What is body dysmorphia?
Body dysmorphia, or body dysmorphic disorder, is a highly prevalent and dangerous disorder that most of us can identify with. According to NHS.UK, it is defined as "a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance." Symptoms include checking your reflection a lot, concealing parts of your appearance, and comparing your body to others'. Anyone can experience it- men, women, young, old, large, small. It can be extremely controlling and contribute to emotional disorders like depression and anxiety.
I would just like to note that I don't like using the word 'disorder', for it implies that a part of you is not working; if you experience any of the conditions outlined above, you are NOT broken or functioning poorly, you are simply behaving as a response to certain influences. These influences can come from childhood, peers, the media, or systematic processes. Many 'mental disorders' are just quick and easy boxes for people to fit into, making them easier to treat by the healthcare system. For the sake of this post, I will continue to use the technical term, disorder, for it is the most clear term to understand. Please keep this in mind throughout the rest of the post.
How do I know if I experience body dysmorphia?
For many, constantly feeling concerned about how you appear to yourself and others is strongly evident of this disorder. Frequently checking the mirror and scrutinising photos of yourself is indicative of this. It is a common misconception that people with 'ideal' body types don't experience dysmorphia- or that they are not allowed to experience it- but this is not true. It is a literal distortion of your self perception that can live inside of anyone. This condition makes you see something different to what others see, and you aren't convinced when others assure you that what they see is true.
What are the consequences of body dysmorphia?
From mild to extreme cases, the following repercussions can accompany this disorder: anxiety, depression, self-harm, eating disorders, excessive exercising, extreme diets, and any behaviour that intends to drastically change one's appearance. It can take control of your life; you may feel trapped by your own view of yourself. Many people with this condition feel compelled to exercise constantly but are never satisfied with the outcome.
Why am I writing about this?
Body dysmorphia is worryingly common in the fitness industry. It's even used in marketing for diet and fitness products. You're probably familiar with the "do you feel unhappy with your body? Buy this product!" structure. It's awful how it has been normalised and preyed upon. Even I suffer from it. I check my appearance too often, I focus on specific parts of my body that I don't like, and I even actively search for flaws in my reflection. Being aware of it is the first step to overcoming it, though. It's all a matter of counter-conditioning your thought processes- this means to replace your unhealthy thought patterns with better ones. This can be achieved by consistent practices like thinking about what you like about your appearance today. Professional treatment works along these lines; cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) uses these principals to treat body dysmorphia.
To conclude, I want everyone reading to know that if you experience body dysmorphic disorder, or if you can identify with some of its symptoms, that is okay. You are not less worthy as a result of feeling these things. A lot of other people feel what you feel, even if they don't express it in the same way. If you are finding it too difficult, please seek help. Talk to your friends or family about it, research it, and talk to a doctor if you want professional treatment. Reaching out for help is one of the kindest things you can do for yourself.