It was Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK this May 2019 and their theme was #bebodykind and body image. Having body image concerns is a relatively common experience and is not a mental health problem itself; however, it can be a risk factor for mental health problems. Research has found that higher body dissatisfaction is associated with a poorer quality of life, psychological distress and the risk of unhealthy eating behaviours and eating disorders. Body image can be influenced by:
relationships with family and friends
how family and peers feel and speak about their bodies and appearance
exposure to images of idealised or unrealistic bodies through media or social media
pressure to look a certain way or to match an ‘ideal’ body type
There is a unique responsibility on aesthetic professionals to not pressure and expose non surgical treatments to people vulnerable to body image issues. There is a #cosmeticfilter campaign via Cosmetic Surgery Solicitors who launched a petition with Save Face to demand that Instagram do more to protect children from images from influencers that depict cosmetic enhancements. Find out more about the petition here.
Furthermore, aesthetics professionals can ensure they screen and ID check patients attending clinic. For instance, Superdrug’s Renew Aesthetic service is for over 25 year olds only. Professionals are also well placed to screen for mental health conditions using well recognised screens in general psychiatry and cosmetic medicine.
New online surveys were conducted by the Mental Health Foundation with YouGov in March 2019 of 4,505 UK adults 18+ and 1,118 GB teenagers (aged 13-19). The results highlighted that:
One in five adults (20%) felt shame, just over one third (34%) felt down or low, and 19% felt disgusted because of their body image in the last year.
Among teenagers, 37% felt upset, and 31% felt ashamed in relation to their body image.
Just over one third of adults said they had ever felt anxious (34%) or depressed (35%) because of their body image.
One in eight (13%) adults experienced suicidal thoughts or feelings because of concerns about their body image.
Just over one in five adults (21%) said images used in advertising had caused them to worry about their body image.
Just over one in five adults (22%) and 40% of teenagers said images on social media caused them to worry about their body image.
These worrying statistics highlight the impact of social media exposure and some of the broader advertising implications. But conversely, body satisfaction and appreciation has been linked to better overall wellbeing and fewer unhealthy dieting behaviours. To that end, there is a role for aesthetic professionals to reasonably and responsibly play a part in a person’s self care that is linked to their body image. But this should be countered by consideration of:
Duty of care
Substandard training and education
When not to treat
Psychological and psychiatric patient assessment/diagnosis
When to refer
How young is too young?
Do no harm
The absence of medical justification
Absent/weak evidence base to support clinical practice
Managing patient expectations
Duty of candour
As highlighted by the #ethicsinaesthetics campaign by the Journal of Aesthetic Nursing.