Written by Megan Baranuk // Illustrated by Hannah Mosley
Body dysmorphia becomes increasingly difficult to combat, especially during a worldwide pandemic.
Mirrors, photographs and self-perceptions become active minefields to someone suffering from body dysmorphia. In the throes of body dysmorphia, a person reshapes the image of their body at every glance, and they develop feelings of discomfort from the slightest irritation or intrusive thought.
Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) affects about five to seven million people across the world, primarily women and adolescents. BDD is becoming increasingly apparent in the lives of those affected, especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic has changed eating habits and routines for many, and snacking is more frequent than in years past for some. When frequent snacking, stress eating and a plethora of free time collide, those with BDD are prone to notice a new curvature in their jawlines and obsess over whether their stomach looks slightly more round than the day before.
Furthermore, the pressure to conform can be suffocating when society places an extreme emphasis on achieving a thin figure. Social media delivers yet another level of staggering body image expectations. When social media users find themselves barraged with images of photoshopped models, retouched pictures of friends, and bikini pictures, feeling insecure is not uncommon. This rings especially true for younger people, as their brains often have not developed enough to distinguish that photoshopped bodies are not the norm — especially when the majority of the world is under isolation.
The dieting and cosmetics industry stands to make extreme revenue from the insecurities resulting from BDD. When women suffer from mere insecurities, let alone a dysmorphic disorder, they often fall prey to predatory companies that offer “miracle” products to cure their maladies — whether dieting pills, bronzers that promise to slim one’s face or the latest diet fads that guarantee a thinner body in days. The dieting and cosmetics industry uses numerous communications and marketing methods to deepen the body- and beauty-related anxieties of everyday people. This rhetoric is harmful to not only girls but society as a whole. When extremely thin bodies are the norm, a healthy weight and body shape are abnormal. Furthermore, the major figures in film, photography and social media have a certain type of body and typically have eurocentric features. This ostracizes not only those with healthy bodies that may not align with the über-thin ideal, but also alienates minorities and individuals of different ethnicities. Though many forms of media and corporations have incorporated a wide range of diversity, thin and eurocentric models remain the majority.
"When social media users find themselves barraged with images of photoshopped models, retouched pictures of friends, and bikini pictures, feeling insecure is not uncommon."
To combat the effects of BDD, women often enlist the aid of cosmetic surgery in attempts to meet the current beauty standards. When the average cost of cosmetic surgery totals around $5,000, capitalistic economies stand to profit from those with insecurities and disorders such as BDD. Cosmetic surgery is not the answer to solving BDD, as a new facet of one’s appearance will often become a new flaw to fixate on. Furthermore, America’s capitalistic society has a history of pushing products promising to make a person thin, and therefore “desirable”. At a very young age, most girls are subconsciously exposed to thin body types as the epitome of a “healthy” and desirable figure in the media. Due to the overexposure of these dangerous ideals, BDD and eating disorders develop quickly at young ages in people across the nation.
Eating disorders and BDD fall under the mental health umbrella but are often overlooked when discussing the topic. When these issues are ignored, countless children, adolescents and adults continue to live with an untreated disorder, further harming their physical and mental health. Examples of issues related to BDD and eating disorders include anxiety, depression, reproductive issues, fatigue, and organ failure in extreme cases. Eating disorders can cause serious — sometimes irreversible — health problems, and even death. Spreading awareness about these issues is crucial to increase recognition. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of BDD or an eating disorder can help facilitate a conversation that may bring a friend the help they need. Friends who talk about these issues and encourage those with BDD or eating disorders to seek help serve as an important step in the recovery process! Being open about personal struggles with body image can encourage others to share their own self-perceptions and struggles.
BDD and eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that require attention and care. Identifying and being cognizant of the notions that exist surrounding physical appearances can help normalize one’s self-perception. By unlearning the toxic standards imposed by the media, society can manage BDD and eating disorders and eventually decrease their prevalence. Consuming media that highlights all body types and diversity of ethnicities and cultures will pave a path forward to a society more comfortable with their self-perceptions.