Mirror mirror on the wall who's the fairest of them all?

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

However, these days, this saying goes more like a mirror mirror on the wall who's the slimmest of them all? Nowadays, the world, which considers social media for its validation, glorifies the traditional slim physique as a perfect body, along with certain magazines and media companies. Appearance is a salient factor that influences the self-esteem of men, women, adolescent and children to a greater extent.  

Body image is a perception that a person has about his corporeal self, the thoughts and feelings that result from this perception make ones negative or positive body image.  

Positive Body Image

There is clear borderline when one has a positive body and when ones start slipping into negative body image. Positive body image is a clear and true perception of your body shape, i.e. you see the various parts of your body the way they are in a realistic way. You comprehend that your physical appearance is just a part of you and that you have more to offer like your character and value as a person. You commemorate and treasure your body shape and accept its uniqueness.

In all, you feel confident in your body and rather than spending an unreasonable amount of time to brood about food, exercise, weight and calories, you live your life. 

Negative Body Image

Negative body image, on the other hand, is a distorted perception of your body type. You are convinced that all the other people, except you, are attractive and that your physical shape and size is a sign that signifies some kind of personal failure. You feel uncomfortable, awkward, ashamed, anxious, self-conscious in your body.

“Imagine experiencing pervasive and perpetual sensations of dread and shame, the sort of visceral response that you might have when your body reacts to a physical threat. Envision how distressing it would be if you experienced these exact same feelings after viewing yourself in a reflective surface or a photograph. Imagine what it might be like if your body was the source of extreme feelings of anger, disgust, anxiety, fear, and hopelessness. Try to visualize how it might be if viewing your outward appearance triggered a reaction usually associated with a perilous situation, and how disconcerting it would be if every time you looked at yourself you experienced primal feelings of terror. If you have not had such an experience, it is probably quite difficult to comprehend how it is possible to have such a reaction to one's own body. This, though, is the very tormenting reality for individuals who suffer from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).” 
― Winograd Arie MFace to Face with Body Dysmorphic Disorder: Psychotherapy and Clinical Insights

Most common symptoms to look out for body dysmorphia is when you can't stop thinking about a flaw in your physical appearance which is either not present or is so minor for others that it should not normally affect any individual mentally. You are convinced to have a defect in your appearance that makes you hideous. You have a fervent feeling that due to your looks people are mocking you, and you cannot stop comparing yourself to others as far as looks are concerned. 

Avoiding social encounters, having cosmetic procedures frequently with little satisfaction, always seeking reassurance from others about your appearance are all symptoms of body dysmorphia.

“I just want to get away from me.” 
― Kris Kidd

The most common physical features people are obsessed about are, complexion, nose, wrinkles, acne, blemishes, waist size, breast, hair (thinning/baldness) and genitalia. Like many other mental illnesses, there are innumerable factors causing body dysmorphia, neurochemistry or abnormalities in the brain, genes, people who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorders are more likely to become a victim of body dysmorphia, environmental factors like child neglect or abuse, negative social evaluations, perfectionism, and highly competitive environment.   

Body dysmorphia and men

Body dysmorphia in men is an area of research that has been overlooked until now. Metrosexual men have a preconceived notion in their head about how they must look, lean and muscular, head full of hair, large penis size, less body hair (on the chest, back, ear, foot etc). 

“It is an awful thing to be betrayed by your body. And it's lonely, because you feel you can't talk about it. You feel it's something between you and the body. You feel it's a battle you will never win . . . and yet you fight it day after day, and it wears you down. Even if you try to ignore it, the energy it takes to ignore it will exhaust you.” 
― David Levithan, Every Day

Male dysmorphia is divided into three main categories, Muscle dysmorphia, male pattern baldness, height dysmorphia. 

Bodybuilding Gyms and sports centres are the breeding ground for “muscle dysmorphia” (or reverse anorexia or bigorexia). It is generally stigmatized by not being enough lean or having enough muscle on your body. It can be identified plainly, if you are spending excessive time weightlifting, going for a cosmetic procedure to give yourself that rippled body, searching for special diets or steroids to enhance your muscle. 

“There is something about my face in the mirrors that catch it. Even at a distance it will never be right again, not even to a casual glance. Beauty: it's the upkeep that costs, that's what Balzac said, not the initial investment.” 
― Joanna WalshVertigo

Male pattern baldness is an epidemic. Since, a fuller head is considered a sign of masculinity, thinning of hair causes a panic reaction in males especially if they are young, those who cannot afford hair transplant, buying different shampoos, creams, oils, even hormonal treatment is an alternative treatment. Unfortunately, too little research is done in pinpointing the psychological effects of hair transplants and male baldness. Extreme cases of height dysmorphia include going for leg lengthening surgery. 

Body dysmorphia and women

Body dysmorphia in women, usually compels them to intensely obsess about their physical appearance, often many hours a day.  Unlike men, women have a lot more body features to be dissatisfied about, these may include, nose, skin, lips, acne, waist size, blemishes, breast size, baldness, genitalia. 

“Simply being born female in our society is to grow up being told your worth as a person is tied to how slim and attractive you are. Even for those of us lucky enough to have evolved parents, the message is still driven home by the world at large.” 
― Padma LakshmiLove, Loss, and What We Ate: A Memoir

Common signs and symptoms of body dysmorphia in women are anorexia nervosa, bulimia, uncontrollable urge to check mirror, avoiding mirrors altogether, anxiety about people noticing, frequent cosmetic procedures, excessive grooming, skin picking, self-conscious about being pictured, avoiding being in groups or public, wearing excessive makeup or camouflaging by wearing loose clothes.   

“...she was afraid of losing her shape, spreading out, not being able to contain herself any longer, beginning (that would be worst of all) to talk a lot, to tell everybody, to cry.” 
― Margaret AtwoodThe Edible Woman

Body Dysmorphia not only affects adults, but children and adolescents are also victims of it. Research also suggests BDD (body dysmorphic disorder) starts at an adolescent age. Anorexia and bulimia nervosa, do overlap body dysmorphia, usually onset during the early adolescent age. The period of adolescence is the most intense period of body and hormonal changes causing stress, anxiety and confusion. Eating disorders are a defensive coping mechanism for most children who are dealing with hormonal changes, bullying, abuse, anxiety and even stress arising from day to day situations.  It is horrifying to discern that children as young as five are worried about their weight. 

Healing Process

  • Overcoming negative body image is a slow and painful process.
  • The thoughts you use to define others are usually the thoughts you also associate with yourself.
  • Body shaming and bullying of people, categorizing them on the basis of their body shape and size needs to be stopped.
  • Parents and society have a task at their hands, to educate children to be aware of the uniqueness of their body. Inherited looks should be accepted.
  • With the help of proper counselling, realistic goals should be set.
  • Idolizing celebrity bodies is the most common mistake people commit, remember they have a team of people to take care of their skin, body and mind. Make a gym buddy who can motivate you in a healthy way.

It takes time to change how you feel about your body, to accept yourself the way you are; take your time to rewrite your brain, but never give up.