Warning: This article contains content that may be triggering and/or disturbing to some readers.
We all have minds and bodies. But, they don’t always get along. Our minds aren’t always nice to our bodies. They’ll hyper-focus on what we see in the mirror, wanting us to analyze random aspects of our bodies and even obsess over their flaws. If this sounds like something you experience, you may be struggling with body dysmorphia.
You’re not alone. Nearly 1 in 50 people deal with body dysmorphia, a staggering statistic that urges us to ask questions like – what is body dysmorphia? What are its causes? Learning more about body dysmorphia can help us face it as the big bully it is and find a way to love our bodies again.
What is Body Dysmorphia?
Clinically known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD,) body dysmorphia is a fixation on one’s body image. Usually, it is more of an obsession – a person with body dysmorphia is constantly preoccupied with flaws in their appearance, which deeply affects their daily life. That said, body dysmorphia is often related to anxiety disorders, like OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder,) and eating disorders.
It’s important to note that, just because you have body dysmorphia, or another kind of related disorder, doesn’t mean you’re even more flawed. Your struggle is real. It’s one that is a culmination of your experiences, emotions, and, unfortunately, how society has heavily exploited our relationship with our bodies.
Body Dysmorphia Affects Everyone, Period
There’s always a huge misconception that body dysmorphia – as well as eating disorders – only affect women. This is flat-out, not true at all.
It’s not surprising that many mistakenly believe this. Society has manipulated women for years through their bodies. Fashion, television, and media, in general, have dictated what is considered attractive. From the Jessica Rabbit figure of the 1950s to the Kate Moss “nothing tastes as great as skinny feels” era (that still lingers today,) it seems women haven’t cut a break. The diet industry followed all these trends strategically, targeting women through all sorts of media mediums, preying on their self-esteem.
While this is all blindingly true, it also applies to men. The image of a strong, muscly man has long been what many glamorize as ‘sexy.’ I mean, take all the Sexiest Man Alive covers. The actors, artists, or what have you, are usually toned, have great hair, and look ready to pick things up and put them down.
These media impressions continue to create crazy expectations that can weigh on any man’s self-esteem. Such unrealistic societal expectations have led to harmful male-specific disorders like muscle dysmorphia or bigorexia. This is when a man perceives himself as not muscular or lean enough. It’s no wonder that men make up 25% of anorexia cases, a statistic that speaks for itself about men and their body image struggles.
Signs and Symptoms of Body Dysmorphia
There are many signs and symptoms of body dysmorphia, which vary from person to person.
Symptoms of body dysmorphia can be easily confused with vanity. Someone with BDD may appear very invested in their grooming routines and/or in critiquing the looks of others. This person could be initially written off as vain or egocentric. Truth is – this person could be dealing with a deep internal struggle with their body image.
Since body dysmorphia is tied to anxiety disorders, it is common that someone with BDD will have compulsive behaviors. These behaviors can range from spending lots of time looking in the mirror to constantly finding ways to cover up their flaws to avoiding mirrors altogether.
Remember – body dysmorphia differs from person to person. Everyone has their own unique experiences, traumas, and emotional responses that define who they are. So, don’t play psychologist and try to group together those struggling with body dysmorphia. Social comparison is one of the root causes of BDD, meaning your assumptions could be a harmful trigger to someone struggling.
Social Media and Body Dysmorphia
In today’s hyper-digital world, we’re always looking at each other. Sometimes, it’s not even intentional. Open one social media app on your phone and boom – you’re presented with another face or body. Our insecurities may begin tapping on our shoulders, urging us to do something, to begin comparing. Lots of times, we cave into it.
Sadly, social comparison isn’t a new thing. It existed long before social media. But, that doesn’t take away from the fact that the platforms have only intensified it. And, with that intensity comes increased body dysmorphia.
Whether it’s Instagram or Tiktok, social media is loaded with photos of people, especially glamorizing those with impressive lifestyles and bodies. We all know deep down that these images might be edited or manipulated. However, if a photo gets a lot of attention, it’s only human to feel like you want attention too.
This is where body dysmorphia and social media have created a vicious cycle. It’s no wonder 1 in 50 people today deal with body dysmorphia. Fortunately, the rise of the #BodyPositivity movement has brought more hope, generating more content that promotes embracing flaws and rejecting whatever society deems as pretty. Yet, the movement still focuses on appearance – the main trigger of body dysmorphia.
How to Learn to Love Your Body
Loving yourself is not always an easy thing to do. We’re human. Being happy isn’t a constant state of mind – it’s an emotion, one that ebbs and flows. The point is – that is ok. Learning to love your body is a journey, one that takes time.
Here are a few ways for you to challenge your body dysmorphia and learn to love your body.
Coming to terms with your body dysmorphia is difficult. Even though we had the courage to accept our struggle, we are often quick to turn to self-blame. Thoughts like ‘I did this to myself’ or ‘it’s because I’m weak’ may turn up, barring us from finding peace with our bodies.
Don’t cave to these thoughts. They’re the same thoughts that tell us that our flaws make us less valuable. Instead, begin to embrace the fact that you are human. You are allowed to make mistakes. What matters most is how you reflect on those mistakes and make a change.
Embrace the Shame
One of the driving factors behind body dysmorphia is shame. When we act on body dysmorphia behaviors, we hyper-focus on our flaws and try to control them. Rather than torture ourselves with our shame around our flaws, we need to channel our courage and embrace the reasons we feel so focused on our flaws
Getting vulnerable with yourself like this isn’t an easy process. Just remember these words by Brene Brown: “Vulnerability is not a weakness…it is one of our most accurate measures of courage.” And, courage is exactly what we all need to overcome our deepest insecurities.
Work with a Therapist (and Practice CBT)
Seizing your courage to challenge self-blame and embrace shame isn’t something you have to do alone. Working with a therapist can help you explore the root causes of your body dysmorphia, finding feel liberated from compulsive thoughts, and accept your flaws.
One treatment to consider seeking is CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.) This form of therapy focuses on identifying a patient’s thought patterns and finding ways for patients to overcome any destructive thoughts. With body dysmorphia preying on our insecurities through constant negative self-talk, CBT can be a very effective tool at isolating and lowering the volume of our harmful thoughts.
Our bodies are beautiful and unique, no matter their shape or size. You may be thinking – that’s easy to say, but so much harder to believe. And, you’re not wrong. Body dysmorphia remains a pervasive disorder that affects millions of people worldwide, no matter their gender, age, or race. It is a disorder we need to spread more education and awareness on, so that we, together, can help each other overcome our body dysmorphia and learn to love our bodies for how beautiful and unique they are, just as they are.