Addressing Body Insecurity and Body Dysmorphia
We all have looked in the mirror with critical observations on our bodies at some point or another; and to varying extents, attempted to repair or change our physique in order to feel more accepted and comfortable in the eyes of others. This experience is normal, and refers to a feeling of insecurity. It’s a feeling, because it has the tendency to change or go away. However, if you find this feeling to be recurring, so much so that it complicates decision-making in your life, prevents you from pursuing activities and social interactions you may enjoy, or gets in the way of opportunities that could lead to success, we have some potential solutions for you.
We will be examining how self-esteem affects our lives, from phases of insecurity to the other end of the spectrum, BDD, or body dysmorphic disorder. We will also look at what it takes to address self-esteem from a holistic and fundamental perspective, and how that correlates to a confident posture. In closure, we’ll examine the protocols that seem to offer the greatest outcome, so that you can assertively participate throughout life.
Insecurity versus Body Dysmorphic Disorder, or BDD
For a selection of the population, self-criticism is impactful enough to skew the trajectory of someone’s life. In these circumstances, this is called body dysmorphic disorder, or BDD, in which case it is classified as an over-compulsive disorder, and the insecurity doesn’t just drift away.
Everyone has been burdened or suffered from insecure thoughts, but insecurity comes and goes for most people. Body dysmorphia on the other hand, is long-lasting and persistent. It is common for people who suffer from BDD to go to great lengths to hide their perceived flaws and spend hours thinking or fixing them. As a result, they may be unable to lead a normal life, including going to work, falling behind on schoolwork, or socializing with friends and family. They suffer very low self-esteem and may isolate themselves because of shame and self-loathing (1).
Behaviors of someone with BDD can include, but are not limited to:
- Constant skin picking (scabs, acne, cuticles, dry lips, etc.)
- Excessive exercise (HIIT in the morning, yoga in the day, weightlifting at night)
- Excessive fasting, intermittent fasting, or dietary restrictions
- Overgrooming (excessive tweezing, shaving, exfoliating, scrubbing)
- Preoccupation with one or more perceived defects or flaws in your physical appearance that other people don't seem to notice
- Constant checking in the mirror or comparing your looks with those of others
- Avoidance of mirrors in public because they remind you of your "flaws."
- Repeated attempts to camouflage what you perceive as defects by applying makeup, wearing specific clothing, or using other methods
- Routinely undergoing cosmetic procedures
As mentioned in a previous article written by AJ Martinez, some of these behaviors are comparative to anxiety tics. In his article, AJ explains that “anxiety tics are usually accompanied by a feeling of unease or nervousness. The body then responds by developing an impulse to do something about the feeling in an attempt to self-soothe.” (2) Constant skin picking, overgrooming, habitually applying makeup, adjusting your hair a specific way throughout the day, are all self-soothing micro movements that not only have mental consequences, such as stress and exhaustion, but physical ones as well; and when added up, they can result in dehydrated muscle tissue and accelerated aging that can negatively impact your self-image.
Both Ends of the Spectrum have the Same Solution
This is what the feeling of insecurity looks like in sequential order: It’s a beautiful day with the sun shining bright and hot. It’s perfect weather for the beach. Yet, you can’t remember the last time you felt comfortable in a bathing suit. Even a t-shirt and shorts make you squirm in your seat. You can’t stop thinking about how your shoulders and legs are going to look, or your belly once you get too hot to keep on the layers. The thought alone is making your palms sweat, your stomach queasy, even the color drains from your face. You start getting ready, but then you suddenly misplace your beach towel, stub your toe while rushing to look for it, trip over some dirty clothes, and now, where did your keys go? And before you know it, you’re exhausted from all the stress, and the impulse of going to the beach was but a silly idea left for some other time in the far off future.
Sound familiar? Maybe, maybe not. Individuals suffering from extreme cases of BDD wouldn’t even make it this far, as they’ve already developed a pattern of decision-making that excludes being in positions that could prompt feelings of fear and vulnerability. Their lives have been meticulously planned to avoid scenarios that would increase their anxiety around their body. Maybe this is someone you know or it is you. We’ve established this insecurity gets in the way of taking action - So how do you get over body dysmorphia?
Regardless of where you stand on the spectrum, you’re likely tired of stressing over critical thoughts that prevent you from enjoying, or even just living your life. In an attempt to overcome body dysmorphia, you could just go ham at the gym to construct the physical body you desire, or attend a seminar that tells you how to ‘love’ yourself and accept your body as is: “You’re perfect as you are”. Yet, bodybuilders and spiritual gurus alike suffer from deep-rooted insecurities, which is normal, but more importantly, neither method is sustainable.
The problem with most solutions aimed to raise your self-esteem and address overly critiquing your image, is that their value system lacks a principles-based approach. That’s not to say they are useless, but for lasting results, you want to follow a structure that is going to address your problems from the root.
Addressing Self-Esteem from a Systems Standpoint
A low self-esteem can be associated with having more thoughts of insecurity and uncertainty in self, while a high self-esteem can be associated with possessing more thoughts of security and self-respect. According to a meta-analysis published on BMC Psychiatry, “low self-esteem appears to be an important feature in BDD. Consequently, addressing self-esteem and corresponding core beliefs is of high importance in the treatment of BDD. This emphasizes the value of cognitive restructuring” (3). To reiterate this passage on the solution to reverse body dysmorphia, one would need to increase their thoughts of security and self-respect, and assess that their behaviors align with their belief system. If you have a strong value system, and you live in accordance with that system, the more confidence you have in yourself.
