What You Need to Understand About Body Dysmorphia
We are our own worst critics.
Looking in the mirror, we see all our flaws - flaws that others often don’t even notice. We tend to compare ourselves to unrealistic expectations.
We’re blasted with headlines like, ‘how to get the bikini body you’ve always wanted,” and ‘how to get beach ready in next to no time.’
And the photo next to that headline? A skinny and likely very edited Victoria Secret-esque model.
While we’ve got nothing against Victoria Secret models, advertising and all the various kinds of media constantly show us how we “should” look.
These images and headlines can leave lasting impressions.
It can make one feel inadequate. It can cause one to strive for a perfection that doesn’t even exist (what’s up, Photoshop!). In the worst cases, it can lead to a mental health disorder called Body Dysmorphia.
What is Body Dysmorphia?
Body Dysmorphia is a mental health disorder where one is obsessively and constantly preoccupied with thinking about a perceived physical flaw - often, one others do not notice or one that doesn’t exist at all.
Consequently, the person avoids social situations and can become severely depressed. They may feel ashamed or anxious about their physical appearance.
Surprisingly, we have seen body dysmorphia play out through the gossip tabloids and reality TV numerous times. Remember Heidi Montag from The Hills? She underwent 10 cosmetic procedures in one day, including brow-lifts, ear-pinning, a chin reduction, and rhinoplasty. According to Montag, she almost died during the surgery.
Michael Jackson spawns another obvious example. He underwent a variety of different physical changes over the years. With a lack of understanding regarding the issue, the speculation surrounding his physical appearance often swayed toward the negative. The news and media were less than kind toward his ever-changing look, a large part of which was entirely out of his control.
The example of Michael Jackson further brings to light the fact that body dysmorphia is not just a female issue. Men and women can both experience this type of mental disorder.
According to the Mayo Clinic, cosmetic procedures provide only a temporary fix. The obsession with the perceived flaw continues. Many continue to try to find new ways to still “fix” the flaw. The anxiety doesn’t go away. The same issues persist.
Proper mental health help is crucial to combat body dysmorphia. It can, and will, get worse if left to fester. “Fixing” the perceived flaw doesn’t just make it go away nor is it a viable solution.
How & When to Get Help for Body Dysmorphia
Body dysmorphia is often confused with eating disorders. Body dysmorphia can lead to eating disorders. The difference is that individuals with body dysmorphia often transfix on a single body part or ‘flaw.’ WebMD outlines the most common areas that individuals obsess over:
- Facial features, such as the nose, eyes, or shape or size of any feature.
- Skin imperfections, such as acne, blemishes, scars, or wrinkles.
- Hair on the head (such as balding or thinning) or on the body (such as an excess of hair on a body part).
- Breast size.
- Body weight or muscle tone/size.
Mental health help should be sought out when signs or symptoms of body dysmorphia are present. These signs and symptoms include:
- Engaging in behaviours that are repetitive and time-consuming, such as trying to cover-up the perceived flaw, picking at the flaw, or constantly checking the mirror.
- Believing that you are deformed or ugly due to this flaw.
- Seeking out reassurance from others that the flaw isn’t noticeable or obvious.
- Avoiding social situations or going out in public due to the perceived flaw.
- Feeling anxious in social or public situations.
- Consulting or proceeding with cosmetic procedures to fix the flaw.
- Being so absorbed and obsessed with the flaw that it causes distress or issues in your work life, home life, school, or relationships.
Frequently, these issues develop throughout the teenage years, a time when many are most impressionable. A traumatic or emotional event during one’s childhood years may play a role. Low self-esteem or an environment where appearance is constantly critiqued can further contribute to the development of body dysmorphia.
Many individuals are too ashamed or embarrassed to seek help.
If you know someone that may be experiencing body dysmorphia, it is important to encourage them to seek the mental health help they need. If they don’t get the help they need, it could lead to a slippery slope involving life and death.
The Effects of Body Dysmorphia
Body dysmorphia can lead to a variety of unhealthy habits or self-harm tactics. For example, if the person believes they need more muscle tone, they may spend endless hours in the gym trying to reach their perceived standards. They may resort to steroids or other methods of “help” to fix their perceived flaw. In turn, this can do more harm than good, and ultimately, it can have detrimental effects on one’s physical health.
Spending endless hours in the gym can also drastically impact other parts of one’s life. They may give up important social gatherings or other activities they once loved to work on improving their perceived flaw.
If body dysmorphia goes untreated, a number of negative effects may ensue.
People can lose jobs due to body dysmorphia. If the person becomes all-consumed with fixing the perceived flaw, they may perform poorly at work. They may also skip out on work if they deem themselves unworthy to be seen in public.
Body dysmorphia costs people their relationships too. If they continue to avoid social situations, their friendships and relationships may deteriorate and eventually disappear. Body dysmorphia is often misunderstood, and those suffering it frequently don’t talk about it due to their anxiety and shame. Consequently, those that have body dysmorphia may isolate themselves and allow their relationships to fall apart.
Steroid use is common in those that perceive themselves as not toned enough or not muscular enough. Steroid use can create harmful physical effects, such as infertility, acne, tendonitis, aggressive behavioural patterns, liver or kidney problems, and heart complications.
Body dysmorphia can also develop into an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia. Anorexia and bulimia can have serious health consequences. In serious cases, death may occur.
Individuals with body dysmorphia may become depressed. They begin to withdrawal from social functions or outings. They isolate themselves. They deem themselves too ugly to be seen, and experience feelings of loneliness, guilt, and shame. This isolation can lead to depression, a serious mental health issue. Depression can lead to suicidal thoughts or behaviours.
Treatment of Body Dysmorphia
Treatment frequently involves a form of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioural therapy. This type of therapy involves the changing of the patient’s false beliefs and the changing of their behaviours, such as their compulsions relating to their perceived flaw.
Treatment may also involve forms of medication, such as anti-depressants or forms of anti-anxiety medications to help combat mental health issues.
A support network is important during this time. If you know someone going through therapy, be there for them. Show them you care. It matters more than you think!
With the summer season comes the anxiety-inducing swimsuit season. Don’t judge. And don’t allow others’ judgments to affect you. Rise above it. Nobody’s perfect. And nobody expects you to be. Avoid comparing yourself to others. Appreciate each other’s differences. Embrace them. Learn to love yourself. Promote positivity whenever possible.
If you are dealing with body dysmorphia, talk about it with your doctor or someone you trust. Body dysmorphia is a serious issue. Many of the effects of body dysmorphia are interlinked with larger mental health problems and can be life-threatening. Be aware of the signs and symptoms. Seek mental health help or assist your friend or family member in seeking mental health help before it becomes too late.
Develop healthy habits and healthy thinking patterns to become your best self. You are worth it!
Related Article: Selfies & Self-Love: What Selfies Can Do for Your Self-Esteem