Lots of stigma has been isolating those who should find support for their mental health problems.
For those living with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), this issue is no different. Often incorrectly assumed to be a vanity worry, Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a serious condition where the person becomes obsessed with perceived flaws in their appearance.
If you are reading this article because you are worried that you may have Body Dysmorphia, know that we are here to provide clarity and offer support for a body-positive life.
What we’ll be looking into:
- What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder and what are the symptoms?
- How social media and comparison affect us and how to use them to gain empowerment
- How to break through our own perceptions
- How to create a body-positive future
What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder and what are the symptoms?
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a type of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) which can lead to a person believing that they have defects or flaws in their appearance.
These perceived flaws are often minor and can’t be noticed by others, however, because you observe them, you may feel so embarrassed and ashamed that you may avoid social situations.
People suffering from BDD will find that the condition can affect various parts of their lives as a result of loss of self-esteem and symptoms of depression. If you suffer you may find you have issues with:
- Trying to be perfect
- Adopting ritualistic behaviours
- Not being able to face your usual everyday activities such as attending college, school, or work
- Feeling unable to see other people without presenting yourself for the occasion
- Struggling with recalling information, memory, or attention loss
- Organising yourself
- Experiencing suicidal feelings
- Strong belief that you have a defect in your appearance
- Frequently seeking reassurance about your appearance from others
- Engaging in behaviours aimed at fixing or hiding the perceived flaw that are difficult to resist or control, such as frequently checking the mirror, grooming or skin picking
You might also find that this condition makes it hard to recognise the emotions of others correctly or find ambiguous situations to be threatening when others don’t feel this way.
If you think you suffer from Body Dysmorphia, be assured that this isn’t a problem that is your fault.
There are scientific reasons you may feel this way that can be attributed to decreased serotonin levels that put you on high alert, and increased oxytocin activity which correlates with obsessive and compulsive behaviours.
Did you know?
As people often hide their symptoms, the condition is hard to diagnose.
It is estimated that 2% of the adult population are living with BDD. This is around 1 in 50, so 1,075,980 in the UK.
Why is social media a problem?
Owning a phone now makes everything within tapping distance. Nothing is off-limits online, which is worrying for many reasons. As social media grows, so does worry about its effects – is it making things better or worse?
For those suffering from obsessive urges, scrolling past lots of bodies and lifestyles can create unhealthy habits, as well as guilt for not looking a certain way.
Research found that “photo-based activities”, like scrolling through Instagram or posting pictures of yourself, were a particular problem when it came to negative thoughts about your body.
It also agreed that “fitspiration” images (that promote thin people exercising), could make you feel worse about yourself. Whilst the hashtag comes from a place of self-improvement, it could produce a negative effect.
So, regular breaks from social media are encouraged to appreciate your own, personal groove.
How does comparison affect us?
Although it is human nature to compare, those suffering from Body Dysmorphia can find this comparison to completely ruin their day.
Social media makes us forget what normal is, and a person who spends a lot of time on social media is more likely to develop depression or anxiety, and in extreme cases, it can be life-threatening. Some of the problems people can experience can develop into disordered eating habits such as anorexia or bulimia.
How to use social media and comparison to gain empowerment
Despite the potential pitfalls, social media can actually assist you in improving your self-esteem. This is where mindful scrolling comes in. By making conscious decisions to follow people that make you feel good, you could gain confidence.
Research published states the more diversity of looks you come across, the more likely you are to gain a positive body image. This is also helped by choosing social media accounts that don’t focus heavily on appearance or revolve their content around physical features. So, you could choose to follow accounts that promote uplifting themes such as healthy eating, self-care, and diversity.
If a social media refresh sounds like something you’d be interested in, Cosmopolitan has shared 15 body-positive accounts that could make great additions to your Instagram following.
How to break through our own perceptions
We have long been taught that seeing is believing. Yet we don’t always see clearly, we see subjectively, through our own unique perceptions.
As expressed in this medically reviewed article on cognitive psychology, your brain, though remarkable, is not perfect. It can take short-cuts and fall back to what’s familiar rather than considering new information. Its reluctance to accept change means we must work a little harder to see results.
We may expect to see something a certain way due to our prior beliefs, that is how we make sense of what we are perceiving in the present.
If you decide that you have a flawed nose or breasts, every time you check your reflection in the mirror, this is what you will see, because that is what you have prepared your brain to see for so long.
So, when we say we must work a little harder to see improvements, it is our minds we must change, not our bodies.
Next time you feel frustrated and upset looking in a mirror, please remember that all your brain sees is familiarity, it’s a bit lazy like that. Even if you don’t initially mean it, interrupt these negative thoughts with positive ones, and you and your brain will eventually thank you for these small breakthroughs of self-love and acceptance.
How to create a body-positive future
Have an outlet. Writing it down and talking it out are great ways to help understand yourself better. Express what is going on inside your head and find the confidence to seek outside help, you don’t have to face your problems alone and an outside perspective can be extremely beneficial.
After you have spoken about it to friends or family, you may feel comfortable talking to a healthcare professional who can give you the support to triumph over body dysmorphic disorder. They may refer you for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Until then, taking social media breaks and being present can help as you make the effort to observe positives about real life rather than comparing against carefully constructed digital personas.
When social media is unavoidable, remind yourself that what you are seeing is not really real, and instead follow those who uplift you in some way.
We’d also suggest that you do things that you wouldn’t normally do. Eat something you wouldn’t normally eat, walk somewhere you wouldn’t normally walk, tell yourself that you are beautiful. Most importantly, be hopeful that you can replace old habits with new ones.
Help is always there
At Kari Health, we understand that you may not have had the best start to 2024, and you may be curious about getting a little help.
The following resources are provided by Mind as useful contacts for the body dysmorphia community:
- Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation
- British Association for Behaviour and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP)
- NHS – Talking Therapies
- OCD Action – Visit their website here or call 0300 636 5478
- OCD-UK – Visit their website here or call 01332 588 112
- Anorexia and Bulimia Care – Visit their website here or call 03000 11 12 13
- Eating Disorder Support – Call 01494793223 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mind – Call 0300 123 3393, text 86463, or email them at email@example.com
You may have been living with these symptoms for a long time. If anything in this article resonates with you, it’s important to start to address this in order to create a happier, healthier future.
Although people suffering from this often feel depressed and alone, there is a 76% recovery rate, so we encourage you to speak to someone and get the support you deserve.
If you are worried that you or someone you know has disordered eating, more information can be found in one of our earlier articles at the Health Hub.
It is never too late to ask for the help you need.
This article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare professionals. We do have an in-house team of subject matter experts, who we consult to produce our content, but we would always advise following the advice of your healthcare team as a first step. They are there to help you, and will have your best interests in mind.
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