It’s that time of year again – gym adverts everywhere, pictures of running shoes all over social media and fad diets being shoved in our face everywhere we go, but what about our mental health?
January. What a crap month (sorry to anyone that has a January birthday). Christmas is over, New Year’s Eve is done, TV is back to normal, everyone’s back at work/university/school and there’s barely any Christmas chocolate left. You’ve likely put a few pounds on over the festive period, which makes anyone with low self-esteem an easy target for the diet culture this time of year.
January is regularly seen as the month to sort your life out. Everyone around you is stating “new year, new me” – but this is something that humans have created. Essentially, it’s just another day, just another week, just another month and just another year. Because of the focus on starting ‘afresh’, diet culture takes over our lives every January, putting constant pressure on people to lose their extra festive weight. We’re told to feel guilty for enjoying the festive period and now’s the time to work hard on those abs! I call bullshit.
Sarah Frances Young is a body positive activist, using her social media presence to help spread positive vibes and tips on eating disorder recovery, as an ED survivor herself. She believes the pressure to try out fad diets is much stronger in January.
“The reason that there is added pressure in January to try fad diets is because Christmas has just passed and the New Year’s Resolutions are here,” Sarah explains. “In this culture of diet, weight loss, and fitness, people (especially women) are made to feel rubbish about their bodies and therefore often spend a lot of time focusing on changing them”.
“In this culture of diet, weight loss, and fitness, people (especially women) are made to feel rubbish about their bodies and therefore often spend a lot of time focusing on changing them”
If taken seriously, New Year’s Resolutions can often lead to positive life changes. But many resolutions are scrapped before we even hit the year’s half way mark. In fact, it’s been reported that 80% of people fail their resolutions by February. Unfortunately though, while these New Year’s Resolutions last, they seem to be feeding the health and fitness industry.
“New Year’s Resolutions are a time where people create goals for the new year, and unfortunately a huge amount of these goals revolve around losing weight,” Sarah says. “This also ties in with post-Christmas guilt. We are sold the idea that we can ‘indulge’ over Christmas, and then are sold the idea of guilt and regret, and this is when we buy into dieting and start to spend money on those products.”
Throughout November and December, we’re told to scoff our faces with mince pies, chocolate log, mulled beverages and all the yummy Christmassy treats you can find. The 1st January comes around and suddenly we’re bombarded with gym membership and slimming world adverts, instantly pouring guilt on our eating habits over the Christmas period – something that we were encouraged to indulge in.
Holiday adverts are also everywhere, which can seriously trigger people’s body image insecurities and anxiety. Even TV channels are full to the brim with shows telling us which diets we should be trying. How To Lose Weight Well on Channel 4 is this year’s big diet show. But, the lack of attention on our mental health is shocking. It seems the only thing that matters is the size of our waist.
Although there is some pressure on men to have a certain body type, Sarah believes that it’s still much more difficult for women.
“Women are hit hardest by dieting culture,” she explains. “We are taught that we are never, ever good enough, and that there will always be something to change about ourselves – especially our appearance. If you look at TV advertising, the underlying message for men and women is very different. Often the theme of adverts targeted at men are about being awesome, but being MORE awesome if you buy this certain product. For women, it’s about never being enough UNTIL you have bought the product advertised. That’s not to say that there are not issues with the way male bodies are portrayed in magazines etc, but with women it permeates every single media platform.”
“Often the theme of adverts targeted at men are about being awesome, but being MORE awesome if you buy this certain product. For women, it’s about never being enough UNTIL you have bought the product advertised”
Such constant attention on body image surely must be effecting our mental health. In fact, HereToHelp believe that “Body image and self-esteem start in the mind, not in the mirror”. It’s also worth noting that the health and fitness industry makes huge amounts of money in January, and even relies on it. In fact, Dan Davies argues that “Usually about 75 per cent of all gym memberships are taken out in the month of January”. Whilst they’re making money on our low self-esteem, our mental health isn’t being taken into account.
Sarah argues that the enormous pressure that’s put on us at this time of year is seriously harming our mental health, and is more dangerous than perhaps we realise. “The effects of this all on mental health is indescribable,” she says. “Poor body image and self-esteem is horrendous to live with and seeps into every aspect of your life. This could also develop further into mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders, which all have devastating effects. When so many people feel loathing towards the very skin that they live in, it’s torturous, and it shows just how insidious our culture is. The diet and weight loss industry feeds off our insecurities; our self-doubt; our body-hatred; and for some, our mental illnesses, and it makes money from it. It’s sickening.”
Sickening, Sarah says, and when you put it like that, anyone would agree. Make sure to look after your mental health this time of year. Surround yourself with people that remind you you’re beautiful and worthy just as you are. And remember the fad diets are almost always a money-making scheme.
If you want to learn more about Sarah and her body positivity journey, you can follow her on Instagram @bodypositivepear.
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