Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Girl looking in mirror

Most of my clients, regardless of size or age, talk about their body and the way they look in a negative way. Particularly as women, we automatically distort our self-perception 40% to the negative. That’s a lot of negative self-talk we are doing on a daily basis. And over time these kind of thoughts can be really damaging to our self-esteem and self-confidence.

This week I want to talk about Body Dismorphic Disorder or BDD. Last year, I attended a Seminar run by Anxiety Disorders Association of Victoria. Dr Ben Buchanan, from Foundation Psychology ran the seminar and made some really interesting and valuable points around BDD and what it means for the sufferer and how to treat it. While I sat in a room with Psychologists and other mental health professionals, some of the language and detail went a little over my head. But here is what I did learn….

Body Dismorphic Disorder has been around since 1891. But for some reason we don’t talk about it like we do other psychological disorders. But I feel it’s important to start the conversation and help people be more aware of what it is and how it affects the sufferer’s day-to-day life. In my Styling sessions with Clients we always spend time a big part of our time together in front of the mirror, and it amazes me how many of them are uncomfortable with their own reflection.

For those that aren’t sure what BDD is, it is described as the feeling of ugliness or a perceived physical defect, which feels noticeable to others. Sufferers usually have a preoccupation with their appearance and this can cause them a lot of distress in social situations. To most of us, if we encounter someone with BDD regularly or even just pass them by on the street – we wouldn’t think there was anything “wrong” with their appearance at all. But to the sufferer, they truly believe they are flawed. They see it, feel it and are so blinded by the belief that the flaw exists that it makes it very hard to tell or persuade them otherwise.

BDD is caused by a cognitive behaviour – meaning our brain forms strong thought patterns – like creating a continuous dint in parts of the brain and that dint becomes so deep, its very difficult to reverse the damage.

BDD behaviour is created by a mix of:

  • Social factors
  • Psychological and situational factors
  • Neurobiological factors

It’s a disorder that is prevalent among all cultures and there is a pretty even split between female and male sufferers.

In a world where first impression count, mental health issues are on the rise and fashion is bigger and more relevant than ever, how can understanding personal style and how to dress assist someone who views themselves in such a poor way?

For me when I work with Clients we conduct something called the Mirror Strategy. My Client will stand in front of the mirror and gaze at their reflection. We then have an in-depth and raw conversation about what they see. Nine times out of ten my clients will start with the negatives they see. And we all tend do this on some level… Have you ever received a compliment from a friend, loved one or colleague, and all too quickly you counteract it by mentioning something negative about yourself?

The Mirror Strategy allows me to understand what my client is seeing. To understand the parts of themselves they like to hide away or that trigger self-conscious thoughts in them. My job is then to teach them to focus on the positives or as we Stylists like to say – attributes. Starting to focus on these attributes is a great way to start to reverse negative and BDD like thinking. And knowing how to dress your attributes is a great way to improve self-esteem and self-confidence.

Our attributes are the parts of us that we should be drawing attention to when dressing. You might have fantastic legs which means perhaps shorter length skirts and dresses or tighter jeans might be the best way to show off those pins.

Highlighting a small waist with accessories and particular shaped garments can create the illusion of being slimmer. A great booty might require tight jeans and tops that finish just at the waist-band to show it off. For men, a slimmer fit shirt can help to accentuate a smaller frame with broad shoulders. The point is – choosing clothes that highlight these attributes can instantly lift a persons self perception and confidence because they start to understand how to draw attention to these areas which in turn can lead to them not putting the focus on the areas they deem to be a flaw.

So next time you look in the mirror, instead of talking to yourself about what you don’t like – pick an attribute you could start to draw attention to and start to create your wardrobe and clothing choices around that. You’ll be amazed at how it can make you feel. And if you struggle to come up with anything, why not get in touch with me and we can work through the Mirror Strategy together and create some key looks to help draw attention to your assets and get you well on the way to a more positive you!

Claire x

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