Instagram, Influencers & Healthy Body Image

Every day, we are bombarded with unrealistic standards that society has created for us, especially as women. There is a notion that everyone should look, act and be a certain way in order to be accepted. Every day, this underlying expectation and generalisation of beauty is continually reinforced by social media. It’s indoctrinating young girls around the world into believing we are not good enough.

I’m sure many people can relate to hitting that low point when we wish we could look like that girl on Instagram or dress the way influencers do online. I can’t stress enough how unhealthy this is for your mental health. Constant comparison to the unattainable online image eats away at your self-confidence.

Truth is, we’re never going to look like social media influencers. The only way anyone looks that way is by a combination of photoshop, edits and filters.

When you have a constant comparative narrative in your mind, the first thing it delves into is your body image. Before long, I was checking and trying all possible fad diets and miracle weight loss products to achieve the unachievable. Loading my body with countless supplements at all hours of the day and night did more harm than good. I ignored the warning signs to try and justify the desired effect of a so-called magic pill. I overlooked irregularity of my moods, periods, skin and immune system with only the end goal in mind. The new Instagram pop up, thanks to a simple algorithm, caused a spiral of addiction more serious than my teenage self could ever imagine. 

Too late in my life, I realised that there are many different forms of eating disorders. I never labelled myself as being bulimic or anorexic and could therefore convince myself that nothing was wrong. But, in hindsight, the way I was treating myself was not healthy. I was religiously monitoring what went into my body and eating far too little to fuel it. More than anything else, I had a constant feeling of guilt whenever I ate.

My mind was playing cruel tricks on my body and was totally in control of it. My type-A personality and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) added to a recipe for disaster. I was constantly hating myself for what I put into my body if it contained even a single calorie. Once I recognised the depression and anxiety this was spiralling me into, I had to make a change.

I did a lot of reading and listening to talks about my condition and had to train myself into believing something new…

The way I am is enough in its entirety.

There is not one thing in this world that should take that thought away from you. It becomes a lot easier when you can distinguish for yourself that the images you see online are edited a whole lot more than you realise. That’s the power of social media – people can be whoever they want to be – and unfortunately, it is often at the indirect expense of others.

I strongly feel that social media ‘influencers’ have a social responsibility towards changing this. Somewhere there are young girls looking at YOUR page, wishing so deeply that they were you or lived your social media life without realising that it’s completely glamourised. Why not encourage, empower and assist these young girls by showing real struggles and celebrating small successes. I lost a good few years by falling into this exact trap and have made it my mission to ensure others learn from my mistakes.

I still count my calories but am slowly feeling more comfortable. In fact, I eat double what I used to. I feel fitter and stronger than ever before. I’ve found informed and educated advice and built a network of support – they are the reason I am getting by. More than anything I am enjoying the process and celebrating my progress. I am proud of my body but even more proud of how far my mind has come to overcome the past.

I still don’t look like ‘that girl on Instagram’ but I sure as hell don’t want to anymore.

This is what I want young girls to realise. You are SO much more than the unrealistic standards society has forced upon us. You do you and be absolutely 100% yourself whilst doing it.

Acne Acceptance, Self-Love & Solidarity on Instagram

I’m 19 and have struggled with acne for almost 10 years. I’ve never met anyone that looks the way I do and felt really alone growing up. At times, it has been soul destroying to live with.

My skin problems are a result of having Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) – a condition that affects up to one in 10 women and has really taken its toll on my life.

In the last few years, I have been focusing heavily on trying to accept and love the way I look.

It’s very difficult, as my scarring is so severe and I get stares, questions and nasty comments from so many people. I absolutely hate when people stare and whisper in public places about my skin, or offer their opinions and tips on products they think would help. If I had a pound for every time someone suggests a miracle product from Lush I would be a millionaire!

I’ve had acne for as long as I can remember. I can’t remember what my skin looks like without it.

For a long time, I felt that bad skin was the end of the world – especially in school. I felt so rubbish about myself all the time and often felt alone and frustrated due to the way I was treated. People I considered friends would make jokes about my skin and bring me down at any opportunity.

It felt like I had nobody to turn to when I was feeling down. I can see now that the people I was surrounded by were toxic and unhelpful in my journey towards acceptance. I realised that far too late – once the damage was already done.

It has taken me a really long time to accept the way my skin is.

For years, I was unable to go out in public without makeup out of sheer embarrassment. Today, I can go about my daily life with very little notice of it. I still have bad days when I hate my skin but they are becoming few and far between.

I developed an interest in makeup about 4 years ago due to needing and wanting to cover my skin. More recently, I have created an Instagram account to show my skin journey. I just want to try and help people learn to love the way they look no matter what flaws they may have, and to help people build their confidence.

