How many times have you been ready for a night out, and left the house holding back the tears after seeing your reflection in the mirror and spotting every, single, flaw? How many times have you avoided looking at people because of the tight feeling you get in your chest when you know people aren’t listening to what you’re saying, but instead looking at your imperfections?
The anxieties we feel when we think about our bodies or our appearance is not uncommon. In fact, it’s so far from uncommon that you’d find it incredibly difficult to stop a person in the street and hear that they haven’t suffered from anxiety about their body image at least once.
The growth in idolising celebrities on social media and models in the magazine is one that is rapidly spiralling out of control. But this is the reality in which we live. We could tell you a thousand times that the model in the magazine doesn’t even look like the model in the magazine, or the Kardashian’s bottoms didn’t grow themselves. But, because of the perception we have of what is deemed ‘beautiful’ in our society, we will find it pretty damn hard to look at our reflection and be content with what we see.
Being so preoccupied with our appearance can cause anxieties that are spoiling our social lives, career or time in school/college. Because all of these emotions that we feel about ourselves can send our usual symptoms of anxiety (such as the tight chest, the lump in our throats, the racing pulse) sky high.
Symptoms of Body Anxiety
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America symptoms include:
- Camouflaging our appearance (with body position, clothing, makeup, hair, hats, etc)
- Comparing body part to others’ appearance
- Seeking surgery
- Checking in a mirror
- Avoiding mirrors
- Skin picking
- Excessive grooming
- Excessive exercise
- Changing clothes excessively
Other symptoms can be more psychological, that others take special notice of your appearance in a negative way, for instance.
A more serious form of body anxiety is called Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) defined by Mayo Clinic as: ‘a mental disorder in which you can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance — a flaw that, to others, is either minor or not observable. But you may feel so ashamed and anxious that you may avoid many social situations.’
However, to get an accurate diagnosis of this you must speak to a doctor or mental health professional. In the meantime, if you uncertain that your anxieties are being caused by your appearance and the way you look, you can complete the BDD Test created by the OCD Centre of Los Angeles here to get a clearer mind set before speaking to your doctor.
The causes of body anxiety are unclear, however, there are certain factors that seem to increase the risk of developing or triggering body anxiety.
The first one being negative experiences as a child such as bullying or trauma. It appears that men or women who have been picked on as a kid for the way they look often suffer from body anxiety or develop BDD.
Having perfectionism as a personality trait also can mean that you are more aware of your flaws, or aware that your appearance isn’t deemed perfect by society – or yourself. It will enslave you to an external source of worth. This can play huge havoc with loving yourself and tolerating your flaws. Our idea of ‘perfect’ can often mean that we struggle to accept that you can always be more. No one is beautiful in every single way to every single person. And I can bet that if you asked Kim Kardashian if she is 100% content with her appearance she will say absolutely not! (Her husband on the other hand… maybe.)Societal pressure or expectations of beauty is the main risk we expose ourselves to that cause our anxieties. The selfies our idols post on social media often involve endless hours of preparation including make-up, hair, lip fillers, hair extensions, lash extensions – the list is endless. It’s fake. Think about how many snaps it takes you to get a selfie you’re semi-happy with, then that’s before the editing, filters etc. See my point? Nobody walks around every day with the Valencia filter on, babes. The moral is don’t compare yourself too much.
Treatment for Body Anxiety
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
The NHS defines CBT as: ‘a type of therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. You’ll work with the therapist to agree on some goals – for example, one aim may be to stop obsessively checking your appearance.’
When it comes to body anxiety, CBT challenges the automatic harmful thoughts you have about your body image and learning a more flexible and realistic way of thinking, to prevent your anxieties from getting the better of you. Therapy can also provide you with practical ways to handle the urges you get so that you are keeping the symptoms of anxiety at bay and also maintaining a positive mindset.
Friends and Family Support
Like with other forms of anxiety, the way our friends and family are around us can quieten our symptoms and make our battle seem a lot less frightening. MIND Organisation offer some really helpful tips on this, which can be found below:
- Accept their feelings. While you may not understand their concerns about their appearance, it is important to recognise that these feelings are very real to them, and try to avoid judging them as ‘vain’ or ‘self-obsessed’.
- Offer space to talk. It can be particularly difficult for someone experiencing body anxiety to acknowledge and speak about their thoughts, especially if they find them embarrassing. But speaking can be a first step in seeking help.
- Offer support with self-help. If the person with body anxiety or BDD is working to a self-help programme, either on their own or with a therapist, you might be able to support them; for example, by going to treatment sessions with them.
- Give practical support. Offering practical support, such as helping with childcare or household chores, can give them time to attend appointments or use self-help materials.
- Celebrate their successes. Stopping compulsive behaviours can be very difficult and it will take time. Celebrating the small steps, such as spending less time grooming or carrying out fewer repetitions, can help keep your loved one motivated.
Anxiety affects a huge amount of us, research shows up to 1 in 4 adults will have an anxiety disorder in their lifetime, and 1 in 10 of us will experience anxiety this year. And now more than ever, body anxiety and BDD is an issue that we should be stopping in its tracks.
This should be a global movement; this shouldn’t be an issue you tackle by yourself. Body image and perfectionism are factors that have been sewn into our society for decades. Perfectionism will give you a body that you love and a life that you hate.
I am not perfect. You’re not perfect. You don’t have to be perfect. I am giving you permission to stop trying to be perfect.