I found a name to a disorder today that affects many women with body image issues. It’s called body dysmorphic disorder. Body dysmorphic disorder is a condition where you can’t stop thinking about a minor or imagined “flaw” in your appearance. You obsess over it, staring at yourself in the mirror. You might seek out things to correct it, like cosmetic surgery, but are never satisfied with the results. You stare at it in the mirror, or imagine that everyone else is looking at your “flaw” and you negatively as a result. Because you are self-conscious, you may not want your picture taken and constantly ask other people for reassurance about your appearance. This “imagined ugliness” can cripple you and affect your ability to function.
Body dysmorphic disorder includes a lot of different things. Maybe you think your nose is too big. Or one of your breasts is larger than the other. Some women hate their hair—it’s too straight, too curly, or too frizzy. Women study their wrinkles or “too small” lips in the mirror. People with body dysmorphic disorder can’t pass a mirror without checking themselves and the body part that they are concerned about. They might even avoid social situations, too embarrassed to be seen.
Sound familiar? It’s so easy to get caught up in something without looking at the larger picture. We women can be so critical of ourselves and waste energy we could be using more happily and productively.
My research made me realize I’m guilty of a bit of dysmorphic behavior myself. Since I was a teenager, I’ve been obsessed with my skin. I had acne growing up and have had a bit of adult acne as well. I’d peer in a magnified mirror studying my pores, squeezing blackheads and whiteheads until my face turned red and I had nail marks on my skin and it bled. “Stop picking,” my mom would say. My hands were constantly running over my face, measuring bumps and crevices, scratching at scabs. I made it much worse than it would have been if I had left it alone. Then I would pile on makeup over it to try to cover up pimples and the results of my attacks on my face.
I don’t do that anymore. But I do find myself squeezing at imagined blackheads from time to time, frowning in the mirror and worrying that my pores are too big. I see a dermatologist for real hormonal acne on my jawline and neck. She prescribed me a cleanser which cleared it right up. I went to see her last week for a refill prescription.
“Do you think I need an exfoliant to get rid of my blackheads?” I asked my dermatologist. She told me she didn’t see a lot of blackheads. I asked her about whether my pores were too big and what could be done. She didn’t see what I saw, and I need(ed) to examine the reality of my perception.
I’m using the cleanser she gave me and avoiding buying the multitude of products that used to fill my shelves. I used to stockpile skin products, convinced if I bought the right thing, I could eradicate all the problems I saw with my skin. All the advertisements and magazine articles and products assaulting us tell us we should be looking for that magic bullet. As consumers, we need to be conscious of and reject the hype.
So reading about body dysmorphic disorder really hit home for me. Oh, I thought to myself. Yeah, I guess I need not to do that. I don’t live with my mom anymore, so I’m going to have to stop my hand from unconsciously touching myself. Slap it away myself. I don’t think that my occasional unhappiness with my skin is as bad as it used to be and it doesn’t affect my daily life. But it’s something I need to work on. I’m not going to let my thoughts dwell and I’m putting away that magnifying mirror. As I’ve written in some of my other articles, I’ve worked through body issues and hope that this website will help us all to come together and learn to love ourselves.
If you feel like there is something you are obsessing over that is preventing you from living life to the fullest, you may want to talk to someone. Especially if you are doing something that harms your health. Above all, be kind to yourself. Focus on the things you like about yourself rather than seeking out problems that don’t exist. Recognize your beauty and worth inside and out. Life’s too short.
The National Organization for Women (NOW) Foundation is hosting a Love Your Body Day Blog Carnival on October 19th. I’m excited that this post is part of the 2011 Love Your Body Day Blog Carnival. Voices from all across the internet are writing inspiring and informative articles that you should definitely check out. Go to their website for further details about this terrific event.