A blonde woman staring down at a mirrored image of herself

Body Image: Being at War with your Body?

According to a national survey in 2018 over 40% of people are unhappy with their appearance and 73% wish they could change the way they look¹.

With such devastating statistics, it’s not surprising that the Australia beauty and personal care products market is forecasted to reach USD 6.7 billion by 2024².

For most people who are dissatisfied with their body, they take measures to try to improve or “fix” their body. This means spending lots of money and time on products, clothes, cosmetic treatments and in more extreme cases, surgery.

Most of us live in hope that by making changes to our bodies, we will feel happier in ourselves.

It makes sense: If dissatisfaction in the body causes a low mood and anxiety, then logically we blame the body as the “problem” that needs fixing. This belief is strongly reinforced by beauty and cosmetic advertising which strategically pairs beautiful models with happy images of hot romance, adventure and freedom, party fun and perfect family time. From these images, we learn that if we look like the models, we will be happier (read more in blog post Is Good Body Image Possible in Our Culture?).

While most of us spend some time and money on our appearance, there is a point at which investing too much on your appearance unleashes a war against your body.

There reaches a point at which the more you invest in changing your appearance, the more dissatisfied you are with your appearance.

This may sound counter-intuitive, but is easily explained by psychological theory. That is, it’s a well known concept that the more attention and behaviours we direct towards a perceived flaw, the more prominent your perceived flaw will become. This is because our behaviours reinforce our beliefs. So if you believe, for example, your skin is blotchy, then you may frequently use face masks or cover your face in foundation, which reinforces your belief that your skin is blotchy. In other words, the more frequently you engage in behaviours directed towards changing a perceived flaw, the more you will notice and scrutinise a perceived flaw.

In extreme cases, body dysmorphic disorder or BDD arises as a result of such frequent and obsessive behaviours.

People with BDD perceive their body or a part of their body in an extremely distorted way. And unfortunately no matter the nature of the changes they make to their body, their body dissatisfaction remains (and often worsens). So for example, if you suffer from BDD you may dislike your nose and decide to change it via surgery. While you may feel immediately happy after the surgery, a few weeks (or months) later, you may feel dissatisfied with your nose again or your dissatisfaction may have moved to another body part – e.g. your lips may appear too small. Here in this example, the act of changing your body reinforces your belief that your body is unattractive and needs improvement.

Acts of trying to change or improve your body is an endless war that can never be won.

What are the signs and symptoms you are at war with your body?

  • You frequently think or ruminate about one or many perceived flaws
  • You constantly check your perceived flaw – for example, you look in mirrors and reflections, touch your perceived flaw, ask others for reassurance, and compare yourself to others. Such checking can feel compulsive and often becomes an unconscious habit.
  • Contrary to this, you may go to great lengths to avoid viewing your perceived flaw. You may also try to hide your flaw – for example, you may wear lots of make-up or dress in baggy dark clothing.
  • You invest a lot of time into trying to improve or “fix” your perceived flaw. Whether you visit beauty salons regularly, read articles online, spend hours getting ready or work-out at the gym; your appearance is often a priority over other things in life.
  • You spend lots of money buying products or beauty services centred around improving your appearance.
  • You feel dissatisfied with your body or body part/s. This dissatisfaction is unrelenting and causes feelings of anxiety, low mood or irritability.
  • Your poor body image impacts your daily life. For example, you may find it difficult to concentrate when you’re studying, due to being consumed with thoughts about your body or body part.

How can Peaceful Mind Psychology help?

Our team of Melbourne-based psychologists take a special interest in poor body image and body dysmorphic disorder (or BDD). We are highly trained in the treatment of poor body image, body dysmorphic disorder and eating disorders. If you would like some professional assistance contact us at Peaceful Mind Psychology.