How do you feel about your body? There’s a chance you might have some issues with it, particular if you’re a woman (thanks to society’s ever-changing and unrealistic expectations of body standards).
And new research by charitable health enterprise Better gyms has found that nearly half of women experience body dysmorphia – a condition where you spend a lot of time worrying about your appearance.
Body dysmorphia disorder (BDD) is also characterised by a desire to change perceived “flaws”, when these are often unnoticeable to others.
In a survey of 2,000 respondents, Better revealed that 49% of women admit to thinking often about being lean enough, exercising despite illness or injury, feeling anxiety at missing a workout, giving up work or social obligations to maintain a workout schedule or diet, or maintaining an extreme exercise programme.
More than a third (34%) of women have received or know someone who has received online abuse directed at how their body looks. Meanwhile, 8% of women admit to commenting negatively on someone else’s physical appearance – compared to a fifth of men (21%). And 35% say low body confidence has impacted their social life and love life, while 7% say it has impacted their career progression.
Better also surveyed men and found similarly worrying results. It found that 54% of men have displayed a sign of body dysmorphia, with a quarter admitting they rarely or never feel body confident.
Age also played a part, with 18–24-year-olds being the age group with the highest percentage (81%) having experienced at least one sign of body dysmorphia.
The study also found that 31% say low body confidence has affected their social life, with 30% saying it has troubled their love life, and 27% saying it has impacted their mental health.
So what are the signs to watch out for?
According to the NHS, symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) include:
- Worrying a lot about a specific area of your body (particularly your face)
- Spending a lot of time comparing your looks with other people’s
- Looking at yourself in mirrors a lot or avoiding mirrors altogether
- Going to a lot of effort to conceal flaws – for example, by spending a long time combing your hair, applying make-up or choosing clothes
- Picking at your skin to make it “smooth”.
BDD can start at a young age and persist through adulthood. Better’s research found that it can start as early as five years old.
You should see a GP if you think you might have BDD. They’ll probably ask a number of questions about your symptoms and how they affect your life. They may also ask if you’ve had any thoughts about harming yourself. You may be treated by the GP, or they may refer you to a mental health specialist for further assessment and treatment.
The most common treatment for BDD is Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which will help you identify your triggers and learn some techniques to manage your thoughts and emotions. Some people are also offered antidepressants.
Getting help for BDD is important, because symptoms are unlikely to go away without treatment. It’s a common mental health condition – and nothing to be embarrassed about.
You can also refer yourself directly to an NHS psychological therapies service (IAPT) without a referral from a GP.
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI – this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).
- CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) offer a helpline open 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58, and a webchat service.
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email [email protected]
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0808 801 0525 (Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on rethink.org.