Cardiff University student, Ellie, shares her story of suffering from body dysmorphia.
What is body dysmorphia?
Body dysmorphia is defined as a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance, that are generally not noticeable to people. Statistics suggest that 1 in 50 people in the U.S. suffer from body dysmorphia.
I suffer from body dysmorphia because my symptoms match those that are associated with the condition, including comparing areas of my body to others, avoiding looking in mirrors or reflective surfaces, focusing worry on a specific area of my body, and going to great lengths to hide these flaws.
Is social media to blame?
Growing up in this digital age, social media can be your enemy when it comes to comparing your body to others. I know that whilst I am very grateful for the platforms, the Instagram or Facebook posts from social media influencer models and people that I know have affected my mental health as I compare my body to theirs.
That’s not to say that if online networking wasn’t a thing I wouldn’t suffer from body dysmorphia, though. Unfortunately, I believe that our society is prone to judgement and comparison, but I would argue that social media platforms have contributed to my low self-esteem by creating unrealistic expectations of what my body is “supposed” to look like.
Impacts on my life
A study published by Scientific Reports suggests that self-esteem is a key factor that pushes young people aged 15-24 to commit suicide. Whilst I have never felt that level of depression as a result of body dysmorphia, I know that it has severely impacted my activities on a day-to-day basis.
I have had moments where I turn down social events because I don’t want to wear a swimsuit at a water park with so many people around or I say no to attending a friend’s birthday party because I don’t want to be amongst pretty slim girls in tight dresses. I feel insecure if I wear similar outfits because my stomach is bulging out or my arms look fat like bingo wings.
Body dysmorphia is a constant struggle. But I want to make it clear that although I still suffer with it now, I have learnt that your appearance doesn’t correlate with what is inside you emotionally.
I lost a lot of weight during the pandemic because of the lockdown and having limited activities to do. I came back to my second year of University being in the best physical shape that I had been in for a long time. However, I can safely say that I have never been more unhappy than I was in that first term of my second year, despite all the weight I lost. Body dysmorphia impacts your internal emotions as well as how you view your appearance. Mentally, I was struggling a lot last year even though I was slimmer than before.
Can positive affirmations help?
To try and combat body dysmorphia, I try to tell myself positive affirmations when I look in the mirror instead of thinking negative thoughts about myself. I tell myself things like “you look great in these jeans!” or “you really suit this crop top” even if my stomach is slightly on show. I try to remind myself that when I scroll through Instagram or Facebook, pictures of people might not be accurate to how they look all the time.
It’s an important reminder that people post their highlights on Instagram and Facebook. I try to remind myself that angles, lighting and editing tools are all strong contributors to how a picture looks as well. I struggle sometimes with jealousy of how others look vs my appearance, but I am working on focusing on myself and what makes me feel good about myself.
If you think you are suffering from body dysmorphia or similar self-esteem issues, this is your friendly reminder that you are not alone! It’s very common, especially amongst young people and whilst it may never go away entirely, try to prevent it by being kind to yourself. If you wouldn’t say the comments you tell yourself to other people, then you shouldn’t be thinking like that at all.
If you need to talk to someone to talk to, you can talk to Meic. Meic are the information, advice, and advocacy service for young people in Wales. You can contact a Meic advisor for free every day from 8AM-Midnight by phone (080880 23456), text (84001), or online chat.
For more info on getting support with your mental health, visit TheSprout’s mental health information page.