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In the UK, today is the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, and this year’s theme is: body image.

I know, mostly through meeting social anxiety sufferers online, that body image is huge among the causes or aggravators of social anxiety. People worry that they’re too tall, too short, too thin, too fat, too ugly. It doesn’t matter if these self-perceptions are true; they’re very real for their owners. For people with social anxiety, poor body image is another reason – sometimes the main reason – for them to cover up and hide themselves as much as possible.

And yet, there are other people who are just as tall, short, etc., who are happy with their bodies. Eurovision viewers are about to get another look at Netta, who seems perfectly content with hers.

Here’s a quote – from one of the many who kindly agreed for their words to be published anonymously in my non-fiction book, Social Anxiety Revealed:

I was told I was funny looking, ugly and weird and people laughed at me and I haven’t been able to shake it off, no matter how hard I try. Deep down, I know I’m not ugly, but when I’m in social situations my mind completely changes and there are those doubts and comments that people have made to me creeping around, and I begin to think I’m the ugliest person there.

Martin, the main character in my new novel, Cultivating a Fuji, doesn’t worry about the way he looks. He might have scolded himself for wearing the wrong clothes at a party, but he’s presumably fine with his body, because it’s not something he thinks about. The reason for that is probably that body image is not one of the things he was teased about at school.

For the person quoted above, it probably did start at school. Children can keep laughing at the victim for something that isn’t true, with no idea that this often causes poor self-image that can last for the rest of the victim’s life. This is why adults, who hopefully know better, need to intervene.

Cultivating a Fuji - Front Cover~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

CULTIVATING A FUJI is released this Wednesday, 15th May, but there’s no need to wait. This is what you can do now:

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Beauty and the Beast

Beauty is only skin deep, they say. But how “only” is “only”?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they say. Yet, many beholders seem to agree with each other. But so what? Who cares? Why should looks matter?

Many people whose bodies look less than perfect seem happy and confident. Many others are unhappy with their bodies, although they look fine.

If I sound confused, it’s because I am. I’ve always been happy with my body. When I was younger, I knew that men were attracted to my body, but later turned off by my personality, or apparent lack of it. My “issues” have never been affected by my body or my view of it.

The cause of my recent reflections on body image is an email I received from J, someone I’ve known for a long time. J read my blog and wondered how much social anxiety is affected by body image. J, it transpires, has often refrained from taking part in conversations because of J’s body image, i.e. being fat.

I was stunned by this email for two reasons, and had to reread it to make sure this is really what it said. My first reaction was, “But J isn’t fat and never has been!” Also, I’ve always thought of J as outgoing and talkative. How could I have failed to notice? Well, maybe because I’ve always seen J in friendly, non-threatening situations – situations in which even I have talked a fair amount. And maybe I was too wrapped up in my own problems, although I don’t think that’s true – I tend to be a good observer.

I looked up BDD (Body Dysmorphic Disorder). As far as I know, the definition is too strong for J. But I do know that some sufferers of social anxiety also suffer from BDD, and poor body image has caused them to withdraw from society.

It’s hard for me to understand all this, just as it’s hard for some to understand social anxiety. I believe that it’s a big problem, but don’t really understand why. Why do some people have poor images of their bodies and why should this affect their participation in society?

The other reason why I was stunned by the email is a topic for another post.

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