Gay & Lesbian Services of Western New York

Body Preoccupation

The last two articles discussed issues related to the body and nutrition. This article is the last of this series and is intended to help name a problem that usually begins in the teen years and can cause considerable anxiety, depression and social withdrawal or discomfort.

Do you or do you have a friend who worries or is otherwise preoccupied with a slight or imagined “defect” such as a bump on or a slightly crooked nose, a small scar, thinning hair or some body part seems too big or too small? We all have an area or areas of our bodies which we wish were “better” but for some these “defects” become a constant source of emotional pain. Frequent checking of the “defect” by looking at available reflective surfaces like mirrors, car bumpers or watch faces is common but sometimes the sight is too painful and so checking is avoided. Feelings of self-consciousness may lead to withdrawal of public situations.

This may sound like a silly preoccupation but to the person with this problem it can be exceedingly painful, anxiety provoking and consume much of the person’s time. Kids at school often seem to have a knack for noticing this in another person and then pick on person’s sensitivity which only compounds the problem.

I am sure you all have read about people who become addicted to plastic surgery. They are always in pursuit of some perceived or imagined ideal which they never seem to attain and in some instances are physically worse off for the effort. These individuals often suffer with body dysmorphia, which is the clinical term for this problem.

Less extreme examples are the women who focuses on “saddle bags” and over exercise or diet to rid them or the guy who’s arms or legs are just never big enough no matter how muscular he gets. Well meaning parents, friends or partners try to reassure that the person looks fine or that the “defect” is nothing but usually these well intentioned comments fall flat and are not really taken in by the listener. This is not helpful.

So what are some things you can do if you or a friend has this concern? If you have the problem, talk to your pediatrician about it if you see one. Try very hard to take in what trusted others say about what they see. Utilize a counselor at school or, if you can, talk to your parent(s) about your concern and ask that they support counseling for you. If you know someone with this problem DO NOT try to tease them out of it, that only makes it worse. Be realistic, supportive and understanding, you know…things friends do. This problem ebbs and flows but can trouble the person through their life if not treated or taken care of.

An additional note: Some people who feel bad about a body part or uncomfortable in their body may in fact be dealing with an entirely different issue related to gender identity. Also, while Anorexia Nervosa involves the inability to accurately perceive or “see” the body this problem goes well beyond body dysmorphia and cannot improve without professional help.

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