Body dysmorphic disorder is a condition that most of us can relate to or have experienced to some degree. Everyone has something that they dislike or would gladly change about their physical appearance, and the fact that they can’t may bring certain levels of discomfort or distress. Though, for an increasing number of us, body dysmorphia is a condition so malevolent that it has debilitating effects on a person’s everyday life, to the point where it completely consumes them and dominates their every thought. Typically, people associate the condition with young girls who are obsessed with their weight, yet it affects a scope of different people and can manifest itself in various ways. For example, muscle dysmorphia (a subtype of BDD) concerns the sufferer’s thoughts and beliefs regarding their body mass, primarily believing that they are not muscular enough and obsessing over the idea of ‘perfection’.
No one battle is the same, everyone is vastly different meaning that their perceptions of themselves and their subsequent experiences with body dysmorphia are likely to be unlike anyone else’s, and an article written by one sufferer—who is by no means an expert on the subject—is unlikely to hit all the bases. However, the following list contains tips and tricks that this writer has picked up over the years that have greatly eased the grip of body dysmorphia, and hopefully will speak to a range of sufferers regardless of how they experience the disorder and to what degree.
Exercise, but don’t substitute one obsession for another.
Light exercise can make a world of difference to one’s perception of themselves. The release of endorphins can help with depression which is often linked to BDD—whether it be a cause or a symptom. Prior to a session, I often manage to convince myself that I’m grossly over-weight—though my rational self knows that that is far from the truth—then I go to the gym for an hour and see a completely different person in the mirror afterwards. For me, light exercise works fine because if I were to be strict with it, it could end being counterproductive, and that has been the case in the past. It is easy to become obsessed with routine and meeting goals, which can subsequently lead to intense feelings of guilt and disgust with one’s self if said goals are not met. Personally, exercising when I feel like I need to ease the negative thoughts works just fine. Finding a balance can be a matter of trial and error, but once you find it, it can work wonders for your mental health as well as physical.
Self-expression through make-up and fashion
Finding your own identity through clothing and makeup can be a whole other issue, but once you land on a style that you feel really allows you to express yourself, it can boost your confidence tenfold and thereby ease symptoms of body dysmorphia. Some people struggle to find their own style—I used to beat myself up over not being able to dress like the girls I followed on Instagram, either because I couldn’t afford the clothes or because they didn’t look as good on me. It’s fine to take inspiration from others, but ultimately the best way to overcome this is to avoid trying to adhere strictly to a certain style. Exploration and experimentation are key; wear things that you like and feel confident in, not just pieces that suit the style you’ve grown accustomed to. The same goes for makeup—dependency on cosmetics can be an issue with sufferers as some use it religiously to mask the blemishes and imperfections that they are convinced the world can see. Learning to treat makeup as something fun and artistic instead of letting yourself be a slave to it can help change your relationship with it completely, and hopefully for better.
Social media detox
Everyone knows that social media largely only shows one side of a person’s life. Someone who you think has a perfect body probably has a whole list of things that they would change about it too. People know their angles, filters are a thing, and knowing how to use photoshop doesn’t hurt them either. It is important to remember that influencers are essentially walking advertisements—there is immense pressure on them to look a certain way so that other people buy the products they endorse in the hopes of looking like them too. We all know this, and yet we often forget it when we scroll down our feeds in a strange act of self-sabotage. The best way to avoid this is to limit the amount of time you spend on social media, or straight up take an extended break from it if you are able to do so. That’s not to say abandon it all together. Social media can be great for a number of things; self-expression, keeping connected, supporting others and (in my case) sharing work. One way of overcoming this would be to cut the aimless scrolling and only do what it is you need to do; send a message, post a photo, support a friend’s post, whatever it is, do it, then resist the urge to continue scrolling. Frankly, if it wastes so much time and only makes you feel bad about yourself then it really isn’t worth the thumb strain.
Ultimately, reading self-help articles such as this one only gets you so far as it barely scratches the surface. If you feel like your symptoms are too severe to manage on your own, please do reach out. Even if you consider your symptoms to be mild, I would still urge you to reach out. It is better to try and nip it in the bud to prevent it from spiralling into other serious conditions such as depression or potentially triggering eating disorders or unhealthy means of exercise. Seeking advice from your GP is the best place to start—they’ll most likely turn you to a cognitive behaviour therapist (CBT) who will be able to guide you through a course that aims to change your thought process. For further information and advice, click here: