Skip to main content

Diets, Mirrors and Corsets: Body Image, Well-Being, and Social Work Practice

Brunel University’s Social Work Programme 4th Annual One Day Conference, Friday 22nd October 2021

The growing centrality of social media during the last decade greatly enhanced the power of our visual culture. More than ever before, we are all bombarded by endless images of the ‘correct’ and the ‘desired’ bodies we ‘should’ aspire to. These images often serve a role in our economic system and are used to sell anything and everything. Contemporary medicine enables us to make dramatic changes to our bodies and these are often also sold as ‘products’. As Susie Orbach (2009) writes, our bodies have become a “crucial personal responsibility”, a never-ending project as “there is no such thing as a body that can simply be”. How do these and many other pressures impact our well-being and mental health and that of the people we work with as social workers? What can we do to help resisting such pressures and protect the well-being and mental health of the people we support? These and many other related questions will be discussed during this one-day event which will include contributions from academic researchers and practitioners combining traditional presentations and with more experiential sessions. The day would be of interest to practitioners, researchers and students interested in body image and how it affects our well-being and mental health. 


10:00-10:10: Dr. Yohai Hakak and Dr. Alison Cocks: Welcome and Introductions

10:10-11:00: Katrina Jenkins and Tyra Mensah: Mind Over Mirror: Body Image in Practice

11:00-11:45: Evelyn Kemah: Social Work with People with Eating Disorders and their Families

12:00-13:00: Marion Rees: Inhabiting the Body with Sophrology as part of Social Work Practice

14:00-14:45: Zoe Thomas: The Black Body and Social Work: Skin, Hair, Children, and Young People

14: 50-15:40: Dr. Susie Orbach in conversation with Dr. Yohai Hakak and Sophie Newbery: Looking Back on 45 Years of Writing and Thinking about the Body by Dr. Orbach

Speakers and recordings

Mind Over Mirror – Body Image in Practice 

Please Allow all cookies to view this video from YouTube. Alternatively view the content here

‘Body image’ describes how individuals think and feel about their bodies and impacts our mental health and wellbeing. The Foundation launched a report on body image in 2019, kickstarting a range of influencing activities across research, policy, and programmes. Surveys and reviews of the evidence indicated the increasing challenge of poor body image for public mental health, with particular community groups being most affected. The Foundation’s 2021 campaign, Mind Over Mirror, informed the public about how to address their body image concerns and highlighted the impact that these can have on physical and mental health outcomes. With an increase in uptake of non-surgical cosmetic treatments, particularly among younger people, the Foundation’s work has focused on raising public awareness, highlighting the evidence to policy makers, and influencing positive change within a growing industry. The Mind Over Mirror campaign explicitly addressed the link between poor body image, informed decision-making, and cosmetic treatments. Influencing policy and good practice for service providers is crucial and has run in conjunction with the Foundation’s public information work, all of which is co-created with those who are most affected by body image concerns and poor mental health outcomes. 

Katrina Jenkins, Programmes Manager (Mental Health Foundation)

As the Foundation’s Programmes Manager for Families, Children and Young People’s Programmes, Katrina leads on targeted programmes which address the needs of individuals who are most at risk of poor mental health outcomes. With a drive to build community capacity, tailored to local need through co-creation, Katrina develops innovative and evidence-based solutions in public mental health. Taking a preventative approach to all the Foundation’s programmes, Katrina seeks to enable individuals and communities to address the underlying factors that contribute to mental ill health.

Tyra Mensah – MHF Young Leader & Programmes Trainee (Mental Health Foundation) 

I am an MHF Young Leader, passionate about matters relating to mental health and wellbeing. I am also currently undertaking a placement with The Mental Health Foundation, as a Programmes Trainee, with the Families, Children and Young People’s team.

I will be speaking about what went into producing content targeted at younger audiences for the ‘Mind Over Mirror’ campaign and I will be specifically sharing my personal story about my journey with my skin and developing a positive body image. 

The Black Body and Social Work: Skin, Hair, Children, and Young People 

Please Allow all cookies to view this video from YouTube. Alternatively view the content here

Zoe Thomas will talk about her PhD which is an empirical study aimed to explore the understandings in social work and with young people about skin colour and hair. The focus of this research is about the lived experiences of young people who are black regarding the influence of skin colour and hair.  It also focuses on how social workers understand this and how equipped social workers feel in this area.  The findings from this research highlight the importance of skin colour and hair to black children and young people and the significant influence they can have to lived experience.  This research also found that social work does not engage with these debates and that because of this, social workers do not feel adequately equipped in their knowledge about the skin colour and hair of children and young people who are black.

