Mirror Mirror on the Wall

What if, whenever you looked in the mirror, you were never sure if you could trust what you saw? What if, seeing yourself in a positive way, felt simply impossible? For some people, this is a reality that they face every day. Body Dysmorphia, or Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), is usually associated with eating disorders, since the two often overlap. However, BDD is not limited to bodily appearance, or someone thinking they’re fat when they aren’t.
BDD is an obsession with a perceived flaw in one’s appearance which result in extreme self-consciousness. Individuals with BDD try to hide the defects that they see, and glance in mirrors often to check how they look. Most of the time this defect is unnoticeable to anyone other than the individual suffering. However, they are unable to believe anybody who tries to reassure them that they look “normal,” and will still define themselves negatively based on their flaw(s).
While we all are insecure about certain aspects of our appearances, people with BDD are unable to function throughout daily life without being preoccupied by how they look and feeling immense discomfort about how others see them. Most people with BDD tend to see flaws, with their skin, nose, hair, eyes, overall body composition, and more. Individuals may complain about a lack of symmetry, or having a body part that seems disproportionate.
It can be common for people with BDD to opt-out of social situations, or stay at home as much as possible. This can make it difficult for them to form relationships whether it be with family, friends, or a significant other. It can even impact employment.
BDD is dubbed a “hidden disorder” since many people are too scared to admit their struggles. It affects both men and women, however men may be more likely to be concerned about balding, muscle size and body build, while women may be more concerned with their weight, stomach, thighs, etc.
BDD can lead to other mental health issues, such as depression, social anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and eating disorders. It can also lead to physically damaging behaviours like skin-picking, self-harm, and unnecessary excessive cosmetic surgery.
There still needs to be a lot more research done on BDD, but at the moment, the most effective treatments seem to be cognitive-behavioural therapy and antidepressant medications.
Personally, I have had experience with Body Dysmorphia throughout the ups and downs of my eating disorder. My body dysmorphia piggy-backed onto my anorexia, and to be honest, at first, I didn’t think it was even an issue I had. When you’re first diagnosed with an eating disorder, you’re given an overflow of information about symptoms and treatments, including body image distortion, or body dysmorphia. I would sit in these mandatory sessions looking at images where a very thin girl looked in the mirror and saw herself with a much larger build, and not believe this was something applicable to me; I was clearly actually as big as I saw whenever I looked in the mirror. It actually wasn’t until my days in residential treatment that I finally realized I had been suffering from body dysmorphia all along. I was in my goal weight range, and had been unhappy whenever I looked in the mirror for a while (even at my low weights let’s be honest). One day, I had a “body image challenge” where I had to look at my reflection in a full-length mirror, something that was not common practice in residential treatment. Surprisingly, when I stepped in front of the mirror, I didn’t hate what I saw like I had all the times before. I actually thought I looked “okay.” After taking the time to process this, I finally understood that I did have issues with body image distortion. My body hadn’t changed since the last time I’d seen it in a mirror, it was just the way I perceived my body that had changed.
To this day, I still have issues with body image distortion, and I know a lot of other people do as well. I have days where I look in the mirror and will think I’m “fat,” but in the back of my mind I know pretty damn well that’s not at all true. The thoughts and feelings of insufficiency that come along with them are still there though.
While you may not suffer from full-blown BDD, you still may feel certain effects related to it. If you find yourself struggling with your appearance or worrying about how you look, I encourage you to try and take a step back. Ask yourself, are my thoughts rational right now? Do I actually look like this or is my mind playing tricks on me? Sometimes you can easily answer these questions, while other times you actually don’t know the truth. If you aren’t able to dismiss these notions as irrational, then I encourage you to take a deep breath, walk away from the mirror, and continue forward with your day as best you can. Later on, when you look in the mirror, you might see something completely different, or you might see the same thing. At this point, it’s important to reassure yourself that you are beautiful and good enough just the way you are. I wish I had a magical power to make you look in the mirror and not see those flaws, but I don’t. It’s a daily battle within your mind with which you have to be diligent. Positive self-talk, being productive in other aspects of your life unrelated to your appearance, writing out how you feel – these are all some options for trying to cope with negative body thoughts. I can’t tell you what will work for you, but the more things you try, the closer you will come to finding something helpful. Never forget your support system, although you may not believe your friend when they say you look great, it can still be nice to hear. Don’t be afraid to reach out.

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