of COVID-19 subsides, we are more alert to our own existence as well as appearance. However, that perception could be quite skewed.

Do you think the growing reliance on technologies like Zoom and social media for communication is going to have a negative impact on people's body image? What advice would you give to people who use these platforms a lot to help them avoid developing an unhealthy fixation on their own appearance?

Individuals were already pretty fixated on their looks for social media pre-quarantine. I have only seen it get worse. We have become hyper-aware of our appearance, even on digital platforms. Therefore, we are going to want to show how we are thriving, even though we may be in a spot of panic on the inside.


Being hyper-focused on our digital presence can also be a distraction from internalised anxiety and sadness that we are not consciously facing, either voluntarily or unconsciously. If I focus on how I look, I don't have to look at how terrible I feel.


People are concerned about how others are going to judge them, so they make absolutely sure they look their very best. This sends the message that they are thriving under quarantine, when they actually are not. This speaks to difficulties with vulnerability.


Pre-lockdown, how often did you encounter individuals who would be tempted to use cosmetic surgery and beauty procedures as a means of addressing their own body confidence issues? Are you expecting this trend to get better or worse as a result of lockdown?


I did not encounter a large number of folks using cosmetic surgeries and such to address body confidence issues; however, with the level of awareness some of us have about our bodies, I would not be surprised to see a rise in cosmetic surgeries and beauty procedures to address body confidence issues, as many of these will provide a super-quick fix to whatever perceived body issues individuals may be experiencing.


For those who are considering getting cosmetic surgery - what kind of questions would you recommend that they ask themselves before agreeing to surgery, in order to make sure that they are not doing so from a mentally unhealthy place?


I would encourage anyone who is seeking cosmetic surgery to take a very hard look in the mirror and ask themselves: "Why are you doing this? No, really - why are you doing this?"


Are you doing this because you feel that it will add value to your life, or are you doing this as a means of feeling better about yourself? Is the motivation coming from love or fear? I would suggest that folks make sure they are very clear as to the motivation behind their desire for cosmetic surgery.


With COVID-19 still a major threat and future lockdowns an ongoing possibility, what actions can people take to improve their self-image and body confidence at this current time? For those who are particularly struggling, what support measures and services would you recommend for them to explore?

We have seen a surge in online fitness programmes, which are so easily accessible. While it is not the same thing as a gym, it does provide some level of outlet to work on your body image issues.


The one thing we have all had to do is figure out new and innovative ways to do the things we used to do under quarantine conditions.


We would all also benefit from monitoring the way we talk to ourselves - is it very subjective and mean? Are there statements that are more positive, if not objective, that we can replace them with?


Acceptance is crucial in this process. If we look at the word acceptance, it means an acknowledgement of what is, not what we like. If we focus on approval over acceptance, we will get ourselves in quite the mental battle. Focus on greater acceptance of your body at the present moment (i.e., “This is where I am, and it's OK, and this is where I would like to be, let's get there”), and find out and take the steps to get to a more desirable goal.


Thanks once again to Dr Tony Ortega for sharing these great insights and advice with us! To find out more about his work and his latest book #AreYouHereYet: How To STFU and Show Up For Yourself, visit his personal website.


For more information on the way that lockdown has affected body image among people in the UK, have a look at the full results of our national survey, or read our related interviews with Dr Karen Graham and Dr Earim Chaudry.


Meanwhile, if you have had a negative experience with cosmetic surgery as a result of medical negligence, get in touch with the team at Cosmetic Surgery Solicitors to find out how we can help.

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