Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing has been significant. The combination of stresses relating to the virus itself and to the lockdown conditions imposed across the UK have created significant amounts of anxiety and unhappiness, including a major impact on people’s body image.
A new parliamentary report, released in September 2020, has provided even more evidence that the events of 2020 have accelerated a lot of negative trends pertaining to self-esteem and body confidence in the UK. Even more concerningly, the special report suggested many of society’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups are particularly at risk.
With local lockdowns starting to ramp back up across the UK in response to rising infection rates, data like this underlines just how important it is for people across the country to get the support they need to cope.
Two-thirds are feeling bad about their body image
The Women and Equalities Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into potential contributors to poor body image in the UK, in order to determine the potential role of the government, advertisers, schools and educators into tackling this trend.
Although the inquiry report itself is not set to be published until 2021, the committee is already holding discussions about the written evidence it has received, including the results of a social media survey that was run in July 2020 to find out how different groups of people are currently feeling about their body image.
Drawing on 7,878 responses from Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms, the results showed that 61% of adults - and 66% of children - reported feeling negative or very negative about their body image most of the time. Meanwhile, 53% of adults and 58% of children specifically said they had felt worse about this during lockdown.
The social media survey also showed:
- 70% of under 18s have not learned about positive body image in school, despite 78% saying they would like to
- 57% of adults say they never or rarely see people who look like them reflected in images in media and advertising
- 60% of women feel negatively about their bodies, as well as 71% of people with a disability
When asked about the factors that were making them feel worse about their body image, a number of causes were cited, including widespread media discussion of the phenomenon of lockdown weight gain and the government’s new obesity strategy. Other key factors included:
- The prevalence of adverts for products designed to change your appearance, especially weight loss products
- Constant pressure from social media to improve your appearance
- The reduced availability of support for mental health issues and eating disorders
Given the ongoing evidence that trends such as these are particularly harmful to historically marginalised groups such as older and BAME women, trans people, gay men and disabled people, it is clear why this has become an area of focus for the government.
Part of a bigger picture
This is far from the first report to demonstrate that lockdown is having a negative impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing, particularly in terms of body image. A study from Australia has indicated that dieting behaviours and binge eating have become more common due to lockdown, while another study from the US and Netherlands has suggested that people with eating disorders are seeing their recoveries interrupted by the pandemic.
Additionally, we recently ran our own survey into the impact of lockdown on people’s self-esteem. It revealed that a significant number of Britons are now feeling more self-conscious about the way they look, especially now that so many of our interactions with others are taking place on social media or through video calls.
It was shown that 69% of the 1,149 respondents have generally felt quite aware or extremely aware of their own appearance as a result of an increased use of video technology. Additionally, 47% said they were unhappy with how they look, compared to only 21% who said they felt happy.
Other insights include:
- 32% of people have seen a decrease in their self esteem since the start of lockdown
- People aged 21 to 25 have seen the biggest decrease in satisfaction with how their body looks due to the pandemic
- 16.7% of respondents have seen their desire for cosmetic surgery increase as a result of their experiences
The growing number of reports highlighting this trend demonstrate that this is a potentially serious issue - one that needs to be addressed as a matter of priority.
What can people do?
Given that the current pandemic shows no signs of abating any time soon, people across the UK will be looking for effective ways of alleviating their stress and keeping their anxieties in check, especially as the darker winter months roll in.
To help people find better ways of coping with their body image concerns, Cosmetic Surgery Solicitors has spoken to a number of mental health professionals and experts about exercises, mental techniques and new ways of thinking that can help you approach the current situation with a healthier outlook. You can read their insights below:
- Dr Karen Graham, psychiatrist and author of Mind What You Think and Accept How You Feel
- Dr Tony Ortega, clinical psychologist and author of #AreYouHereYet: How to STFU & Show Up For Yourself
- Dr Earim Chaudry, medical director at Manual
It is absolutely understandable why the current pandemic will be putting a lot of strain on people, especially those with preexisting mental health and body confidence issues. By giving yourself a break, reassessing some of these harmful outlooks and working to develop a more constructive focus, you will be able to emerge from these challenges and find a positive path forward.