Mirror Mirror On The Wall, Who's The Most Body Dysmorphic, Of Them All?

Body Dysmorphic Disorder sits on the obsessive compulsive spectrum and plays into a distorted view of oneself and ones features. 

Thanks to social media, this often crippling disorder is on the rise, in part thanks to filtering and face tuning that’s now synonymous with Instagram and Snapchat. According to a recent article in UK newspaper The Independent, plastic surgeons are seeing an increase in requests for what they’ve now name ‘Snapchat surgery’ from millennials who are mentally and literally blurring the boundaries between aesthetic ideals online and real life. 

In a 2015 report from the Office for National Statistics, more than a quarter of teenagers who use social media for more than three hours a day were found to have problems related to mental health.  Firstly, I believe this is down to the age old adage of ‘comparison being the thief of all joy’, whereby a huge amount of people mindlessly scroll their social media feeds comparing the abundance, ease and glamour of others’ lives with their own – and invariably fall short. But that’s the point; when we feel like we fall short, we buy or do more to compensate. It’s advertising 4.0 – make people feel and stay insecure because that’s when we buy stuff in a bid to feel enough. 

But we’re now in a world where it’s not only comparison that robs us of our joy; its perspective too. ‘Reality’ now for many is a hologram of many potential ideals, a prism through which everyone can filter how they look, create multiple identities and avatars, and manipulate their world depending on who’s watching – or following. The question now is not “what’s real and what’s not?” But more, “what dimension of reality am I in and and who’s here with me?”  

When it comes to beauty, wellness, and aesthetic ideologies, social media is a radical evolution, a step beyond what Vogue and MTV videos were in the 80s and 90s. It’s presenting a similarly impossible ideal, sure, but now, instead of that ideal being restricted to supermodels and actresses, this ideal is implanted onto our own personal screens with the invitation that you too can shapeshifter yourself into perfection. Maybe only for the briefest of moments via Snapchat, or perhaps more long term if you’re motivated enough to go under the knife  and achieve eternal airbrushing. Regardless, the allure is the same; herein lie the tools to look ‘better’ than you do.

And presumably, by osmosis and even if until the next surgery or selfie post, feel better about yourself than you do.

This is body dysmorphia 4.0, whereby technology is being used to uphold the idea that we don’t even need to waste our energy even working towards something like a healthy acceptance of our flaws. Why would we, when we can filter or slice them out instead? But this ‘solution’ to our insecurity comes at a price: more insecurity. 2017 studies found that social media negatively impacts self-esteem and increases the risk of mental health issues, not to mention a direct correlation in the insidious emergence of Snapchat dysmorphia.

And here’s one of my many rubs with it; no matter our age or ethnicity, the increasingly globalised, homogenised ideal of what constitutes ‘beauty’ means we can all fall into the trap. Swimming up stream against a tide of cultural norms isn’t easy for anyone, let alone a 15 year old girl confronted with manipulated versions of truth every waking hour of her day. Side note: - 2018 statistics show that tweens and teens between 13-18 years spend up to 9 hours a day on their screens.

I’m not immune either; filtering myself fresh faced, well slept or without a hormonal flurry of spots on my chin when I want to post something about my coaching. But it goes beyond just wanting to look cute. Somehow, to appear fresh, zingy and with glowing skin (cheers, Hudson filter) is subliminally saying; Ive always got this; I don’t have crap days, I never struggle with self doubt. Aesthetic ideals, therefore, seem to falsely translate in our world: when life looks good, life is good. This is wrong. My growing awareness of how I comply with this message with certain images makes me want to try much, much harder.

As with so much of my coaching, guiding clients into a greater space of self-awareness is one of the biggest wins in the quest for an improved relationship with your body and the food you choose to nourish it. If we want to stop classifying ourselves and the next generation of men and women as ‘not-enough-as-you-are’, the tsunami of self loathing that’s rising in all age groups needs to be tackled by as much multi-channel authenticity as we can muster. Put a different way, the more we can dare to un-filter our realities, the more it’ll seed into our mindsets once we put the damn screens down. 

Who’s the realest of them all?

One of the most effective short circuits against BDD I like to use with clients is a simple, yet profound practise: Mirror Work. I invite clients to stand with underwear or - if they’re bold – naked in front of a full length mirror. Resistance to this exercise first time round is not uncommon. But with several receptions often a deepening takes place, a greater ability to stay with the gaze. I ask them to take note of one or two body parts - even their big toe or eyebrow! - some part deemed ‘enough’ in their eyes. Then I invite them to thank this and as many others as they can, for what it does, not what it looks like. Dimples become less offensive; hips become allies not enemies; fleshy thighs become companions, not opportunities to self flagellate. To view ourselves truthfully, sans filter, is the biggest counterattack we can make against the tide of insecurity that sweeps through so many of us. 

To tweak a well loved quote: staying raw and unfiltered in a society that favours photoshop is a rebellious act of self love.

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