 Zoe Thomas is a freelance Social Worker and a Social Work academic working at the University of Bradford.  Zoe has over 20 years’ experience working in social care and qualified with an MA in Social Worker in 2007.  Since then, Zoe has always worked in local authority child protection teams across two local authorities.  She began a career in academia alongside Social Work practice in 2010 and following which Zoe began a part time Social Work PhD.  Zoe left an Advanced Practitioner Social Work role in 2016 to begin a full-time career in academia and to finish her PhD.  

Learning to Inhabit the Body with Sophrology as Part of Social Work Practice 

Please Allow all cookies to view this video from YouTube. Alternatively view the content here

Sophrology is an intentional and gentle, yet powerful wellbeing practice which engages the body and mind to reinstate calm and harmony within oneself and increase the quality of one’s presence in the world. This lecture will explore the fundamental principles of Sophrology: body awareness, objective reality, and positive action through a series of guided exercises. These will include gentle body movements, breathing, meditation and visualisation. This is an invitation to leave judgment aside and experience your body as it is rather than how you believe it to be. The session will highlight the place for Sophrology in social work practice, both as a reflective tool for social workers and as a means of direct intervention with clients whose relationships with their bodies can be complicated or even a source of anxiety.

Marion Rees is a Social Worker for Royal Navy Family and People Support, working with serving personnel and their families to strengthen her clients’ capacity and resilience to manage the stresses of daily life and those specific to the military lifestyle.

Marion has previously worked in both statutory and non-statutory social work including in Adult Social Care within hospital and community settings, as well as with Help for Heroes supporting veterans and their families.

As a trained complementary therapist specialising in Sophrology and having run her own private practice for several years, Marion applies principles of Sophrology to her social work practice. She uses Sophrology techniques both as a reflective tool and for direct intervention with the individuals and groups she supports. 

The body and Mental Health

Please Allow all cookies to view this video from YouTube. Alternatively view the content here

Body image can be described as including our perception of our body and our relationship with it. Our work with children and families within the mental health field is a very complex area. The body and mental health play a number of pivotal roles in the young people’s cognitions and emotions. Approaches to understand body image vary, and these include the way in which we perceive our body and the accuracy of such a perception; our level of satisfaction with our body and appearance; our subjective experience of our body in a given environment; the importance we place on others’ perception and opinions of our body and appearance, and the resulting impact such opinions have on the way we feel about ourselves. Body image misperception is common among the general population, while also being a core component of several serious mental illnesses, including anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Still, effective interventions are available for improving clinical and functional outcomes among young people. These include Team–Based Approach, Psychotherapy, Family Therapy, Education and Support, Pharmacotherapy, Primary Care Coordination. Each type of intervention form part of collaborative and partnership work.

Evelyn Kemah is a Senior Practioner, Luton specialist intervention team, Luton Borough council (Locum). Until recently, she was the Senior Social Worker for Ellern Mede Group working with people with eating disorders and their families. After receiving her Master’s in Economics and Banking at the University of Perugia, Italy, she relocated to the United Kingdom. She went on to study at the University of Hertfordshire, where she earned her master’s degree in social work.  At Ellern Mede, Evelyn supports children and their families with a drive to improve the conditions of the family. In addition to this she works to effectuate change through collaborative practice with local authorities, CAMHS, NHS ENGLAND, CCGs, government departments and in close working with Ellern Mede’s multi-disciplinary teams and Ellern Mede Schools. Evelyn is fluent in English, Italian and French. In her free time, Evelyn does voluntary and charity work supporting widows and orphans in her country of origin, Cameroon, West Africa.

Dr. Susie Orbach in conversation with Dr. Yohai Hakak and Sophie Newbery: Looking Back on 45 Years of Writing and Thinking about the Body by Dr. Orbach 

Please Allow all cookies to view this video from YouTube. Alternatively view the content here

Dr. Susie Orbach started her career as a social worker. She is a psychotherapist, psychoanalyst, writer and co-founder of The Women’s Therapy Centre in London (1976) and The WTCI in New York (1981). She is the author of many books. Her most recent In Therapy: The Unfolding Story is an expanded edition of In Therapy (an annotated version of the BBC series listened to live by 2 million people). Her first book Fat is a Feminist Issue has been continuously in print since 1978. Bodies (which won the APA Psychology of Women’s Book Prize in 2009) was updated in 2019.She is the recipient of the Inaugural British Psychoanalytic Council’s Lifetime Achievement Award. She was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (FRSL) in 2019. She continues to help many individuals and couples from her practice in London.  

Organising Committee

The organising committee for this one-day conference is:

  • Dr. Yohai Hakak, Senior Lecturer in Social Work, Brunel University London
  • Shuai Jiang, a PhD candidate, Brunel University London
  • Chie Timuri, MSc Social Work student, Brunel University London

Sophie Newbery, a social worker at St Ann's Hospital’s Eating Disorders Service, will join us for the final session to interview Dr. Orbach together with Dr. Yohai Hakak