It’s not as simple as changing your perspective and swapping out habits. As mentioned, a viable tool is cognitive restructuring, which takes time. Cognitive restructuring is a technique used to help people change the way they think. When used for stress management, the goal is to replace stress-producing thoughts (cognitive distortions) with more balanced thoughts that do not produce stress (4). At Functional Patterns, we aim to replace old dysfunctional memories with new functional ones.
Let’s undergo a thought experiment now to facilitate cognitive restructuring. What has greater importance than appearance? Function. What dictates a functioning body? Movement, more specifically athletic movement that does not result in injury, pain, or other ailment. How can one ensure they move really well? Training in accordance to human evolution, with the result of having a more symmetrical, athletic, and physically capable body. How else can a functioning body help me? You may use this functional body to participate in solo or social activities, such as hiking on a trail, or in sports, such as playing basketball or doing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, or swimming in the ocean. When you can broaden your body’s abilities and functionality, you can break the preconceived notion of your identity and open yourself up to new experiences and challenges that can help you reassociate past experiences.
If you lack a social circle that involves these topics or this way of thinking, an option for you can be the Functional Patterns Doers page on Facebook, where the community poses questions and answers based around problem-solving.
How Posture Affects Confidence
In this study (5), students were asked to solve a math problem, doing the work in their heads while first sitting up straight, and then a different math problem while slouching. Those who already had confidence in their math abilities didn’t experience added difficulty when working on the problem despite their posture. However, the students who were intimidated by the thought of doing subtractions in their head, found the exercise while sitting up straight resulted in them gauging the math equation as being easier, versus when slouching, which caused them to believe the math equation was harder. Though the math equations were different when sitting up straight and slouching, they were of the same level.
Curling towards the middle of our bodies is a defensive posture. We’re subconsciously signaling to our nervous system that we are not safe, therefore it becomes more difficult to reach a calm focus and concentrate on problem solving something that doesn’t seem like an immediate danger, such as a math equation.
In another study (6), it was concluded that adopting an upright seated posture in the face of stress can maintain self-esteem, reduce negative mood, and increase positive mood compared to a slumped posture. Sitting upright may be a simple behavioral strategy to help build resilience to stress.
While we agree with the findings of these studies, they are incomplete. Sitting up straight or straightening the back is a temporary, superficial fix. Good posture and moving well isn’t that simple. To maintain high self-esteem, it has to be built up from the root.
Navigating through Life with a Sense of Confidence
Reiterating points from this article, below are 4 tips to address body insecurity and body dysmorphia:
- Access to Social Circles: Surround yourself with people who value function over looks or surface-level thinking. Having discussions or reading stories from others who are working in the direction of functionality can give you ideas of how to implement the mindset into your own life.
- Systems-based approach: Start getting in front of your problems. If you know you are inclined to waste energy on overly grooming or obsessing over flaws, establish an activity that will bring you back to how you function and how that serves you better.
- Cognitive Restructuring: It takes time to re-associate, but you can start by making a list of your intrusive thoughts and asking yourself if they are really true. And whether they are true or not, how much impact do they really have on how well you do your job, take care of your children or pets, or problem solve in everyday matters, etc.
- Work on a Posture for Confidence: Start with Functional Patterns training to address your physical structure and improve how you move your body. Increasing your physical capabilities allows you to develop a better understanding of how it works, clearing up mental space for you to solve more problems.
The intrusive thoughts that come with body insecurity and body dysmorphia or BDD can sabotage events and adventures awaiting you. Developing a functional body that can perform physical tasks in a way that gives you peace of mind will remove one more factor from your mental worry. The more tasks you perform with confidence, the more you are able to develop trust in your body and perceive it from a standpoint that values its functionality. Get started today with Functional Patterns training system to find out what your body can do for you.
- ACFMW, “Insecurity vs. Body Dysmorphia: Everything You Need to Know” (A Center for Mental Wellness) https://www.acfmw.com/insecurity-vs-body-dysmorphia-everything-you-need-to-know
- Martinez, AJ “Are Anxiety Tics Aging You Faster?” https://functionalpatterns.com/blogs/articles/are-anxiety-tics-aging-you-faster
- Kick, Nora; Cafitz, Lara; Burkner, Paul-Christian; Hoppen, Laura; Willhelm, Sabine; Buhlmann, Ulrike “Body dysmorphic disorder and self-esteem: a meta-analysis” BMC Psychiatry 21, article number: 310 (2021) https://bmcpsychiatry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12888-021-03185-3
- Concordia “Examples of cognitive restructuring” https://www.concordia.ca/cunews/offices/provost/health/topics/stress-management/cognitive-restructuring-examples.html#:~:text=Cognitive%20restructuring%20is%20a%20technique,that%20do%20not%20produce%20stress
- Peper, Erik; Harvey, Richard; Mason, Lauren; Lin, I-Mei “Do Better in Math: How your Body Posture may Change Stereotype Threat Response” NeuroRegulation, VOL. 5 No.2 (2018) https://www.neuroregulation.org/article/view/18396
- Hair, Shwetha; Sagar, Mark; Sollers 3rd, John; Consedine, Nathan; Broadbent, Elizabeth “Do slumped and upright postures affect stress responses? A randomized trial” PubMed, (2014) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25222091/