So, a survey of 10,000 women released recently showed some 40 per cent have been professionally diagnosed with depression or anxiety. A shocking result certainly, but surprising? I don’t think so.
The only extraordinary aspect for me is the number of women who have been clinically diagnosed – a positive aspect of the figures considering there is still an unwarranted stigma around mental illness and seeking professional help. Nope, I reckon the real stats are quite a bit higher, especially considering The Black Dog Institute cites 54 per cent of people with mental illness do not access any treatment. Now, that is a figure that’s truly alarming.
What also was far from startling were other statistics revealed in the Jean Hailes for Women’s Health annual survey of 10,000 women aged between 18 and 80 across the nation showing more than 60 per cent of women think that they’re overweight and about 60 per cent do not manage the required 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity a week. Oh, and that half of women want more information on healthy eating and nutrition, despite the saturated market.
You see, it is my belief that these latter factors – concerns about appearance, especially weight – are part of the problem making women so anxious. Because, regardless of how much we want to believe otherwise, we are still being judged by how we look. And this underlying sinister reality is eating at our psyches, constantly.
I know when I start to feel down, the first thing I look at to beat myself up further is my shape. Now, I am lucky to be someone who is generally content with being curvy, who believes bigger can be beautiful, resulting in me generally carrying myself chin upward.
But when life pressures start to come down and, in my case, the dark hole of depression with its unbearable agony of despair, misery and hopelessness starts its gravitational pull, one of the first things I do is beat myself up for my size. I kid myself into thinking I’d feel better if I lost a few kgs, that the darkness would shift and the light shine through. Which is, of course, a steaming great crock. What’s more, I know it is – even at my lowest. But, still, the thought prevails. Dammit.
Now, please do not think I am trivialising mental illness in any way. I have sought treatment for my depression and discovered its myriad roots and triggers and urge anyone and everyone who suffers to do the same. What I am trying to say is that we have to stop this madness of homogenising women to one standard – that thin is the only form of acceptable beauty. We have to stop adding this extra pressure to our already stressful lives. We have to take a reality check and embrace a healthy self-esteem regardless of what size we are and celebrate the goal of a healthy weight over a dress size.
This may seem like the same old argument – and to a degree it is – but what the statistics released in the survey showed me is that if we don’t get a collective grip we will not only never be happy or satisfied, we also will be seriously mentally unwell. It is a conundrum I see often.
I have several girlfriends who suffer from chronic anxiety and have had to rescue one on several occasions after receiving phone calls in which all I hear is screaming and breathless gasps for air (thank the heavens for caller ID). I remember once finding this particular girlfriend on the floor of her car, unable to move. I knew she was seriously ill. She believed she was dying. I wouldn’t wish her agony on anyone.
An interesting factor in this case is that my friend also has suffered from bulimia and still has eating disorders that plague her otherwise rational mind. She will be the first to admit that, when her stress levels accelerate, she resorts to her old patterns of bingeing and purging, of trying to control one aspect of her life she deems vital to her happiness – her weight.
Fortunately, my friend did something about it and now controls her anxiety with meds, therapy, exercise and meditation. Another girlfriend doesn’t. This particular woman has nearly run off the road with her children in the car mid panic attack. The single mother has been prescribed medication, but refuses to take it, Why? Because she researched the meds and discovered a common side-effect is weight gain. For her, the fear of a few extra kilos is worse than the panic attacks. Sadly, this woman judges herself on her appearance to a detrimental level.
Again, this may be a broad brushstroke view of what is obviously a complex issue. It also could be a hangover from my old life in women’s magazines where, in the goal of creating the illusion of an attractive aesthetic world, a pressure to fit in to this concocted fantasy can overtake the actuality of real life for many. However, I do believe for many – if not most – women (and men, increasingly so) a constant source of anxiety is the desire to be a societally-acceptable shape. And this is a tragedy.
Beauty doesn’t come in one size and it’s about time we really celebrate this fact – body, soul and, increasingly more, mind.