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Written by Nav Sohanpaul edited by Sarah Rasheed.
In May, it is important to reflect on the state of mental health we are going through and since the advent of social media, there has been a wave of image obsession among its users and followers. Nav Sohanpaul is a corporate wellbeing coach, mental health speaker and retreat leader who uses her real-life experiences to bring about real change and tells us how to combat this image obsession through effective strategies.

I recall being about 10 years old and receiving constant praise and admiration for the fact that I was an extremely fair-skinned brown girl. But with that recognition also came a pressured statement from those around me – “make sure you stay like this, don’t get dark”. The weight of these words meant that I spent my teenage years hiding from the sun, in fear that my worth would decrease with each shade I got darker.

And although there has been so much improvement made, it goes without saying that many women still, to this day are left obsessing over their self-image and appearance.

And there are several root causes:

Culture & comparison: certain communities have an established and universal description of what makes a woman ‘attractive, successful & respectful’. Ranging from having fair skin, to light eyes, her weight, the way she dresses and speaks. When you have this one-dimensional standard of beauty, anyone who doesn’t meet these requirements is made to feel ‘othered’ & like they don’t belong.

Social media: the world is highly connected, with just a tap on our phones, we are transported into the whirlwind of media bursting with trends, filters, airbrushed skin, photoshopped posts, guidance on how to become ‘that’ girl, skincare, makeup & exercise routines, get ready with me’s, what I eat in a day – the content is limitless. And more often than not, we are just shown a snapshot of someone’s life, and often the best and modified version of them but this becomes a problem when it evolves into our expanded perception.

Shopping sizes & makeup shades: to this day, certain clothing stores still have limited size ranges and if they don’t stock your size/you have to go online instead, it can make you feel like you don’t deserve the same experience as others. Having certain clothing sizes grouped in categories like ‘L’ & ‘XL’ can also dictate the relationship you have with your body. Make-up shades have been a topic of discussion too, with many brands not catering to darker shades.

Bullying: childhood experiences show up in your adult life. Perhaps you were ridiculed for your facial and body hair, not having the latest clothes or being overweight. What we tend to lack/struggle within our younger years often become the things we try to make up for when we’re older.

And all of this can result in women battling eating disorders, starving themselves before a holiday, or trying to drop down a dress size, not wanting to show their natural bare-faced skin to their partners, feeling like they can’t leave the house without being dressed up, bleaching their skin, and mirroring the behavior of those we idolize.

So, what can you do to help yourself?

-Identify the point of conflict: what are you doing because you feel you must versus what you actually want to do. Pay attention to what voice fuels your thoughts, behaviors and feelings, is it your voice or someone else’s?

-Challenge your negative thoughts: get clear on if you’re operating from a place of factual evidence or emotions and feelings

-Limit social media as your reference point: you must pay attention to what you’re feeding your mind. If there is content that is making you feel worse about your self-image or that there’s something else you must change about yourself, it may be better to follow other creators that you feel are raw and relatable. It’s also important to stop using social media as the point of decision-making and instead start taking independent action that will help you become more confident in your headspace over time.

And finally – it’s important to recognize that appearances can be deceiving. Many of us strive to portray a specific image to the outside world, hoping to be perceived in a certain light, so you must try your best to differentiate the truth from the facade.