Ten years ago, the glossy magazines filled with highly edited images of supermodels were considered very damaging to the self-esteem of women. Nowadays, with the advent of photoshop apps which are readily available for the regular girl to use, there is even more pressure to look perfect; skin is smoothed; teeth are whitened and body shapes are altered. Consequently, finding an “insta-worthy” picture might feel impossible and, when you finally summon up the courage to post a selfie, you might not get “enough likes” to feel validated. However, the more concerning issue is that after you have created an air-brushed, Barbie version of yourself, how could you ever love the natural you? In real life there are no blurring tools and so the pressure to replicate your online persona, and the inevitable fail, will most likely have extremely detrimental effects on your self-confidence. This may be one of the key contributing factors as to why Body Dysmorphia (BDD) is on the rise.
What is Body Dysmorphia?
Although body dysmorphia affects around 2% of people, this mental health condition is relatively unknown. Symptoms such as, obsessing over your appearance and spending an inordinate amount of time trying to hide a “flaw” may seem minor but they can easily take over your life. An example of BDD, could be someone continually covering their mouth when they talk because they feel their teeth may disgust others, or someone may obsess over their diet and exercise regime. It’s important to note that everyone has insecurities and this is normal, but when this is causing extreme distress and you are spending hours of your day feeling anxious or fretting over the way you look, then you should take action.
Symptoms of BDD:
- Constantly checking your appearance in the mirror
- Undergoing cosmetic surgery and feeling unsatisfied
- Concealing “defects” that others do not notice
- Spending an extreme amount of time grooming yourself
- Comparing yourself to others excessively
BDD is closely related to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), an anxiety disorder that can rule the sufferer’s life, and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is very effective at combatting the symptoms of both conditions. Those with BDD are likely to additionally suffer from anxiety or depression, therefore treating those conditions will improve the patient’s overall state of health. An antidepressant such as fluoxetine, a SSRI with low risk of side effects, is likely to be prescribed if the patient suffers from depression. If you think you may be suffering from this condition, then I recommend that you visit your GP to allow you to recover as quickly as possible – you may not realise the magnitude of the effect this is causing.
A few decades ago, it was a scandal if someone had plastic surgery and now it is so widespread. This is not inherently bad, but if all of the role models for young girls have went to such extremes to look pretty, it may promote dissatisfaction with their natural looks. However, I don’t disagree with cosmetic surgery, in fact, I have had an ear correction surgery because I was born with my ear out-of-place. That surgery has had no effect on me, but if I had not had it, I would have been self-conscious of wearing my hair up as one of my ears protruded further than the other.
The real goal of cosmetic surgery is to improve the patient’s self-confidence and to correct a “problem” the patient has with their appearance. However, if you have BDD you will not be satisfied with a cosmetic surgery – either it didn’t completely fix what was wrong or you will become obsessed with a new flaw. It would be heartbreaking to spend such a great sum of money on surgery, that will finally allow you to be happy and love yourself, to realise when you take off the bandages that you still aren’t perfect. You may then fixate on another feature and then another, until you go too far and wish to hit the reset button. This is sadly a story that is much too common and it is happening more often nowadays.
The Problem with Photoshop
“Does my Instagram account make me look like a catfish?” is a question I’m asked often and what this is really asking is if their pictures are so edited and so posed that they don’t look like themselves anymore. And sometimes the answer is yes. Some people are unrecognisable in real life from their instagram photos, which is really sad as it implies they don’t think their real self is enough. Not believing that you match up to your online persona can lead to a lot of insecurities. The “solution” to look more like your ideal version of yourself may be to smother yourself in make up or contour, or to turn to surgery. The face sliming and feature warping effects of face filters have led to people seeking fillers, botox, and more invasive procedures to replicate how those filters change their face. The filters were created as a bit of fun but for those with insecurities they can do more harm than good.
Some celebrities have spoken out against airbrushing and refuse to have their pictures edited, which is an amazing step for body positivity. However, as photoshop software is now easily accessible, there aren’t only celebrities blurring away their “flaws” now. The world needs a lot more self-love and a lot less editing.
Luckily, I have made peace with the way I look, after years of feeling inadequate. And I don’t know exactly how I got to this point. I’m just assuming that when I hit rock bottom, and I lost my life as I knew it, that it put everything into perspective. I didn’t care what I looked like as I limped to the doctors, pausing every two steps to let my anxiety-induced nausea subside. I didn’t care what I looked like when I collapsed on the cold concrete outside St Enoch’s. And for the first time, this year I didn’t care when I could pinch some fat around my stomach because I had experienced the terrifying effects of being underweight – I was just happy to be healthy. I wish there had been a much easier way for me to learn to love myself than to completely break down and have to rebuild myself, but that was my journey. Maybe if we taught children and teenagers to love themselves then we wouldn’t have to figure out how to do it by ourselves.
In conclusion, social media and photoshop are having extremely harmful effects on our society. The scarily increasing incidence of Body Dysmophia Disorder along with the rise of cosmetic surgeries reflects how worthless some people are feeling. With so many women in the media with clearly augmentated bodies, it can make you feel inferior, however it’s not a competition. “A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it. It just blooms.” We need to learn to love our natural selves so that we can cease comparing ourselves and feeling like we are not good enough. Make up and cosmetic surgery aren’t bad but they also shouldn’t be a necessity to feeling good. Self-love is so important and more emphasis needs to be placed on this as dedicating enough time to self-care may prevent depressive episodes and feelings of anxiety. And as RuPaul says: