Body Dissatisfaction vs. Body Dysmorphia. What’s the difference?
When Will Smith admits he’s in the worst shape of his life, people not only pay attention, they lean in. And What better way to enter Mental Health Awareness month than to have a celebrity known all over the world confess what so many of us are feeling?
Let’s break it down. We’ve been binging our favorite TV shows, binge eating our favorite snacks, and not working out because the gyms have been closed for a year. It’s a recipe for not feeling good about what you may see looking back at you in the mirror.
While many people may quickly pull themselves up by their bootstraps, hop back in the gym, and “snap back” in no time, for others, it’s not so black and white. In fact, when the way you feel about your face, your skin or your body (or just certain parts of your body) is driven by negative thoughts or emotions, it could mean that you’re experiencing some degree of psychological distress such as body dissatisfaction or body dysmorphia.
Do men and women experience negative emotions about their bodies equally?
Research shows ”nearly as many men as women are unhappy with how they look.” Furthermore, when asked about weight, 39 percent of heterosexual men and 44 percent of gay men said they were unhappy.
What is Body Dissatisfaction?
Body dissatisfaction is a person’s negative thoughts and feelings about his or her body. Intense body dissatisfaction can damage individuals’ psychological and physical well-being. And when people begin to define their own self-worth based on their negative body image, a number of mental health issues can arise, including eating disorders.
What is Body Dysmorphia?
Body dysmorphic disorder or dysmorphophobia — is an under-recognized yet relatively common and severe psychiatric disorder. Body dysmorphic disorder affects as many men as women and consists of a preoccupation with an imagined or slight defect in appearance (i.e. too big or too small) that causes clinically significant distress or impairment in functioning. Men with body dysmorphic disorder are most commonly preoccupied with their skin (for example, with acne or scarring), hair (thinning), nose (size or shape), or genitals. In a study of dermatology patients who committed suicide, most had acne or body dysmorphic disorder.
Your Mental Health
Exposure to images of idealized or unrealistic bodies through media or social media as well as pressure to look a certain way or to match ‘ideal’ body types may lead to psychological distress and the risk of unhealthy eating behaviors and eating disorders. An unhealthy body image can influence your self-esteem. If you don’t like your body (or a part of your body), it’s hard to feel good about your self or have confidence which can also negatively impact your relationships.
Most doctors and psychologists (myself included) are huge advocates of healthy dieting and exercise. However, when it comes to changing the way you feel and think about your body, it really requires a holistic approach. Two interventions you may consider are:
- Self-compassion meditation — As an emotional regulatory strategy that teaches individuals how to accept themselves despite their imperfections, self-compassion has clear potential for alleviating the suffering associated with body dissatisfaction. One of the primary goals of self-compassion meditation is to change your critical self-talk so that you can combat against body shaming.
- Therapy — Most patients with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) do not seek psychiatric/psychological care, and instead look for costly surgical, dermatologic, and dental treatments to try to fix perceived appearance flaws which can often worsen BDD symptoms. However, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been found to successfully reduce BDD severity and related symptoms such as depression.
As always, be inspired by other people’s physiques but make your body goals personal to you. And remember, a positive body image is an important part of your physical and emotional health. Lastly, you can be in the worst shape of your life and still get back in shape, both physically and emotionally!
Phillips, K. A., & Castle, D. J. (2001). Body dysmorphic disorder in men. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 323(7320), 1015–1016. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.323.7320.1015