We are consumed by numbers.
They seem to be the most reliable way to determine how wealthy we are, what position of status we hold, how many followers we have, how many places we have seen, how many friends we have… I could go on.
But one of the greatest numbers that are fixated on is the one we see when we step foot on the scales.
It seems like the message out there is that they are not seen to be beautiful or attractive because they don’t have the ‘ideal physique’ that society and the media have created. For many people, this leads them to feel that they are not worthy of love, respect or appreciation because they don’t have ‘the look’ that is supposed to be the ideal way to appear.
Yet you can’t define a person’s worth by the number on the scales or based on their appearance.
So many of us focus on that number to the point of obsession. It restricts us from living a fulfilling life as we deprive ourselves of certain foods, be controlling over portion sizes, pushing our bodies through excessive exercise and measuring our weight on a regular maybe even daily basis.
Unfortunately, this can lead to extremely life-threatening mental health illnesses such as an eating disorder. Eating disorders come in many different forms, despite what the stereotype might be. You can’t measure the severity of an eating disorder purely based on the number on the scales alone.
Mental health champion Hope Virgo created the “Dump The Scales” campaign to improve the way that the NHS assesses and provides individuals who have eating disorders. Currently, there are so many people being turned away from getting access to the treatment they desperately need because they do not fall within the ‘critical’ BMI range, which is prolonging suffering and causing detrimental damage to their chances of recovering or surviving.
I have been following Hope’s work for a long time now and can relate so much to her own experiences of being measured on a scale to determine whether she was able to get access to treatment. She has done such outstanding work from her traumatic experiences, by writing the book “Stand Tall Little Girl” as well as constantly championing mental health awareness through her campaign.
Hope was kind enough to take the time out for me to answer a few questions in honour of mental health awareness week this year so that we can both highlight the importance of creating positive changes to the way we treat our bodies and how professionals assess those who are in need of health care treatment.
How has your experience been with your body image? How has it impacted your life?
I grew up always worrying about my appearance and body image. Comparing myself to a lot of people around me. I was never that happy with what I looked like but I learnt to live with it and that was okay.
I didn’t develop anorexia because of my body image but it certainly played into my recovery. Throughout my illness, the fact that my body image was totally distorted became much worse. I would tell myself that life would be better if I just got to a lower weight. But when I got to that weight I wasn’t happy. I would keep pushing myself to lose more and more just to see if I would ever be happy. But the fact was I was in this dangerous cycle and didn’t quite know how to break it.
My body image is now something I am conscious of. Maybe partly because I don’t look like a typical anorexic (which is good!) but doing what I do can sometimes be challenging. I know that how I see myself isn’t the reality so I can look at the evidence which is always helping me feel better.
Are you aware of where of how your experiences and thoughts surrounding your body image have occurred? What or who influenced you to adopt this form of body image?
I think a mixture of things but perhaps a lot of them were without me realising. There are all the pressures to look and act a certain way which certainly impacts the day to day of life. It stops us living our lives without comparing to others around us.
I now tend to avoid all diet related stuff and all these images making sure that I follow positive influencers.
How did you being to realise that this was a negative and self-destructive way of thinking of treating your body?
I didn’t think what I was doing to my body was bad, I was in this denial phase for such a long time. Even as I arrived in hospital I was still not sure what I was doing, how I was treating my body was wrong.
Over the last 10 years, I have spent time learning what is good for my body and I should make sure that I am living in a healthy way. It is hard work at times but the more I listen to my body and self the easier it gets.
What obstacles have you faced in getting the help and support you needed for your negative body image? How did you overcome them?
I think the difficulty when in recovery from anorexia is that your body changes. You put on weight and everyone thinks that you are fixed when in reality you are still struggling. So for me learning to talk about how I felt and open up was essential to my recovery and pushing myself further ahead in the right direction.
Your remarkable campaign ‘Dump the Scales’ is leading the way for improved care and support for eating disorders, what is a key message to take away from it for the general public?
Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes and just because someone looks okay doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling.
Finally, could you offer some words of advice to anyone who could be suffering from negative body image?
Stop comparing yourself to everyone around you because you won’t ever be happy with how you end up. Don’t listen to the voice in your head that is beating you up and making you feel unworthy. It is lying to you and if you fight it and ignore it you can be so much stronger!
Please sign the petition through the link below!