Last Thursday we had the pleasure of speaking to the amazing body confidence and anti-diet queen, Alex Light, for World Mental Health day supporting the charity, Mind. To help destigmatise conversations about mental health, Alex opened up about her own journey, how she coped during lockdown and her expert advice on reaching body acceptance. Keep reading to feel good …
Hi Alex! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a body confidence, self-acceptance and self-love advocate, and I’m an eating disorder recover-er and so I talk about that a lot as well. Basically, my aim is to make every woman feel better about their body.
Why did you want to get involved in Mind’s ‘Do One Thing’ campaign?
Mental health is incredibly important to me, as it should be to everyone, I try and do my part to improve the mental health of any and every woman because it’s tricky. We live in weird times, especially for women, and our mental health can really suffer as a result.
River Island is supporting Mind with the ‘Do One Thing’ campaign, why is it so important that we’re speaking about mental health?
There has been such a stigma around mental health for so long and it’s surrounded by shame, but the more we openly discuss mental health and have more honest and open conversations, the more we’re going to be able to actually help people who are struggling.
2 out of 3 adults, aged over 25, have reported worse mental health since the pandemic. How was your lockdown experience?
It was really up and down for me and I had a big work change during lockdown, which threw me and I really did struggle. With my anxiety, I love routine, it makes me feel good and grounded and we were stripped of any kind of routine and on top of that, a total lack of certainty. I’ve really had to step back and check in with where I am and try to get to a better place. It’s an anxiety-inducing time for so many people.
I’m the queen of comparison and it’s something I really need to work on, and everyone on my social media feeds seemed to be using lockdown as an opportunity to branch into things that they hadn’t been able to do before and I was struggling to get through day to day. People were throwing themselves into work and succeeding which I then thought I had to do and then it was work, work, work but I’d forget that you need to give yourself a break. It was just too much and I had a bit of a meltdown.
Did any positives come out of the situation for you?
Yes! It allowed me to zoom out of my life a bit. Before I was so obsessed with the small things that didn’t matter, so I feel like this was a wake-up call and allowed me to re-evaluate and re-address my priorities. It’s also stopped me from spending so much money!
How do you think we can protect our mental health if we go into a second wave?
The idea of doing it again is really discouraging but I hope we’ve all had the chance to work out how to manage our mental health better. Being forced to face it during lockdown, I hope it’s helped us collectively get some more coping mechanisms in place instead of putting it to the side and hoping it’ll get better. If we do, we’re humans and we’re strong and we’re resilient. We know we can do it.
What are three things that you would have done differently at the start of lockdown?
I’d have put some more boundaries in place for myself, in terms of work. I would have stopped reading the news because I think that was totally detrimental to my mental health. It would increase my levels of anxiety and I think as long as you’re up to date with the guidelines, then you’re good. I can’t think of a third!
Why do you think people are giving themselves such a hard time over lockdown weight gain?
We have to step back and understand that our lives were turned upside down and for many people, eating is a source of comfort so it’s no wonder that our weight has fluctuated. I think the reason why we’ve been made to feel so bad about it is because diet companies have seen the pandemic as the perfect chance to capitalise on this. There’s so much marketing and seeing that is making us feel bad and on top of that, you have the government’s anti-obesity campaign which has also scared a lot of people as well. It’s made people ashamed of putting on weight when it’s actually a basic, human, biological response to this time of stress.
How can we learn to accept these changes?
Clothes are made to fit us, we’re not made to fit clothes, so find the size that fits you, don’t struggle to fit into the size that doesn’t fit. It’s super important to change the narrative in your head to compassion, that will relieve us of shame, and we shouldn’t have any shame surrounding weight gain. It might not feel like it, but there are bigger and better things to worry about. Show yourself compassion and kindness and that will make all the difference.
You’re the body confidence queen! Where did your journey begin?
I’ve had real issues with eating and my body image and I think my eating disorders were routed in diet culture and believing I wasn’t enough. I thought I wasn’t thin enough, that I had too much cellulite, that I didn’t have the right type of figure, the list goes on. I felt like I couldn’t open up to anyone about my eating disorder and once I did, it felt really liberating and it made me feel so good. It didn’t solve my issues by any means, but it made me think of all the other women that must be struggling so I wanted to create a safe space for other women who are maybe going through the same thing. We don’t have enough people trying to make us feel better about ourselves.
What advice do you have for people who have an eating disorder or a bad relationship with food?
Number one bit of advice is to get help and tell someone. It feels hard and so scary but I promise you, you unlock this terrible secret that burdens you when you do. If you’re thinking, ‘do I need help?’ you probably do. Eating disorders don’t have one look, they have an array of different looks. Someone could be overweight, someone could be a ‘normal’ weight and still have an eating disorder. I’d also like to flag BEAT, the UK eating disorder charity who have free helplines where you can ring and get advice from someone who’s trained and they can help point you in the right direction.
Do you think that mental health is something we have to work on as much as we work on our physical health?
It’s so important! In the pursuit of physical health, we can neglect mental health a little bit. What might work for someone else might not work for you, so explore different options and see what works for you. I’m not a huge meditation fan but give me a piano and half an hour and I’ll come away feeling so much better. There are so many ways that we can look after our mental health.