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Body Image Disorders: Is Looking Good Really That Important?

Nov 30, 2021

Body Image Disorders: Is Looking Good Really That Important?

Body image disorders usually start in adolescence, when body changes that occur during puberty can be a big source of distress and a reason for constantly comparing oneself with others. Body dissatisfaction may lead to body image disorders that affect one's self-esteem and ability to be happy in life. Find out what causes poor body image, its telltale signs, and what you can do to develop a positive body image. 

What is a Body Image Disorder?

A body image disorder is when an individual spends a majority of their time thinking about how they look physically, to the point that it affects daily life. They may obsess over a body part, body size, body shape, etc., and it may cause them to go to great lengths to alter how they look. In fact, studies show that 50% of women with negative body image have tried losing weight through dieting, over-exercising or surgery. The problem makes one unable to concentrate on their daily life because of their body image issues, and they could also suffer other psychological problems as a result. Having a negative body image is often associated with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, as well as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). 

In some cases, poor body image can cause a significant change in personal identity - losing touch with reality. People with body image concerns also complain about the way they look even though others see no apparent difference. They often do not recognize signs of normal ageing on their own body and fail to notice signs of physical health problems because they are too fixated on their body image misperception. This may be the reason body image issues are diagnosed as a mental health disorder.

Without treatment, distorted body image can become a long-term problem or even an addiction, where the individual is compulsively seeking various methods to deal with their body appearance. Some individuals even suffer from eating disorders that lead to malnutrition; they can die if not treated properly. People with eating disorders may also need help with body image dissatisfaction.

Signs of Body Image Disorder

Almost everyone has had body issues at one point or another, but body image disorder symptoms can be recognized by distinct signs. These include:

  • Constant body checking in the mirror
  • Obsession with body size or shape to the point where it affects everyday life
  • Avoiding pictures, mirrors or anything that shows your body
  • Depressive symptoms
  • Not wanting to go out in public because of body image dissatisfaction
  • Amnesia surrounding body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) obsessions
  • Envious of somebody else's body
Body image infographics from headspaceSource: headspace

Teenage girls are more likely to suffer from body image disorders than boys. Research shows that over 70% of girls wish they were thinner, while 1 in 5 boys are troubled by their body image. Many people who have body image disorders try to cover up or hide their perceived inadequacies. They believe they are not attractive enough because of the way they look, but other people may think there is nothing wrong with them physically. Some people's body image distortion can result in depression, anxiety, obsession, substance abuse or other psychiatric disorders.

Causes of Body Image Disorders

The exact cause of body image disorders is unknown, but they are connected to low self-esteem or a mental health issue such as depression. Comparison to others, peer pressure or body-image expectations are believed to be the major reason an individual becomes obsessed about what others might think about them. Other factors or events in one's life that could trigger them to yearn for a perfect body include:

  • Squeezing into small seats
  • Feeling uncomfortable in clothing
  • Feeling out of place in the body you have
  • Unsatisfied desires for bigger breasts, a smaller waist, larger muscles, etc.

Different Types of Body Image Disorders

Body image disorders are psychological conditions that cause someone to have a distorted body image that doesn't match up with how their body actually looks. A negative body image can manifest in many different ways.

There are several different types of body image disorders, which include body dysmorphic disorder, muscle dysmorphia and eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Although each of these disorders is categorized as its own type, they all share some common signs and symptoms such as low body esteem, obsessing over one's body or body parts, extreme emotional reaction if there is any perceived change to one's body or body part.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)

This causes an individual to obsess over a body part or feature, and to go to extreme lengths to correct perceived flaws with surgery or other methods. This may also be linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). People with body dysmorphic disorder are at risk for suicide. When an individual becomes obsessed about what others might think about them because of their body issues, it could be diagnosed as BDD.

Muscle Dysmorphia

This type of body image disorder gives individuals the idea of being puny or weak despite their body size. It mostly affects men more than women and can cause depression.

Disordered Eating

Eating disorders are often a result of negative body image. Because of their obsession to change their physical appearances, people who suffer from a negative body image may resort to eating too little or too much food in hopes of significantly changing their body weight, shape or size.

Treatments for a Body Image Disorder

How you treat body image disorders depends on the body image disturbance that you have. While doctors would often prescribe medication, such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications and beta blockers, to suppress the symptoms of the condition, there are better treatments that can help you develop long-term positive body image without any side effects. These include:

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

CBT focuses on education about BDD symptoms and related disorders, as well as mental imagery training to help clients change their negative thought patterns that affect how they think about their body's appearance.

Exposure therapy

This is a useful body image therapy that involves exposure tasks to help an individual gradually face anxiety-provoking situations that cause body image fears and challenges. Additionally, it assists them in developing social skills that will enable them to appropriately express concerns with body image.

Several systematic reviews have shown that these modalities have led adolescent girls to body acceptance and improved their relationship with food. Taking advantage of these techniques is a wise move. A mental health professional who specialises in these therapies can help you overcome body image distortion in no time, allowing you to see the beauty that you truly are. 

These three home remedies can also improve your perception of your body and improve your overall health:

  1. Make time every day for yourself. You could read a book or write and keep a journal about your day. Taking time out of your busy schedule to do something that makes you happy will make you feel good about yourself.
  2. Practice body positivity. Everyone has body insecurities even if they say they don't believe it themselves. Don't be skeptical of compliments you receive, even when you're unsure if they're true. It may be difficult to accept these things when all you see are your flaws, but it still feels good to know someone thinks well of your body. Additionally, avoid body comparisons, UV tanning booths, surgical procedures, and other things that influence perceptual body image.
  3. Maintain an active lifestyle. An inactive mind and body can lead to all sorts of distorted thoughts. Whether it's painting your nails, reading a book, going for a walk or spending time with friends and family, do something that will distract you from focussing too much on your body.
  4. Eat well and exercise regularly. Healthy eating and daily exercise will lead not only to a healthy body image but a better quality of life. By sticking to a diet that is packed with essential macronutrients and micronutrients, you will achieve a healthy weight and improve body function over time.

Body image is closely related to overall physical and mental health. The right guidance and therapy will help those who feel unattractive or defective and therefore unworthy of love, belonging, friendships and success to open up about their body image issues rather than isolate themselves.

FAQs About Body Image Disorders

What are the 4 aspects of body image?

The four components of body image include how you see yourself, how you feel about your body, your mental image of your body and what you do to change your body. Addressing these aspects of body image is critical if you want to develop a healthy perspective of your body and yourself as a person.

What are the negative effects of body image?

A negative body image can result in depression, extreme shyness, social anxiety and self-consciousness in intimate relationships if it isn't treated properly. In addition, it can lead to an uncontrolled eating disorder.

What age does body image affect the most?

It is common for teenagers to have body image concerns, but teenage girls are more likely to have problems than boys. The problem usually affects individuals between the ages of 16 and 25.

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