With @abis_acne, I want to show the world that acne does not define you. Acne doesn’t change you as a person in any way shape or form, and it isn’t permanent.

From my own experience, I know how mentally challenging it can be to live with acne. I made the instagram for anyone that feels underrepresented, especially in the age of social media. It’s a reminder that you aren’t alone and that your skin does not define you or alter your level of beauty.

On some days I feel like I’m at my wits end. It’s so disheartening when you think you are getting places and then things get worse. The stares and questions are bad enough, but I’ll never understand people who grimace at the sight of my skin or have something rude to say.

A few weeks ago, somebody pulled up to me in traffic. They made me roll my car window down so they could tell me my skin was “disgusting” and I “shouldn’t expose people to the sight of it”. This wrecked me and really hurt me on a deeper level. It was completely unprovoked and just an outright awful experience.

Over time, I’ve learned to brush people’s opinions off. I’ve often edited my social media pictures or used filters to cover up my skin and make it look better than it actually is. However, I have come to realise that nobody is walking around looking airbrushed. Everyone has their flaws and nobody looks like an Instagram model.

I’m learning to stop comparing myself to the absurd standards which are promoted within the beauty industry.

I try not to let my acne stop me from doing things or achieving certain things, but it is easier said than done. Obviously, I look different to most people I know and to be at peace with this has taken me a long time. Even now, I will admit it stops me from meeting new people.

Through Instagram, I’m starting to find people I can relate to and chat to about our experiences and feelings. Finding new friends and the lovely people I have encountered so far is heart warming. I definitely think my confidence has risen since I started the account. It’s helping me to just love myself a bit more and appreciate that this is my skin and I have to own it!

By sharing my own experience, I hope I can at least help one person. If I can, that’s my job done.

Silence is not Strength. Silence is Deadly.

Content note: this post refers to abuse

I used to think silence was a reflection of strength, respect, and intellect. A lot was going on in my life, but the fear of breaching what I thought of as strength kept me tight-lipped about my experiences.

My mother passed on when I was about 8 months old. My father followed when I was 12 years of age. I felt their absence in my life immensely, but I thought that I had to be strong. I did not want to weigh my siblings down with my emotions because I could see that they were battling with their own.

My parents raised me with so much love. However, in my childhood and adolescence I had my own battles to deal with. For starters, I was abused at 5 years of age. I did not speak to anyone about it.

As a result, I unknowingly adopted a lifestyle that led me down a path of depression, immorality and deceit. It was not until 2017 that I eventually opened up to my family and a few close friends. I gave them a glimpse of what had happened to me, from what I could remember. You can imagine the sombre atmosphere in the air that day.

My family immediately embraced me with love and encouragement. After hearing my story, they did all they possibly could to support me.

Seeing them heartbroken and despondent, I regretted staying silent for so many years about this traumatizing experience. It is something that has greatly affected my life in all aspects, including my relationships with those closest to me.

I write this to tell you that silence can be deadly.

Oh, how my thoughts consumed me and my mind in ways I cannot even explain. What I can say is that the impact was devastating and abhorrent to the point that it almost lost me all the truly important things in my life.

Today is different, and I am different. I urge everyone to SPEAK UP. It can be out loud or written down. However you choose to do it, let it all out and make your voice heard. Confide in people in your life you can trust. Allow them to listen to you and help you. Accept their help and support.

Do not let fear or shame hold you back.

I would say to anyone reading this and suffering in silence – try to acknowledge all that happens in your life, both the good and the bad. And most importantly of all, never ever think that you are beyond repair.

Mental Health Treatment & Gender Equality in Uganda

Conflict, poverty and instances of social injustice can provide the context within which a person develops mental health issues. And yet, while studying to become a creative/psychomotor therapist, I learned very little about this.

I didn’t question it at the time, because mental health is a personal issue, right? My time in a counselling centre in Uganda last summer showed me that the answer to this question is, in fact, a clear no.

I volunteered as a psychomotor therapist in the Bishop Asili Counselling, Rehabilitation and Community Centre in Ngetta, northern Uganda. The local population living here suffered badly during the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency.

More than a decade after the end of the war, I came to Uganda with a stack of books on trauma and post-traumatic stress, ready to do creative therapeutic interventions that might help women cope with their war-time experiences.

Very quickly, it became clear to me that the conditions these women lived in asked for something different. Something more.

Sister Florence, an Ugandan psychologist who founded and runs the counselling centre, reminded me that next to their history of war, “there are so many [other] sources of trauma, so many, so many, so many”.

Women in Ngetta face many challenges. The patriarchal context leaves women with few, to zero, rights.

They have no right to land or any kind of ownership, and the moment a woman marries, her new husband acquires rights over her sexuality and reproductive ability.

Ellen, one of the women I worked with in the counselling centre, described the patriarchal culture: “I was now in the hands of my husband and I was now under authority of my husband. I need to respect him and do everything he tells me.”

Her words reflect the complex power dynamics and hegemonic masculinity that undermine women’s social status and power. On top of this, many women struggle to feed their families every day, while often their husbands drink away the little money there is. Other women have lived through (often multiple) more recent traumatic events, such as emotional and physical abuse by a husband or brother.

It made me wonder how much help my therapeutic interventions focused on (individual) war-trauma could be.

Recognizing the unequal social position of women, I needed to have a clear feminist ideology underlying my therapy. This meant focusing on women’s social position and equality.

Our sessions were related to resilience, visibility and communication, grounding techniques, personal boundaries, and more. Work related to the strive for equality for women was essential. However, paying attention to – and ultimately challenging – violent and unjust structures is not often included in mental health interventions in the Global South.

The importance of women’s mental health for general health is widely recognized. Mental health in international contexts is slowly becoming more of an acknowledged topic within the field of international development. This is really good news, especially considering the fact that only a small minority of the 450 million people suffering from mental or behavioural disorders worldwide receive treatment.

In 2013, the World Health Organization published their Mental Health Action Plan: 2013-2020. It is an ambitious action plan that understands ‘the essential role of mental health in achieving health for all people’. Global Mental Health (GMH) is thus an emergent topic in which more and more people are currently working. However, with this renewed focus on mental health, many critiques have emerged, some of them accusing GMH of being a colonial practice.

GMH is accused of globally enforcing biomedical systems, which are characteristic of the Global North’s approach to health. The biomedical framework locates illness, including mental illness, within a person. Though psychological and social principles are sometimes taken into account, biological variables are the most central.

Issues of social injustice and structural violence (such as poverty, conflict, sexism, racism) are not taken into account, despite their significant impact on women’s mental health.

Very important work is being done in the field of GMH. Organizations like SOS Children’s Villages or Action for Child Trauma International are great examples of a rights-based approach to trauma.

We must be careful to avoid new forms of imperialism in which the Global North enforces its biomedical approach to health on all cultures. We should work towards locally-informed care which approaches mental health not as an individual issue, but as something to be addressed on personal, community, national and global levels.

Mental health should be seen as a social issue.

This would allow us to challenge discriminating structures, both globally and nationally, while also focusing on community and personal struggles.

In order to achieve mental health for all, there is an essential role for work towards an equal world, and this work is should be integrated in the field of Global Mental Health.

One Woman’s Experience of Workplace Anxiety

After almost three years of working multiple near-minimum wage jobs, a seemingly great job opportunity finally fell into my lap.

Happy ending? Not entirely.

The emotional scars from working 14-hour days, still stressing over rent, and having a male employer who didn’t respect me began to take their toll.

Some say everything happens for a reason. Now that I’m doing better, I can perhaps agree more with that sentiment. I quickly realized I wasn’t the only woman to have experienced workplace anxiety, which made me passionate about sharing what I learned with others. Here are four lessons I took away.

1. Women still aren’t equal in the workplace

Legally, employers can no longer discriminate on the basis of sex, but in reality, behaving exactly the way men do at work can cost women their jobs. I’ll never forget my former boss hearing a male coworker literally screaming very inappropriately at a customer on the phone and just walking by. But should my own frustration lead to so much as asking for some assistance, I’d receive responses like, “It’s not rocket science, honey.” 

Anyone who watched the confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh witnessed the way that men who display emotion are frequently rewarded, while women who do the same are derided and dismissed. Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford maintained perfect composure during incredibly harsh questioning and was disbelieved. Kavanaugh sat on the stand alternately hollering and crying and earned a Supreme Court appointment.

2. Anxiety takes many forms for women

Everyone worries now and then. Those with anxiety disorders differ in that the feeling doesn’t fade even when no external stimuli warrant the worry. Those suffering from general anxiety disorder often see the worst possible outcomes when making workplace decisions. Others may experience panic attacks, and those with PTSD react disproportionately to certain triggers.

In a world where women are frequently labeled as “too emotional”, “hysterical” or “crazy”, I’ve learned to manage my anxiety disorder in ways men may not have to worry about. I’m certain this varies widely depending on the situation, but my own experiences still hold true.

