I hear these words frequently as I work with clients who have eating disorders — even more so if they have BDD (Body Dysmorphic Disorder). ‘BDD is characterized by a preoccupation with one or more perceived defects or flaws in appearance, which is unnoticeable to others. Sometimes the flaw is noticeable but is a normal variation (e.g. male pattern baldness) or is not as prominent as the sufferer believes.’ It is now included in the DSM V. In years of working with eating disordered clients, I have often encountered BDD, along with distressing body image issues. These tend to worsen during the summer months when it is normal and appropriate to wear shorts, T-shirts, sleeveless tops and bathing suits for trips to the lake or pool.
People who hate their body and have body image issues tend to struggle with going to social events, even small family gatherings, without covering up their body. For example, they might wear long sleeved shirts with jeans or long pants even though it is in the high 20’s temperature-wise. Some other behaviours might include avoiding social situations, weighing themselves frequently, harshly comparing their bodies to others, rejecting compliments from loved ones (and strangers), emotional outbursts and fear related to going to weddings, pool parties and other events where they feel like others may be judging or even just noticing their appearance.
Body image issues and body hatred are part of any eating disorder. It plays into the development of shame which fuels the eating disorder. The eating disorder voice makes a point of fear mongering and bullying the person with harsh, intrusive thoughts that go so far as to create distortions. It is almost like the person develops ‘fun house’ mirrors in their eyes which literally keep them from seeing their body accurately. This is why someone with an eating disorder believes that they are much larger than they actually are. They often refer to themselves as being hideous, fat and ugly, or other demeaning terms.
Challenging the eating disorder voice and tending to these body image issues is a part of every recovery. Our culture doesn’t help either as we flaunt air-brushed photos of stars who potentially have eating disorders themselves. These unrealistic standards of beauty and thinness create an unattainable goal which many women and men are buying into. As a culture, we need to reject these messages and attack the myths surrounding the idea that everyone can be the same size or ending up looking a certain way. We must embrace the diversity of size, shape, height and appearance that we have as the human race.
Here are a few ways to challenge body image issues this summer:
- Tell the eating disorder voice to “Shut Up!” Refuse to listen to it and engage with it. Even if you agree with what you are hearing, if it is harsh and critical, shut it down!
- Challenge what it is telling you to do. If it is telling you that you can’t wear a T-shirt and show your arms, disagree with it and then disobey. Dawn that T-shirt and wear it unashamedly!
- Take baby steps. If you are terrified to put on a bathing suit and go out to the pool, start by wearing a bathing suit around your house. If it helps, wear a cover-up ’til you get to your locale.
- Make things as comfortable as possible. Wear clothes that fit comfortably. Don’t hide in bulky sweaters or hoodies — wear something that fits your body and fits the weather.
- If you’re having a bad body image day, acknowledge how that feels. Everybody has them once in a while! Make sure you dress comfortably in something that doesn’t pinch or bind.
- If you’re going to a wedding, remember that everyone is going to see the bride and groom, not you! And you are going to the wedding to celebrate with your friends/family — not to go on a fashion run way. Don’t let your fears rob you of a wonderful day celebrating!
- Keep challenging yourself with repetitive exposure in the clothing that has mad you feel uncomfortable. If it’s hot and sunny, wear shorts and a T-shirt/tank top. That IS appropriate summer wear for anyone, including you.
- Remember that you may have distortions and are not the best judge of what your body actually looks like. Get dressed and go live your life!
- If you are going shopping for new clothes or a bathing suit, get changed facing away from the mirror. When you are fully dressed in the item(s) of clothing, turn around and give a quick assessment as to whether you like it. If so, buy it and leave! Don’t spend long periods of time looking in the mirror or ‘playing’ with fat rolls, it will only feed the body image distress and serves no good.
- Go enjoy your life. Period. It’s the only one you’ve got and your body is simply the carrying case for your soul. Focus more on the inside and what you want to see happen in your life than fretting about the container.