How is it like living your life, without ever being satisfied with your image? What causes body dysmorphia and how is it treated? A young woman struggling with this disorder shares her experience.
Nowadays, self-image issues are anything but uncommon. The abuse of social media and the unrealistic beauty standards they promote are slowly increasing an overlooked disorder: Body Dysmorphia. Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a mental health condition, where a person is obsessing over their physical appearance while being severely delusional about it. People struggling with this condition always view their bodies as unattractive, flawed, and repulsive. They can either focus on one “problematic” (according to them) aspect of their appearance at a time or loathe their whole bodies.
“To be honest, I don’t really know what my body looks like. Every time I look in the mirror, it’s different. Somedays my thighs are too big, other days my stomach is huge, and my breasts are too small. Sometimes I look extremely skinny, and sometimes unbelievably fat. But I never like what I see”, says Marina. She is a 19-year-old girl, currently based in Thessaloniki, where she studies Psychology.
Marina is suffering from body dysmorphia since the age of 14. “As a kid, I was quite overweight. Obviously, I didn’t care about my image at all, I was a happy child with a lot of friends and a lot of energy! But once I hit puberty, things started changing. My body didn’t look how it was supposed to. I started focusing on my appearance more and more. I didn’t like anything about myself. Every day was like a competition: I was comparing my body to everyone, from friends and classmates to worldwide famous supermodels. I never won that competition. I was always the worst.”
How body dysmorphia affects everyday life
Body dysmorphia causes feelings of extremely low self-esteem and constant shame and embarrassment about physical appearance. Also, it may cause depression and social anxiety. Many people suffering from the disorder withdraw themselves from social events and casual human contact, as they have delusions about everyone judging them and pointing out their flaws. “I have canceled my plans many times because I didn’t like the way my body looked. Dates, parties, or even just a coffee with a friend. One look at the mirror is enough, and I am staying at home the entire day, stressing about my image”.
Many times, people suffering from BDD follow extreme methods, like exhausting diets and abuse of laxatives and diuretics. Also, cosmetic surgeries are constantly increasing, in order to achieve the “perfect look”. “At this point, I’m battling with myself. No matter how much weight I lose, or how toned I look from working out, it is never enough. In addition, I am constantly chasing validation, especially from men. Only the acceptance and the admiration of others make me feel good about myself. But if your confidence is built on compliments, it will shatter with criticism”, says Marina.
Treating body dysmorphia
Sociologists and psychologists conclude that the unrealistic beauty standards, set by certain social media have a major influence on teenagers and young adults, so they propose their controlled use. “My therapist told me that the content I follow on Instagram is extremely harmful to my condition, but you cannot really avoid completely the beauty standars of our times.”
The most common type of therapy for body dysmorphia is Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT can help you manage your symptoms by changing the way you think and behave, while learning what triggers your symptoms, and adopting different ways of dealing with your habits. This treatment will usually include a technique known as exposure and response prevention. This involves gradually facing situations that would normally make you think obsessively about your appereance and feel anxious. Sadly, untreated cases of body dysmorphia have a high suicide rate, so early diagnosis is essential.
“Last week, I read something very simple, that really shook me. It was a little text, saying that every single second that comes by, your body is doing whatever it can to keep you alive. All of your vital organs are working unstoppably, just for you to be in this world. When I read it, I felt so guilty. Guilty because my body is trying so hard for me, but I hate it more than words can describe. Body dysmorphia is exhausting. But I decided to do my best, overcome my limits, and beat it. From now on, I’m not battling with my image. I’m battling this sick condition. I deserve to be happy in my own skin. This is not a competition with anyone. This is my journey.”