3. High-achieving women often suffer internally 

My performance at work matters greatly to me and I’ve always gone above and beyond. Hearing about my achievements can make some people skeptical that I’d suffer insecurity and anxiety.

The truth is, high achievers suffer from anxiety disorders at alarming rates, as they thrive on external stimuli like earning the top bonus tier or a big promotion.

The therapist I could finally afford spent several sessions teaching me how to honor myself without comparing myself to others. I’ve come a long way, but it’s important to note that I’ve always worked in creative fields, which are known for being friendlier toward women. I can only imagine what high-achieving women in grievously gender-imbalanced fields feel when they have to constantly compete with and compare themselves to their overwhelmingly male peers.

It’s also interesting to note that in a US-study, 88% of women reported in 2018 that they frequently compare themselves to others. Half of those then said that the comparison generally comes out unfavorable in their eyes. Meanwhile, only 65% of men reported regularly comparing themselves to others, with 37% deeming the comparisons frequently unfavorable.

Additionally, another 2018 study found that men tend to have higher opinions of themselves than women do. Is comparison a uniquely female trait? Not altogether, but our society puts significant pressure on women to look and act in certain ways, and the resulting anxieties in women speak volumes.

4. Anxious women also suffer depression

Many women experiencing workplace anxiety have a comorbid diagnosis of depression. It makes sense. After all, no matter how good you are, someone is always better, a fact that drives anxious people to despair.

Interestingly, the same neurotransmitters influence both anxious and depressed mental states. As such, antidepressant medications often do double duty by helping to balance these brain chemicals. It’s unfortunate, though, that our culture can drive so many to develop depression and anxiety disorders they may not have otherwise had, but now have to learn how to treat.

Breaking Free

It took a lot of work, but today, I can sleep through the night instead of lying awake replaying every professional interaction in my head. While I still strive to excel, I’ve learned to forgive myself when I have an off day.

Anxious working women would do well to examine the many factors that could be at play in their workplace to ensure that they are being valued as they deserve to be.

Tips for Supporting Someone Experiencing Depression

After I shared a list of the tools helping me handle depression, I started to think about what my experience has taught me about helping other people.

Do you know someone suffering from depression? If you do, it can feel difficult to know what to say or what to do. Based on what I’ve learnt so far, here are my tips for supporting someone you care about.

Dont…

…tell them to toughen up. Believe me, they are already trying their best. Being told to “fight back” or “be stronger” only makes you feel much, much worse. It is difficult to trust someone who clearly believes that you are not trying hard enough or that you are just ‘pretending’ to be miserable.

…judge them for taking medication. You can be sure that they have discussed doing so with professionals and made an informed decision. They don’t need you to decide whether or not their pain is ‘important’ enough. Someone once shouted at me and said she didn’t think I could be ‘unwell enough’ to need pills. Luckily for her, she was not in my head, so she could not feel my pain. None of us can really know what is best for someone else. 

…force them to go out, party or cheer up. Some days, it is simply impossible to fake it. So, unless you want to see them break down in tears in front of everyone at the party, drop it. Let them choose to hide for a while, be gentle. Just show them you are listening to them and there for them no matter what.

Do…

…be patient. Accept that they will have bad days, that their mood might change, and that they might refuse to tell you anything for now.

…pay attention and ask questions – gently. Check if their appetite has gone up or down, ask them about their sleep – a lot of symptoms are invisible. No one around me could ever even imagine that I have had suicidal thoughts, but I have. Try not to make assumptions about your friends, some people are really positive and enthusiastic, but it doesn’t mean they are at peace within themselves. Some of us have become masters at hiding pain.

…remind your friends to take some ‘self-care’ time and do it with them. Sometimes watching a movie, sharing nice food and going to bed at 9pm with your friend is just perfect.

…encourage them. Congratulate on every little step. Sometimes getting up in the morning is so hard. Opening up about their pain and feelings is hard. So if they trust you enough to open up to you, be grateful and proud of them.

…remember you don’t have to say anything. It’s very hard to find the right words to comfort someone. Sometimes it can be ok just to listen and be present.

…break the stigma. Every time you hear any of the followings, please speak up. For the sake of everyone, let’s make these false statements stop: “people who are depressed are weak”, “depression is a white person’s problem”, “you must experience difficult or traumatic external conditions for your depression to be valid”

One final point – remember to check on the men and boys around you. They feel pain too but gender norms and inequalities might be making it very difficult for them to open up about it!

Opinions and experiences published on girlsglobe.org are not medical advice. If you are struggling with your mental health, please seek professional help from a doctor. 

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, or if you know someone who is, please reach out for help immediately. Suicide Stop has a list of suicide hotlines worldwide, which you can find here