It may not seem like it when the sky is the UK-trademarked shade of grey, but summer is on its way. Now that we are fully in the month of May, everyone is thinking about sunshine, beaches and holidays. While dreaming of mai-tais in the sun with tiny umbrellas is a wonderful thing, it’s important to consider that this time can be a trigger-period for many people struggling with a particular mental health condition. There are an indeterminate number of individuals who at any one point in time are having severe psychological issues because of how they feel about their physical appearance, and summer is a critical time for those experiencing these feelings. Gossip magazines become obsessed with celebrity “beach bodies” and push their “top tips” on how to get ready for summer at men and women from every angle they can. That idea in itself is awful, because any type of body is a “beach body”, there is no 1 formula that makes you acceptable to be seen in society over summer. You don’t spontaneously combust or get struck by a supernatural thunderbolt if you don’t have a thigh gap.
Unfortunately, not everyone can approach the warmer months in this way.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is an anxiety disorder which people may be diagnosed with for a couple of different reasons. Mind explain that a diagnosis may occur if you:
- experience obsessive worries about one or more perceived flaws in your physical appearance, and the flaw cannot be seen by others or appears very slight
- develop compulsive behaviours and routines, such as excessive use of mirrors or picking your skin, to deal with the worries you have about the way you look
Hence, for the individuals who have body image issues, specifically body dysmorphia, the constant press and subsequent pressure that surrounds the summer months in regards to appearance can be catastrophic. After all, people who are conflicted about how they look experience this every day, but as soon as the weather gets warmer, the entire nation suddenly becomes obsessed with each other’s looks. Who has a tan? Who is on a summer diet? You naturally wear lighter and at times more revealing clothes; which can stir up dormant feelings and internal tension. BDD is not a seasonal disorder, but we need to be aware of how the summer months can trigger the anxiety of those suffering from it.
How to spot it?
The symptoms of Body Dysmorphia will inevitably vary from person to person, as it’s about how one person interprets their own body. Someone’s version of dysmorphia will be totally different to yours. However, the NHS outlines the following as common symptoms which people with BDD:
- worry a lot about a specific area of your body (particularly your face)
- spend a lot of time comparing your looks with other people’s
- look at yourself in mirrors a lot or avoid mirrors altogether
- go to a lot of effort to conceal flaws – for example, by spending a long time combing your hair, applying make-up or choosing clothes
- pick at your skin to make it “smooth”
Body dysmorphia is a serious condition that can put people in real danger, and as is the case with mental health, it’s an internal battle spurred on by external factors. While there is a stereotype that it is only women who go through such body image issues, it is actually just the opposite, and men can experience terrible prejudice and exclusion by friends, peers and strangers for not looking a particular way. However, history has always placed a spotlight on how women look, so we expect a natural degree of anxiety surrounding looks. For hundreds of years, women had no real rights of their own and so they became a tradable commodity for the men in their families, and as with any tradeable good, the most appealing wins. Therefore, generation after generation, there has been an inherent pressure on women to meet a societal standard of “attractive” in order to be accepted, and in the modern era, the media exploits this system endlessly for extortionate profits.
The problem is, we’re all sucked into it.
So many of us buy into the notion that there is a particular appearance that is appropriate or suitable, especially on a beach or during the summer, and it sparks a wave of self-criticism. We all end up nit-picking aspects of our appearance completely unnecessarily. And while many of us are able to leave it at just a mild level of “oh I wish I looked like x y z”, for those affected by body dysmorphic disorder it is far worse. They can end up feeling fundamentally flawed because of parts of themselves that other people would not notice.
Let’s decide together now to take a stand. Let’s support those with body dysmorphic disorder and break down the control over our self esteem that the media and societal stereotypes have. Let’s build each other up and show our support for people fighting these internal battles about their appearance, proving that the power of humanity and kindness is the ultimate weapon against mental health.
While you're here...
One Stop Social has a range of resources on our website for those suffering from mental health conditions, including body image issues like body dysmorphia. Therefore, if you’re working with a service user who is experiencing feelings like this, why not turn to our Resources Page for some helpful tools and guides to support your practice.