Body confidence at work

Next week marks Mental Health Awareness Week, and the theme for 2019 is Body Confidence. For people responsible for employee engagement and wellbeing, this may seem a tricky one to accommodate in a workplace setting, so here’s some guidance and practical ideas of how to leverage the theme.

Confidence and Competence

Body confidence is fundamentally about self-acceptance, starting with our physical form and appearance and extending from there. Often our attitudes and beliefs about our physical bodies are an extension of our feelings about our deeper selves: our personalities, talents and abilities. If we don’t accept our bodies, it’s often the case that we don’t accept ourselves on a deep, fundamental level. The body is therefore a great starting point for accessing conversation about broader self-confidence, personal power and positivity, providing this is done sensitively. Remember that in the UK generally, and particular cultural groups especially people can be notoriously reticent about thinking or talking about their bodies.

Body Confidence & Mental Health

Body confidence is a growing issue, with body dysmorphic disorder increasing among both genders and across all age groups. Body dysmorphia maps closely with eating disorders and compulsive exercise habits. Anxiety and depression are also linked to issues of confidence, which can be thought of as an outward expression of our intrinsic sense of self-worth. Accepting ourselves helps to build confidence, which in terms builds our faith in our ability to succeed and achieve at work. Conversely, employees with low confidence and self-worth are more likely to criticise both themselves and others and under-perform. Low confidence and self-worth can be toxic in the work environment. Often learning to love and accepting our bodies is about valuing function over form: what are bodies can do, versus the superficial appearance. Yoga can really have impact here, so if you have on-site yoga, ask the instructor to reflect this theme.

Action point:

The Mental Health Foundation website features a range of useful resources, including posters and social media gifs, which you can download and use to raise awareness of the Body Confidence theme:

Conversation helps to destigmatise body confidence issues: realising that this is a common/shared experience encourages people to access help and support to address it. You might consider organising a workshop or open forum discussion about body confidence and people’s attitudes towards their bodies. If possible, try to find people who are willing to share personal stories about their struggles with accepting their own bodies. Or you can share narratives online which help to highlight the issue, such as those at Reframe the conversation towards a more positive lens, encouraging people to think about what they do like about their bodies – their body’s ‘finest moments’. Guide the conversation towards the theme of developing self-confidence and positivity, valuing function over form.

Diversity & Inclusion

Body confidence aligns well with the Diversity & Inclusion agenda. As humans, we have an intrinsic need to ‘conform’ and fit in, so people often lack confidence in the aspects of themselves that differ from the majority (or the perceived or inaccurate reflection of the majority). These can include negativity in relation to:

  • Disability
  • Body shape and size
  • Colour/Ethnicity
  • Scars and disfigurement
  • Ageing and life changes that rapidly our physical appearance, including maternity and menopause

Body Confidence as a theme provides an ideal opportunity to celebrate difference and diversity among your people, vs that standard, sub-conscious norm of everyone being desperate to fit in. Too often organisational cultures encourage and promote homogeneity, which reinforces this sub-conscious bias: this needs active communication to redress.

Action point:

Consider a ‘Celebrating Difference’ or ‘We Are All Unique’ theme to your body confidence event. Think of creative ways to spotlight all the ways people are individual and unique.

Clothing & Dress Code

Work wear and uniform may not be the most flattering fit and can make people feel physically uncomfortable at work. Whilst formalwear looks smart it can be physically restrictive, which can induce stress, without people even being aware of it. Think of the sense of relief when you take off the tie/heels at the end of the day.

Action point:

If your dress code and work environment allows, arrange a ‘Wear What You Feel’ day, where people are invited to wear whatever they feel most positive about themselves in to work that day.

Brand communications

How we feel about how we look is hugely influenced by the imagery we’re exposed to, and what this tells us about how we ‘should’ look. Is your company communicating positively and realistically in this respect? For businesses involved in marketing/advertising, this marks an opportunity for marketing teams to review imagery and check it reflects the make up of society. This applies to both external/customer advertising and recruitment advertising and internal, employee communications. The more you can incorporate a diverse range of real people and bodies in your imagery, vs models, the better.

Action point:

Review brand communications and imagery with the theme of body confidence in mind. If you work with an external agency, now may be a good time to review their brief and ensure there is a clear steer to respect and promote people’s body confidence in all your content. If you want to trail-blaze on this issue, the Be Real Campaign is a good place to start, and you can sign their pledge:

Sign up for the Be Real body image pledge:

I offer workshops, training and coaching in Power & Positivity to help boost people’s confidence and self-belief. Contact me to find out more.

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