What’s all the fuss about body dysmorphia?
We are all guilty of spending a little too long in front of the mirror; whether that be in the bathroom, a compact you take with you everywhere or even a quick check in the car mirror/shop window.
Everyone has slight issues with their appearance and feeling constantly satisfied with ourselves isn’t easy. We all have those days when our hair simply won’t do what we tell it to or somehow overnight a huge spot (or two, or three) appears on your cheek right before an event. Many of us will occasionally feel dissatisfied, which is okay, and totally normal, however, these concerns don’t cause extreme distress or completely occupy our thoughts. For some people, however, said mirror checking becomes a habitual obsession with each and every perceived flaw, leading them to have regular, distressing thoughts. This behaviour, though mostly unheard of, yet relatively common, is called body dysmorphia.
Body dysmorphia can lead to distress, social anxiety, depression, self-harm and in some cases, suicide. Flaw checking can range in number and severity, be that worrying about the size or your nose, height, or aspiring to a certain body shape. Many of these hang-ups are so small and barely noticeable (if at all) to others, however, sufferers of body dysmorphia don’t see it that way. Many examine and obsess with their imperfections until it magnifies, leaving a distorted and unforgiving perception that others simply don’t see. How we feel about our appearance is really important as it can affect our mood, our behaviour and our self-esteem.
Body dysmorphia comes as no surprise with the ever-increasing rise in cultural and societal pressures to achieve physical perfection. Before the times of ‘the selfie’ you could only take a photograph with an old school film camera that your parents would always bring out on your birthday; with a single shot, a blinding flash and a quick hope for the best, the photo was taken and there was no going back (to anyone who has dared take a disposable to a festival – you can relate).
Nowadays, selfies have taken over; allowing us the freedom to take and view as many photos as we need until we find that perfect profile picture. However, we can also delete those that didn’t quite make the cut, and use apps and features that ‘help’ us to edit and tweak any imperfections, which are all tools that make us believe we’re not good enough. It also raises the playing field, as more people use editing apps – it becomes a very distorted reality.
Body dysmorphia can range in severity, and for some, can seriously affect their lives. Below are some signs to spot if you or a friend/family member is suffering with this condition.
10 signs that you may have body dysmorphia
- You ask people if you look okay a lot: more often than not, it’s because you’re seeking validation from other people. It may feel good when they compliment you, but over a long period of time it’s a really dangerous pattern of behaviour and will become increasingly compulsive.
- You desperately want to meet a boyfriend or a girlfriend: sometimes people define their own value by their relationship status. Being single can be a stressful situation as it can validate the bad feelings that somebody may have about themselves – “nobody wants me” or “I’m not good enough”. To be in a relationship is to temporarily feel validated or desired.
- You check the mirror at every opportunity: checking the mirror can become a compulsive act and is a tell-tale sign that somebody isn’t particularly feeling good about themselves. Body dysmorphia is a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder so it can be easy to become obsessed with attaining perfection.
- You openly downplay your appearance to others: this tends to be because people have a fear of rejection. Think about it: your parents are pushing for you to do well in your exams. You came out and think you did okay but then tell your parents that the exam was really difficult. Why? Because you want to reduce their expectations of you so that it is less likely you’ll feel rejected by them if you don’t do well. It’s a very clever tactic but it will not serve you well in the long-term.
- You’re a selfie addict: we all like to take selfies now and again, but there’s a line – and the very fact that you’re reading this may suggest that you know you’ve crossed it. This is very similar to obsessively checking in the mirror in the sense that you’re striving for perfection but also ties into the social validation. You want the perfect selfie to post online for the best possible reaction – right? The most likes. The most love heart eye emojis. It makes you feel good about yourself. But that’s not good. You should never be looking externally for validation that you look okay.
- You edit your photos or want plastic surgery: by definition, body dysmorphia means that you have a tainted view of yourself and see flaws that either don’t exist or are barely noticeable. There’s a difference between editing out a spot and changing your entire bone structure. If you’re more inclined towards the latter, then it could suggest that there is a deeply rooted issue buried away in your self-esteem.
- You get anxious in social situations sometimes: body dysmorphia can cause social anxiety – especially if you shy away from meeting new people or going on dates because you’re worried that you don’t look good enough. You’re doing this because, in your head, you believe that people won’t want to talk to you or won’t be interested in what you have to say because of your physical appearance. You then cleverly decide to avoid that situation to prevent your anticipations from becoming reality. We can almost completely guarantee that your anticipations will never happen and deep down, you know we’re right.
- You would never leave the house without makeup on: this could be one of the biggest tell-tale signs of body dysmorphia. You’re scared of people seeing how you really look and fearful that they would reject you because your skin isn’t flawless or because your hair isn’t flowing. Makeup is great and can be used in positive ways, but there’s a difference between enhancing your appearance and hiding behind it.
- You’re always dieting and picking at your body: body shape and size is a big hang up for a lot of people and it isn’t surprising. Look at all the photoshopped pictures you’ve been shown since you were a kid in magazines and across the media. We all know they aren’t realistic but they are there to make us feel like we’re not good enough in order to sell us products. If you’re worried about your body shape and size, you could very well be battling with body dysmorphia – especially if you factually have a healthy BMI.
- You bitch about how other people look: the only reason people ever talk crap about how others look is to project how they feel about themselves onto other people. It’s a way of basically saying “I feel bad about myself but wait… don’t focus on me, look at her and the dress she’s wearing.”. Once you understand that, you’ll become very powerful.
15 Tips on Overcoming Body Dysmorphia
We are not medical practitioners and none of the advice below should be used to replace any advice you have been given medically. If you suspect you have body dysmorphia, we would always recommend getting a formal diagnosis and support from your GP.
- Remember that your mind is an incredibly powerful tool. What you think is what you will become. Actually, studies show that an affirming thought is 100 x more powerful than a negative one.
- The Law of Attraction is a theory that suggests you attract things into your life simply by thinking about them. So if you spend all your time worrying about rejection, you’re actually seeking it out and are more likely to experience it
- Go against your instinct and put yourself in social situations that make you feel uncomfortable. Acknowledging the fact that your mind is trying to protect you from rejection and going against those instincts can be incredibly powerful.
- Limit the amount of times you’re allowing yourself to look in the mirror or to check your reflection. It’s a lot easier if you limit it gradually.
- Be a rebel and stop editing your photos beyond using filters. However, it’s important that you only do this when you feel comfortable doing it. You may not be ready to yet and that’s okay, but keep it in mind.
- Acknowledge that there are things you dislike about yourself but don’t focus on it anymore. Nobody can make you feel bad about yourself, you do that.
- Acknowledge that there are things you like about yourself and do focus on them. Even if you don’t feel like there’s anything, there is and as you become more comfortable in your own skin, this list will grow.
- Understand that 98% of images you see of celebrities and models are edited and are not representative. If you don’t believe us, YouTube search “reverse Photoshop” or “models unedited” – it’s okay that they have blemishes and stretch marks because they are human.
- Whenever you feel like saying something bad about how other people look, say something good about them too. Eventually, work to stop saying bad things all together. Occasionally we all think negative things about others, that’s normal but it isn’t okay to vocalise them to others or use those opinions to make somebody feel bad about themselves to make yourself feel better.
- Stop hanging around with people who make negative comments about how you look or make you feel pressured into looking a certain way. It’s likely that they are going through the same thing too and trust us, you need to focus on you right now.
- Understand that in 30 years, we guarantee you will look back at photos of yourself now and realise how fabulous you really looked.
- Diversify your friendship circle and hang around with people you wouldn’t otherwise hang around with. This will make you more familiar with different realities of appearances, body shapes and size.
- Whenever you have a negative thought about yourself, acknowledge it and consciously decide to think of something positive. It sounds cliché but most of the time, you have 100% control over what you decide to think about – unless you are currently suffering a medical illness.
- Be vocal and talk about it, but not too much. Don’t overfocus on the negatives and talk more about how you’re making changes and working on yourself. It is important not to keep it to yourself though. We’d suggest just talking about it to 1 or 2 people, no more, otherwise you’ll find that you’re talking about it too much.
- Help somebody else overcome bad feelings they have about themselves and you could find that it also helps you overcome yours too.