Negative body image after lockdown | Advice for young people

Negative body image after lockdown

During the months of isolation, we didn’t have to worry too much about how we looked. Many of us now may be experiencing a negative body image after lockdown, where previous insecurities or new ones start to emerge.

Impact of lockdown on body image

During lockdown, we may have noticed changes in eating habits, exercise and sleep routine. Snacking more often or drinking more alcohol may have become a daily occurrence.

Day and night video conferencing means we have been looking at ourselves more often on screen. This may have brought our attention to flaws we didn’t know we had. Uneven teeth, funny expressions we make, skin blemishes and unruly hair are all things that make us unique. However, it can be hard to have a routine of looking this ‘uniqueness’ all day.

Many social media feeds have been filled with information on exercise and diet. Headlines have encouraged us to “use this time to lose weight” or “do the lockdown diet”. This suggests that working on our body should have been top priority during lockdown.

With hairdressers, nail bars and gyms closed, we may not have been able access the services we previously used to enhance our appearance. This can all add to feeling insecure and contribute to a negative body image.

Jigsaw Volunteers Ahlam and Erin (both 20) talk about body image and expectations that we see online and on social media during Covid-19.

What is body image?

Body image does not refer to how we actually look. It is based on our thoughts and feelings about the way we think our body looks. The worry that other people are judging our appearance can affect our body image. All of us have a view of how we look and we may evaluate this in a positive, negative or even neutral way. Read more about body image and mental health. 

If you have a negative body image post-lockdown here are a few things you may find helpful:

  • Speak to someone you trust about your body image issues. Chances are, they are experiencing something similar. It can be helpful to know this is a very common worry for people during lockdown.
  • Don’t avoid your body. Have a look at your body as a whole rather than one particular part. Avoidance can make a problem seem bigger. Maybe treat yourself to a nice moisturiser or body wash.
  • Don’t avoid activities such as swimming or clothes shopping because of your body image issues. It may be helpful to bring a friend with an opinion that you trust to give you a balanced viewpoint. Start with an activity that causes you the least amount of stress and work from there.
  • Notice if you are constantly ‘checking’ certain parts of your body. Become aware of how you are checking your body and aim to reduce how many times you do this a day until you stop.
  • Beware of comparing yourself to others. It’s an easy habit to fall into. Particularly, social media can affect our body image, as we are often seeing a highlight reel of other’s appearances. However,  are these comparisons realistic? Are they fair? What effect do they have on you? What can you say that may be more helpful?
  • Practice self-acceptance. We are often our harshest critic and can take our thoughts as fact rather than opinion. Notice when your inner critic is loud and most negative. A great way to challenge body image issues is to stand up to this “critic” and practice self-acceptance. This means accepting yourself as you are and knowing you are good enough. The below activity can be a good place to start when practicing self-acceptance.

Remember, you are more complex person than “acne”, “weight gain”,  “a bad haircut” or whatever other body area you have been focused on. You are a person made of up of internal and external aspects. All these roles, qualities, experiences, abilities and achievements contribute to what makes you…!


Exercise: Appreciating all the aspects of ourselves

Let’s look at developing our sense of what defines a person beyond a specific aspect of physical appearance.

Draw two figures on a page. On the first note the aspects of your appearance that you have been focusing on or using to define you as a person. This could be a bit of you that impacts on your mood when you think of it, for example tummy or thighs.

On the second page, list all the qualities, abilities, achievements and roles  that make up who you are. Here’s a list to help you get started: son, daughter, girlfriend, boyfriend, friend, hard worker, good listener, compassionate, generous, fun, creative, friendly, smart, sporting, healthy, curious, bookworm, organised, reliable, independent, artistic – this list goes on!

Look back on this list and add to it when you notice something else that should be on it. Remember, you are more than just how you look.

Mikayla, 20, from Dublin gives her story:

During all this, I have done my best to be my own best friend. What does this mean and what does it have to do with body image? Well, I’m usually hard on myself and critical of my appearance, but have actively challenged myself during this time to be kinder to myself.

These times are so so tough. One of the hardest times our generation has faced as a collective in my eyes. It is so easy to look in the mirror and critique in general, and even more so during a time where gyms aren’t open, organised sport is cancelled and the fridge is consistently only a few metres away.

But, we deserve all the kindness we show to others to be shown inwards. To help me how I was seeing my body, I didn’t focus too long in the mirror, wrote positive body image messages on post-its to put on my mirror, gradually exercised more outside and tried to plan and make healthier meals now that I had more time.

But I’ve also had nights where I had nothing but snacks. And that is so very OK. Self-compassion and kindness goes such a long way, something I didn’t realise until recently. When we get out of this, I will push myself to focus on the things I can now do, and appreciating those moments, instead of giving out to my body after all its coped with the last few months. Stay safe and be kind, to you too.