Body dysmorphia (or body dysmorphic disorder to use the correct technical term) is a mental health condition where you spend a disproprotionately high amount of time focused on appearance.
What Is Body Dysmorphia?
It’s not just vanity.
It’s not just low self-esteem.
It is a genuine source of anxiety where you can’t stop seeing perceived flaws in your appearance.
In some cases it might be something that to most others is barely noticeable but to you, it’s the biggest thing in the world.
It might be something that isn’t actually there but you perceive it to be.
It often involves being fixated on particular parts of your body and any perceived flaws in those parts are amplified an infinite number of times in your mind.
You Could Boil It Down To This
Body dysmorphia is essentially seeing a different (and usually much more physically flawed) version of yourself than anyone else sees.
Common Body Dysmorphia Side Effects
I use side effects but in this case I think you could use side effects, signs and symptoms all pretty interchangeably.
I don’t know whether that’s correct or not but I think the way mental health conditions both manifest in behaviours and how they are diagnosed overlap closely so in my head at least they feel pretty interchangeable.
Anyway, onto some of the common side effects.
These are some habits and behaviours I’ve noticed, in my own experience, which seem innocuous and innocent enough on their own and occasionally but over time and on a day to day basis they can really build up.
1 – Changing Your Clothes A Million Times Because None Of Them Fit Right
If you’ve ever changed your clothes multiple times because you’re not happy with how they fit – even if you wore them and they felt fine as little as 24 hours ago – there’s a chance that somewhere in there your perception of your own body is different now to what it was last time.
Especially if it’s just 1-2 days later, no one’s body goes through that much of a dramatic shift so it’s usually down to perception.
And then you end up going through several changes of clothes before just settling on something that’s probably at least 1 size bigger than you need.
2 – Lots Of Mirror Tensing, Flexing And Posing
You catch a glimpse of your reflection and are horrified.
But then instead of stepping away and moving on, you end up spending a good few minutes grabbing and pinching various parts of your body, twisting and turning your body to try to get it into an appearance at an acceptable angle where you at least don’t feel horrified with it.
Not even actually ok with it. Just not absolutely horrified by it.
3 – Turning Down Social Occasions (Or Lockdown Version – Keeping The Camera Off On Your Zoom Calls)
Unsurprisingly when you’re not happy with how you feel you look, you don’t want anyone else seeing you.
Even though you don’t judge anyone by the same insanely harsh standards you apply to yourself, and don’t notice any blemishes or faults in others the way you do in yourself, and even when your self talk tells you others don’t judge you like that either…
…you still just don’t want to be seen.
4 – Not Being Seen Without Makeup
This is of course more common with women, but there are men’s make up brands now too.
And if you don’t feel confident about your complexion or maybe you have a bit of acne or a blemish or something and to you it feels like the whole world is staring at it, it can help to cover it up.
5 – Constantly Adjusting Your Clothes
Circling back to point 1 – once you’ve finally settled on something to wear, you then decide that the fitting of those clothes keeps changing so you have to keep adjusting them and stop them from being tight and loose in all the – at least what you perceveive to be – wrong places.
Some Body Dysmorphia Statistics & Useful Info
Just a few stats so you understand how common it is:
- Roughly 2% of people seem to be affected by body dysmorphia
- In men, body dysmorphia is relatively common as ‘muscle dysmorphia’ where – especially if you lift weights – you perceive your muscles to be permanently small, no matter how big they actually get
- There is a link between the time you spend on social media and the severity of your dysmorphia – unsurprisingly when algorithms promote edited, photoshopped, airbrushed idealised versions of models and body shapes over authenticity, comparisons happen and that leads to thinking you’re never good enough of course
- The most common source of dysmorphia is skin, followed by body fat
My Own Body Dysmoprhia Story
Body dysmorphic disorder is something I’ve dealt with most of my adult life.
I was obese growing up, but I knew it and while that led to its own issues, dysmorphia wasn’t one of them.
Dysmorphic disorder only really started to hit me when I actually started losing weight.
I had to lose around 40 pounds before I could see any difference in my own body shape in the mirror and I ended up underweight on the BMI scale by the end of my journey – and still thought I looked “fat”.
For example, with my before and after below, at the time of taking the second photo I didn’t think I looked that different to the ‘before’. Even though there’s a 130lb difference between the two…
That’s what dysmorphia does to you.
If you’re dealing with dysmorphia, please speak to someone. Even if you don’t want to get professional help, my inbox is always open for a chat.