This week is Mental Health Awareness week, and the theme for 2019 is Body Image. The initiative was started by the Mental Health Foundation in 2001 to raise awareness about mental health issues, which can affect anyone, at any time.
Body image has become a growing concern as a result of the widespread use of technology and social media. Visual platforms like Instagram have created lots of pressure on people to look perfect and for many individuals, social media presents a real danger to their mental health, with more and more children in school getting cyberbullied for the way they look or dress.
Body image is also a particularly pressing concern in the creative media industries. There are no shortage of debates about stereotypes of male and female characters in the games industry as many game titles still frame men as muscular hunter-gathers and women as doe-eyed, scantily clad damsels in distress. This is a problem because perpetuating distorted stereotypes in entertainment has an impact on young people’s aspirations and self-esteem.
A 2016 survey found that the biggest pressures on secondary school boys’ views on the need to look good were friends (86%), social media (57%), advertising (53%) and celebrities (49%). But celebrities encounter anxiety about their body image too; Singer Sam Smith posted an unedited shirtless photo of himself on Instagram, with the caption explaining his struggles with his appearance. He wrote: “In the past if I have ever done a photo shoot with so much as a t-shirt on, I have starved myself for weeks in advance and then picked and prodded at every picture and then normally taken the picture down.” He used the shoot as an opportunity to ‘reclaim’ his body and celebrate it ‘AS IT IS’. In the music industry, performers often talk about feeling pressure to look and dress a certain way, with many artists getting photoshopped so they are thinner, or are pressured into wearing revealing clothes.
“Body Image is how you love yourself. I would say this is more personal and it’s the way society happens to categorise how you ‘should look’ - I struggled with my body image when I was starting out as a DJ but that’s to do with my own mindset from when I was younger. I used to be extremely overweight and was bullied at school. I lost a lot of weight when I started DJing; I got this new confidence to show off my now healthy body but it came with unwanted attention as a DJ and as an event goer. Over a year ago I went through a traumatic experience and I picked up the weight I lost. Again my body confidence was lost, as none of my clothes fit me. However I found myself and truly love myself. Body image is about you. I want to have a healthier lifestyle not to look skinny but because I want to nourish and love my body. Body image comes from how much you love yourself. Look in the mirror, tell yourself every day you love yourself, and you are doing the best you can. Most of us suffer stress all the time and have a lot to do on a daily basis, give yourself a break - don’t put too much pressure on yourself (this is a message for me as well). When I DJ I help my body confidence by dressing up, and if I am having a terrible day, I tell myself just OWN IT.”
As Tasha said, we all have our own personal stresses to deal with on a day to day basis. But the challenges of a public facing role in the creative media industries can often take their toll.
"LOOK IN THE MIRROR, TELL YOURSELLF EVERY DAY YOU LOVE YOURSELF, AND YOU ARE DOING THE BEST YOU CAN."
- TASHA COLE, SAE AUDIO STUDENT
Dr Jon Xue Zhang, the Student Experience Officer at SAE Oxford advises students looking to pursue a career in the creative media industries:
"There's nothing quite like the high-pressured environments and conditions of the creative media industries. If you're stressed and worked up, you have to ask yourself 'is this the person you want doing this particular task?'. The answer is probably a no. The person you want doing this task is someone who is calm and objective. This emphasises the importance putting yourself first; setting your mental and physical well being as a top priority. Much like charitable donations, you can only give money if you have money. You can only spare effort if you have the energy to give. Take care of yourself first because if you can handle yourself, you will always have an impact over the outcome of the situation. It all starts with you."
Many actors experience typecasting - being cast in the same roles over and over again because of the way they look. It is very easy to compare ourselves to others and to wish that we looked different, but it is important to stay positive and focus on the things we do like about ourselves.
Jon has first hand experience working in the business, with many acting credits under his belt. He has experienced his fair share of rejection when it comes to castings and also has some advice for how students can come back from hearing the word ‘no’ after an audition:
"Growing up, we are always told that we should not judge books by their covers. That being said, appearances are exceptionally important when it comes to being an actor. It is therefore essential to understand that you should never take rejection personally because of the subjective nature of the casting process. You could lose out to another actor on something as specific as your eyebrows being a few millimetres too high. Don't let those rejections diminish who you are because of what you look like, but rather fuel your ambitions to move on ahead. Not every path is the right one; you may receive lots of rejections, but you only need one yes. The world is big enough for everyone to have the success they deserve.”
Everyone encounters rejection at some point in their working life, and it isn’t a nice experience. But it’s important to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and remember that you will get to where you want to be one day. It may help to write down positive affirmations after experiencing a setback, to remind yourself that you have a lot to be thankful for.
You can find more advice about managing your thoughts and feelings about your body image, as well as other mental health resources on the Mental Health Foundation website.