Body image is an intrinsically complex issue that everyone struggles with to some degree. No one is completely happy with the way they look, and in the age of all-consuming social media, body image concerns are affecting us at an increasingly early age. Research conducted by the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) in 2015 found that “children as young as three have body image issues and some four-year-olds know how to go on a diet”, with Dr Jacqueline Harding stating that “By the age of three or four some children have already pretty much begun to make up their minds (and even hold strong views) about how bodies should look.”
I first noticed a worrying preoccupation with my appearance in my mid-teens. Teenagers are usually self-conscious about their looks, but this escalated into something much more sinister. I quickly spiralled into a distorted reality where the horrific flaws I perceived consumed my every waking moment. I spent countless hours poring over each imperfection and blemish in the mirror, devising the best way to cover them up. I became a total recluse, barely leaving the house – even seeing family and friends was too much at times.
This distressing behaviour eventually led to a psychiatric diagnosis of Body Dysmorphic Disorder five years later.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder is medically defined as “a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance (that) are often unnoticeable to others.” Body image dominated my day-to-day life for the best part of eight years. My self-worth was non-existent, and there were many times when I thought I couldn’t go on.
Fortunately, I am in a much better place now thanks to the help of medication and extensive therapy. So, as part of EDAW, I wanted to share the top five tips that have helped me greatly when I notice a flare up of symptoms, or am having a particularly rubbish day/week.
1. Stop comparing yourself to others. This is easier said than done, but it is important to try and catch yourself when you do this. Everyone has something they wish they could change. Don’t sit there comparing yourself to photos on social media; many are airbrushed and have filters applied. It’s imperative to remember that social media is a constant highlight reel of other people’s lives, and that no-one is going to document their lows, doubts or worries for the world to see. The person you see on screen is a human being too, and they have as many insecurities as the next person.
2. Create a support system. It may be helpful to reach out to someone you trust for moments when you are feeling particularly vulnerable or anxious. This could be a friend, partner or family member. It’s crucial not to things bottle up emotionally – as the old saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved.
3. Practice self-care – When my mind is racing with an abundance of thoughts and going a million miles an hour, the constant wave of negative emotion can be somewhat overwhelming. Distracting myself with a relaxing bubble bath or curling up with a good book can do the power of good. Remind yourself you are worthy of joy, comfort and love.
4. Take a moment to breathe – One thing that used to send me into a full-on panic when out and about was the looks I got from strangers. In my mind these staring glances re-enforced that I was ugly and monstrous. However, upon taking a moment to find a quiet space (this could be anywhere from a shop corner to a toilet cubicle). I was able to take some deep breaths and reflect on the situation using techniques my therapist had equipped me with. After the panic subsided I was able to rationalise with myself and see that the strangers were probably just glancing around themselves, and that I just happened to be in their eyeline. I was able to correlate that I was “mind reading”: a term in used psychology to mean projecting one’s own thoughts onto others (this could be thought, actions or gestures).
5. Avoid triggering media usage – Constant exposure to images of “ideal” beauty can be emotionally draining. From adverts, magazines, TV, film and social media the bombardment of the quest for perfection is endless. Siphon off sources that heighten feelings of anxiety surrounding body image. As an example, I unfollowed all beauty gurus on YouTube and Instagram; I used to look to them for the latest skincare, desperately hoping that the next product they recommended would solve all my skin issues. I feel so much better now that I’ve ended that expensive and unhealthy relationship.
I hope that these tips help some of you out there who may be struggling with body image issues. Remember to take it one day at a time and don’t forget to be kind to yourself!
– Chloe Catchpole #EDAW