Will I ever be happy with myself?

I am sure you have heard about anorexia, bulimia or binge eating. But have you heard about body dysmorphia before? 

What is Body Dysmorphia?

Like all eating disorders, body dysmorphia, also called body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), is a mental health condition. It is different to anorexia where people refuse to eat to be skinny or obesity where affected people it too much. Body dysmorphia is a lot more about the perception of their own body and their appearance, often a very distorted perception. They simply can’t stand the way they look like and will always find something that isn’t quite right with them. 

Yes, I know, we all have those days…sometimes more, sometimes less. We look in the mirror and we don’t like how our hair looks that day or maybe we feel like we don’t look as skinny in that pair of jeans as we thought, our boobs are too small to make our top look nice. 

With body dysmorphia though, this goes a whole lot further. It is not just a dissatisfaction, it can cause severe distress to people and can affect their whole life. Constantly checking themselves in the mirror, comparing themselves with others, finding flaws that other people wouldn’t even notice – it can become a crucial part of their life which doesn’t leave much room for other things, like work or their social life.

The constant dissatisfaction.

Each person is different and some don’t feel it as extreme as others. I, myself, would probably call myself out and say that my own perception of my body isn’t necessarily what other people say. I come from a past of anorexia which goes hand in hand of having a wrong image of how you actually look like (read more in My Recovery Story). Like me, I look in the mirror and I can point out countless things I don’t like about me and what I see when looking in the mirror. But I kind of know that my feelings aren’t 100% rational or justified which I usually realise when I see photos or videos of myself…no always, but I haven’t lost track of reality too much. But then there are people that are completely delusional about their own appearance. 

Now, where does body dysmorphia come from and how does it develop? Well, the exact causes are still not fully understood, also because it goes hand in hand with other eating disorders or affected people are quite good in hiding their issues. But it is a fact, that it is a mix of psychological, biological and environmental factors that all contribute to developing BDD. This means, sometimes your genes are the reason why you are more likely to develop a certain trait, maybe you have experienced something in the past that has led you to being more conscious about yourself and of course, the expectations and pressure of our society can be a trigger, too. 

Discovering symptoms.

Given that people with BDD are usually quite good in hiding their feelings, it is hard to recognize if someone is actually affected or not. I mean, I have no issue saying out loud that I don’t like this and that about myself, but it wouldn’t really make the alarm bells go off straight away for other people. 

What are the symptoms though and how can we potentially find out if someone struggles?

  • constantly checking yourself in the mirror, car windows or shop fronts, your phone screen or wherever they get a chance to (and I am talking obsessively, not occasionally)
  • distress and preoccupation: spending hours over hours thinking about your defects and how you look like
  • repetitive grooming: excessive makeup, skin picking, hair plucking, shaving over and over again
  • feeling extremely conscious about yourself in every single situation you are in which can go as far as not leaving the house anymore
  • constant dieting and overtraining: somehow trying to make it all go away or make it get better
  • all the way to repetitive plastic surgeries (buy yourself your new looks and you still won’t be happy) and lastly, suicidal thoughts 

As you can see, it can get quite serious and it is hard to understand for people that are pretty happy with themselves. I absolutely envy people with a great self-consciousness and confidence, I wish I could say that about myself. 

When the gym outtakes your life.

Looking into the fitness industry, you can probably put one and one together. Of course, BDD can play a big role here. We are all working towards a goal, from fat loss and being lean to muscle building and looking big. We are already super conscious about how we look like and what we eat in order to look like that. So, probably not a surprise if I tell you that body dysmorphia can be quite present among us gym addicts. Biceps not big enough, booty too small, six pack not existent…I am sure we all can name a thing or two we would like to change, and if possible, straight away. Some level of body dysmorphia is completely normal…I mean, imagine we would all be super happy with ourselves and wouldn’t want to change a thing? Where would be the ambition, the motivation, the discipline, the thrive? 

Muscle Dysmorphia.

Now, what the hell is muscle dysmorphia? It is also called bigorexia and makes people, mostly men, wanting to become bigger and more muscular. Very common in the bodybuilding and weightlifting scene. You spend the majority of your time in the gym and neglect everything around you – your family, friends, work. You follow a strict diet, you may seek ‘help’ from supplements like steroids.

What can we do about it?

First of all, comparing ourselves to others unfortunately won’t help. We will never look like this specific person because we are all different, we have different genes, this is a simple fact. We are looking at other people’s juicy booty, their small waist and that perfect hourglass shape, their shredded abs or big chest muscles (this is for the guys)…and trust me, others look at us the exact same way and may think ‘look at those quads right there’, ‘her back is impressive’. What I am saying is, and I know it isn’t easy, try and see the positive things about yourself and put those before the negatives. It may take a while but it’ll get easier over time. 

So, stand in front of the mirror and find ONE thing you like about yourself, even if it is something small, like your husky blue eyes. Be proud of what you have and what you have achieved with the work you have put in so far…be proud of the progress and hold that in front of you! It will make it a lot easier to focus on the next steps and will push you and motivate you rather than discourage you! 

Nobody is perfect! NOBODY! All those fit girls you see on Instagram and you envy so much…trust me, they don’t think they are perfect, they will have negative things to say about themselves, too. Only Barbie is perfect, and she isn’t real! So get that out of your head…instead of dreaming about being perfect and looking a specific way, try to transfer that into feelings. Find a reasoning for what you are doing…you are not only going to the gym because you want abs, you are also going to the gym because you want to be healthy and fit, you want to grow old, you want to be able to play with your kids one day and have the required mobility and flexibility. Go to the gym to let go of any stress or anger you might have, take a yoga session to relax. Feel good about yourself, from your inner self, not the mirror! 

Now, this is a hard one, but: if you really struggle and seeing all those ‘apparently’ perfect girls jumping up and down on your phone screen….maybe take a little social media detox or focus on other topics instead. Search for some healthy cookie recipes or find your next holiday destination. 

And lastly, if it really becomes too much and you feel like all the above won’t help and you are in a cycle it is hard to get out of, remember: there is always professional help out there! And this is not a weakness, quite the opposite. To admit that you need help in order to feel better about yourself and to be out there again and live, that takes a lot of courage and not many people have that!