Body Positivity To Help With Body Dysmorphia
I’ve talked plenty about body positivity. And I have also spoken a lot about body dysmorphia or body dysmorphic disorder. But can you use body positivity to help with body dysmorphia?
Let’s walk through this.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder
First of all, let’s define body dysmorphia.
What Is Body Dysmorphic Disorder
The clinical term is body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) but it gets commonly referred to as body dysmorphia.
BDD is typically defined as follows:
A mental health condition where the suggerer is fixated on or spends a lot of time worrying about self-perceived flaws in their own appearance.
It’s important to note that a lot of it is from someone’s own self-perception. BDD sufferers could be fixated on something that no one else notices or is aware of, so it is very much in our own heads.
And it can be about any aspect of someone’s appearance:
- Skin tone
- And more.
Symptoms Of BDD
BDD can manifest in different ways for different people but these are some of the most common symptoms.
- Spending a lot of time worrying about specific aspects of your appearance
- Lots of comparing yourself to others
- Lots of self-checking in the mirror
- Or possibly the opposite – avoiding mirrors entirely
- Efforts to conceal perceived flaws – I used to wear baggy clothes to hide my shape and size. Another example would be if someone refuses to be seen by anyone without makeup. Make-up is commonly used but I guess there is a point where it goes from “normal” use to concealing a genuine source of self-consciousness.
- Obsessive behaviour such as picking at skin to try to make it smooth. Before I had my abdominoplasty and loose skin removal, I used to walk with one hand on my chest because I was paranoid that the movement from my loose skin would be obvious and I was very conscious of it.
Impact Of Body Dysmorphic Disorder
BDD causes a lot of genuine distress to the people suffering from it and it is a very real mental health condition.
It can impact your social life, work life, relationships, your personality as a whole.
That in turn can spiral into feelings of depression and anxiety, which in turn can lead down the path of self-harm and in some cases, suicidal thoughts.
If you suspect you or someone you know is dealing with BDD, please reach out to a professional as soon as you can.
If you’re in the UK, your GP will be your first point of call.
If you are further along or your thoughts are a bit more intense, and it is causing depression or anxiety, reach out to a mental health specialist as soon as you can.
And if you are having even the slightest hint of thoughts around self-harm or suicide, reach out ASAP. Literally right now.
Treatment For Body Dysmorphic Disorder
If you seek professional help, the 2 main clinical treatments are likely to be cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or antidepressant medication – usually selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI).
Causes Of Body Dysmorphic Disorder
There isn’t one specific known cause of BDD but according to the NHS, there are some things that are associated with an increased likelihood of suffering from it:
- If you have a relative with obsessive compulsive disorder, depression or BDD themselves, it is possible that behaviour pattern is passed down genetically
- Your upbringing can play a role. For example, if you were brought up in a weight-focused household, you might find that weight stigma or obsession stays with you even after you move out and put some distance between yourself and that household.
- Possible chemical imbalance
- Past experience or trauma. If for example you are teased or bullied, that can inflict some damage. I was the heaviest kid in my classes throughout my time at school.
My body shape, fitness and health have all changed dramatically since then. And I am probably living a much healthier lifestyle than many people I went to school with. But I still fixate on my weight probably a lot more than anyone else and it does still create issues in my head for me.
At the time of writing, I am actually trying to gain muscle so eating to try and gain weight is a whole new, alien experience that is messing with my head.
It’s still something I am doing my best to battle through.
Body dysmorphia is a genuine mental health condition and you absolutely should seek out professional help to tackle it.
No tips, affirmations, anecdotes or snippets from a blog, podcast, or social media will be a valid substitute for that.
But the odd usual piece of advice can be helpful to dial down the intensity of what you’re feeling, almost like taking the edge off it. And that is why learning to practice body positivity and developing body confidence is important.
It definitely won’t be a cure-all for BDD, but it can help make it feel more manageable in the moment and help you work through whatever you’re going through.
Let’s Talk About Body Positivity
Body positivity is something that I definitely believe in, especially because I know how difficult dealing with poor self-image can be.
What Is Body Positivity?
Body positivity is the idea that people should appreciate the body they have. That means any size, shape, colour gender, or ability – regardless of how different it may be from the narrow view of “ideal” that gets defined by the society we live in, or whatever is currently fashionable.
I once read a great quote from the Adidas website which encapsulated body positivity perfectly:
Love what you got, not what you’re not.
In other words, appreciate the body you have. Don’t knock yourself down because you don’t have a body that you’re supposed to believe is “ideal” or “better”.
Body positivity is most commonly talked about in the context of weight and size but it is a lot more than that and is to cover any perceived flaws or differences.
That can include birthmarks, stretch marks, hair, scars and pretty much anything else you think you might label as a “flaw” or an imperfection.
Loving Your Body
I am absolutely 100% aware that telling someone to try practising body positivity when they’re dealing with body dysmorphic disorder gives the same energy as telling someone having a panic to calm down or telling someone with depression to cheer up.
So let me try and give some context and some actual practical help.
My Experience With Body Dysmorphia And Body Positivity
I still have a lot of work to do for myself regarding body image and body dysmorphic disorder. There are years worth of unhealthy views of my body to unpack so it’s not going to be a quick fix and I am still trying to unpack it.
But bear with me as I refer back to them once more.
At my heaviest, I did become very conscious of my weight. But ironically as I lost weight I actually got more sensitive and worried about it.
Dramatic weight loss can lead to a lot of positive attention and positive reinforcement. You get a lot of praise, you get acknowledged, and people will call it a glow-up.
And don’t get me wrong – I loved lapping up the attention and making the absolute most of it.
And to be 100% honest, as much as I try to resist, I do still feel a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment when someone does praise or acknowledge my weight change.
The problem with all of that positive attention – despite being well-intentioned – is that it creates an incredibly strong link in the brain between your weight and your worth. Thinner is better, weight loss is good, and that gets us praise. So that means by that logic, not losing weight or even (god forbid!) gaining weight is a complete failure.
That is a pretty fair summary of how I felt and if I wasn’t losing weight, I wanted to hide away.
And that is really where BDD started to kick in for me.
I became a lot more self-conscious and fixated on my weight.
When I got to my target weight range, I had loose skin that could only be surgically removed. So although I felt fit, healthy and active, my body shape wasn’t reflecting that. It kind of felt like I wasn’t living in my true body – I can’t think of a better way to describe that.
And that was starting to have a massive impact on me.
I never wanted to get close to or intimate with anyone so relationships were out of the question. I didn’t like to do cardio at the gym because I didn’t want to sweat and have to use the changing rooms.
And apart from for any medical reason, until I had the surgery and my consultations around that, no one had seen me topless in a very long time.
I could fit into a size S anywhere and in some places size XS, but I still kept telling myself I needed to lose weight.
Now at the time of writing this, I am just over 4 months post-surgery and my change has been dramatic.
My confidence has improved dramatically.
I’ve been swimming.
I wear properly fitting clothes now. Not skin-tight, but things that actually fit my body shape.
I’ve used changing rooms.
I’ve had massages to help with the post-surgical swelling.
I’ve been comfortable enough to get intimate with someone…
The surgery of course didn’t make my torso perfect, The surgical scars still exist and while they will fade over time, they will always be there. Plus I still have the stretch marks on my skin from when I was my heaviest. Those also won’t be going away any time soon.
But weirdly I am comfortable with and kind of appreciate the scars and stretch marks in a way that I never could with my excess skin. The scars and the stretch marks almost make me feel grateful for the body, the health, and the fitness I currently have.
Whereas I felt like the loose skin was holding me back.
I do feel like I am doing a better job of practising body positivity now, so that is some progress.
I suppose to some extent stretch marks aren’t that noticeable and surgical scars are pretty common, and neither really affects or changes my overall body shape. So it is easier to feel less conscious of them.
Having said that I see plenty of people on social media and Youtube who have lost a lot of weight showing off and embracing their excess skin and it’s great to see. I do wish I could have done that for myself a bit more too.
I definitely do not regret having the surgery and I am still very happy I had it done. I just wish I was a bit kinder to myself prior to that too.
