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In this day and age of airbrushed supermodels, no real person can compete with the perfected images that saturate the media. Dysmorphia is a term meaning bad body image and refers to the exaggeration of a minor flaw, or the invention of one, to the extent that a person obsesses about it and seeks ways to disguise, change or destroy it. When this obsession interferes with daily life, it may be diagnosed as a chronic mental illness. Even if it does not advance to this level, a person with a bad body image usually suffers from low self-esteem and related difficulties. If dysmorphia continues unchecked and worsens, it may possibly lead to financial strain, eating disorders, unnecessary diets and depression for the sufferer.
The mental health community has long recognized the negative effects of a bad body image. Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) and muscle dysmorphic disorder (MD) are labels adopted to designate different aspects of this misperception, with BDD more common in women and MD most commonly found in men. A bad body image stems partially from low self-esteem and further undermines self-esteem in a vicious cycle. Individuals may spend inordinate amounts of money on clothing, cosmetics, supplements or other products in an effort to disguise their perceived flaws. Even if the expense is beyond their means, a person with a bad body image might religiously visit a tanning salon or pay for a regular gym membership.
Dysmorphia is exhausting and expensive. Not only must sufferers seek to disguise or fix the offensive flaw, but all other aspects of their appearance are usually attended to with meticulous care in order to draw attention away from it. For example, a person's weight is often a major component of a bad body image, particularly for women. This perception — real or imagined — often leads to yo-yo dieting or even a life spent on a perpetual diet. In serious cases, life-threatening eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia may develop, with terrible consequences.
Men who suffer from muscle dysmorphic disorder may spend hours in the gym, working out and exercising in an effort to demonstrate a perfect bodybuilder physique. Repeated plastic surgeries may be the ultimate symptom of a bad body image in those men and women who can afford them. Unfortunately, one's efforts can never be enough to overcome dysmorphia. Treatment usually consists of antidepressant therapy and cognitive therapy or counseling.
@Pippinwhite -- That is so true and so sad. My cousin started cutting. Well, she got help for that, but then turned to food to ease her pain. Her parents, who had been so incredibly supportive when she went through therapy for cutting, were brutal when she started gaining weight. It was awful. Their constant criticism fueled the poor body image -- which is what started the cutting to begin with -- and she was pitiful.
Finally, finally, they started therapy as a family, with a therapist who specialized in eating disorders, and the therapist was able to show her parents how their daughter was being destroyed. I'm close to my cousin and she sat at the house one day, just sobbing and
saying, "I was still a human being when I was cutting myself, but now that I'm fat, I'm just a pig. I'm nothing to them." I felt like going to their house and beating the stew out of both of them.
She's still overweight, but she's in a much better place mentally, and is starting to take care of herself physically.
Bad body image is so tough to overcome, no matter what you look like, and if you're overweight, it seems like the deck is stacked against you from the beginning.
I think it's important to realize that this disorder can cause weight *gain,* as well as anorexia and bulimia. Many people do not know that compulsive overeating is also a legitimately recognized eating disorder, but it is.
Poor body image can cause women and girls, especially, to retreat inside themselves. Some go down the anorexia/bulimia path, while others turn into compulsive overeaters. The rationale is, "Well, I'll never be pretty, so I might as well eat instead of starving myself to death." Unfortunately, while the media and the medical community have nothing but compassion for the anorexics (as they should), they have an equal amount of sheer contempt for compulsive overeaters. It's all the same disease -- it just expresses itself in a different way.
I've heard people say size acceptance promotes poor health, bad eating habits, etc., but I don't think that's the case. If more people hated themselves less, they would be less likely to engage in self-destructive behavior.