It is not easy to nurture self-love and acceptance in the world of idealized media images of pure human perfection we live in today. Our social media is submerged in photos of perfect, flawless faces and tanned, sleek, firm bodies. In light of these unrealistic messages we constantly receive, it is no wonder that an increasing number of people of both sexes struggle with body image issues these days.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)
Most of us have something that would like to change about our appearance. These imperfections may bother us, but they normally don’t interfere with our daily lives.
However, people who suffer from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) think about their real or imagined imperfections all the time. Around one percent of the population experience body dysmorphic disorder. According to the American Psychiatric Association, BDD most often develops in adolescents 12-13 years of age and affects men and women equally. The ever-present obsession with one or more parts of their body causes a huge emotional discomfort and difficulties in daily functioning in people with BDD. They usually struggle with low self-esteem, miss school or work and withdraw from their social circles, afraid that others will notice their imperfections.
Sometimes, these flaws are barely visible and normally go unnoticed by others. However, a person with BDD becomes preoccupied with the perceived imperfection, becoming unable to focus on anything else. Consequently, people who suffer from body dysmorphic disorder may experience social anxiety and tend to avoid social situations. Additionally, in an attempt to camouflage their imperfection, they may develop compulsive behaviors, such as excessive grooming, skin picking, excessive exercise, checking in a mirror or seeking surgery. Nevertheless, these behaviors only provide a temporary relief.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder Treatments
Effective treatments such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and/or antidepressant medications can help people with BDD live full, active lives.
CBT teaches BDD sufferers to recognize irrational, negative self-thoughts and replace them with positive ones. At the same time, antidepressants can help relieve obsessive and compulsive symptoms of BDD. In most cases, the recommended approach includes a combination of psychotherapy and medications.
Mirror Exposure Therapy
Research showed that when BDD patients observe themselves in a mirror for prolonged periods, their negative reaction changes and fades away through habituation. Namely, through repeated exposure, the association between the particular aspect of their appearance and negative reaction to it diminishes.
Mirror exposure therapy has been used successfully to treat body dysmorphic disorder in combination with CBT, where the mirror is used to challenge the patients’ distorted picture of themselves.
Body Image Issues and Eating Disorders
Body dissatisfaction is closely associated with eating disorders. In fact, empirical studies confirm that poor body image is the most immediate antecedent to the development of an eating disorder.
While some researchers argue that eating disorders may be caused by a variety of psychological reasons and not exclusively by body dissatisfaction, poor body image remains one of the most important risk factors for restrictive dieting, which may turn into serious eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia nervosa.
How to Tackle Poor Body Image
To look and feel at your best, try to accept your body. Keep in mind that those flawless pictures you see on social media are far from reality. Don’t body-shame yourself. Practice positive affirmations instead. Find things you like about your appearance and focus on the positives. Also, take care of your body – make sure to eat well, sleep enough, and be active every day.
However, if you feel that your body image issues and self-esteem problems are too much to handle alone, seek professional mental health counseling because body image and self-esteem can get better with care and support.