And I am aware talking about body positivity while having just had substantial cosmetic surgery is hypocritical. So this is a bit of a case of listening to what I say rather than following what I do – sorry!
But I know the struggle of BDD, and I know how debilitating and inhibiting it can be, and how much it impacted me. And I regret holding myself back in the ways I did before having the surgery done. So I want to help others not feel like that and not have the same regrets.
Having said that, body positivity doesn’t mean you can’t want to change a part of yourself. It just means not feeling like you shouldn’t appreciate yourself in the current body at the same time.
Practical Tips For Practising Body Positivity
I did try and make a list of some practical tips or ideas that are real and actionable that could help you instantly start loving and appreciating your body.
But there is no magic switch for that and it will take a lot of work, and a long-term approach.
So what can we do?
Remember Your Body Tells A Story
When someone sees your body they only see a snapshot of a moment in time.
But your body’s story is being written right from the very second you were conceived and reflects the experiences you have been through.
The stretch marks and scars on my torso are a reminder that I set a weight loss goal and didn’t stop until I got there, no matter how many times I felt like I screwed up or wanted to give up. That’s why when I look at those, I feel a bit proud of them.
If you are heavier than you want to be, maybe that tells the story of someone who is dealing with a lot of stress or pressure day in and day out and takes a little bit more enjoyment in food because it helps them feel ready to go into battle mode every day.
Maybe wrinkles are just a reflection of your life experiences.
Birthmarks might not have a specific back story but there’s a story of someone getting up every day and feeling comfortable with being a bit different and being ok with that – and that is awesome.
So your body really does tell the story of the life you have lived and are living, and when we think of it like that it can make you feel a lot more appreciative of everything your body does and can do.
Your Appearance Is Just One Part Of The Whole You
No one can tell from what you look like anything about your skills, talents, personality, who you are as a person or the impact you have on other people’s lives.
None of that is obvious or visible when someone physically sees you.
Your body is one part of the whole you. Yes, it is of course the most obvious and unsurprisingly the most visible. But in terms of your worth, your impact, strengths, talents, and you overall as a person, it is actually a fairly small percentage.
Think about the most important people in your life and how close you are to them.
Is it because of how they look or your thoughts on their appearance? Do you care about their height, weight, hair colour, any other physical aspects of their body?
Probably not. Or at least it is not high on your priority list.
Both of those are big mindset switches that you’ll need to tackle when trying to practice body positivity to help deal with body dysmorphia.
And there are a few daily habits you can try as well to help.
Daily Body Positivity Practices To Help With Body Dysmorphia
There are some small steps we can take each day to help us appreciate our bodies more and stop fixating on our own perceived flaws and imperfections.
- Stop comparing yourself to others
- Focus on what you do like about your appearance – I am happy with my body shape (now) and I am comfortable with my scars and stretch marks.
- Remember that other people’s bodies that you see on TV, in movies, on social media and in magazines are typically through filters, editing, lighting, angles and spending weeks or months dieting and training to look a certain way
- Remember that you don’t need anyone else to validate you.
- No one else is perfect, and everyone has their own perceived flaws
- Practice daily self-care – looking after and caring for the body that you have
- Surround yourself with like-minded people who appreciate you for who you are as a whole person, not just focused on how you look
- And focus on what your body can do and its strengths, not on things you wish it had.
Wrapping Up Body Positivity To Help With Body Dysmorphia
That’s a bit of a rundown on using body positivity to help with body dysmorphia, but let’s do a quick recap while I have your attention.
Body dysmorphic disorder is a genuine and distressing mental health condition and you should feel comfortable getting help from a qualified professional as soon as you can if it is something that is affecting you.
No snippets from social media or tips from a blog or a podcast are valid substitutes for professional help that is going to be specific to you, your experience, and whatever you’re going through.
But body positivity can help on a day-to-day basis, and start to dial down the intensity of some of the emotions BDD may be causing you to feel.
And to be honest, learning to love and appreciate your body for all the things that it can do is something that we should all probably do on a regular basis and just get used to doing whether we have body dysmorphic disorder or not.