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What we see in the mirror is not always an accurate representation of how we actually look.

What we see in the mirror is not always an accurate representation of how we actually look.

Many of us will feel uncomfortable about the way we look at some point in our lives, whether that is during childhood, puberty, late adolescence or even adulthood. This is a normal experience, as almost everyone consistently compares themselves to one another. This week there has been a focus on what is clinically seen as an eating disorder: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder. However, this particular post is going to focus on the maintenance side of these disorders, particularly their relation to body dysmorphia.

Commonly people with eating disorders, particularly anorexia nervosa, will overestimate their body size (Guardia et al., 2010). This occurs, as they possess a body map of themselves that causes them to perceive themselves differently to how we would see them. This occurs due to constant focus on a particular body part, say the waist, which will cause the perceptual system to exaggerate any ‘faults’. As a result, the individual will become pre-occupied with this particular area, and despite nothing being wrong, they will perceive an issue with this part of their body.

These sorts of thoughts that are seen with anorexia nervosa can be seen in many people of the general population (Cornelissen, Johns, & Tovée, 2013). This is because any mental health issue falls on a spectrum, no one is particularly ‘normal’ and we all possess some traits that relate to abnormality. Therefore, some of us, who do not meet the criteria for a clinical eating disorder, may show some of the behavioural or cognitive patterns. For example, the distorted body map, a pre-occupation with weight, excessive exercising or restricting certain foods. It is when these sorts of behaviours go to an extreme that it is clear an issue is present. In fact, some studies have shown the ability to cause ‘typical’ individuals to perceive certain parts of their body in an exaggerated form (Preston & Ehrsson, 2014). This study illustrated that there is a relationship between perceptual and affective body representation. This was true for both male and females.

The mirror can deceive us due to our cognitive processing making us perceive what is not there.

The mirror can deceive us due to our cognitive processing making us perceive what is not there.

So what is causing this drive for thinness, this need to be muscular? Many believe that the media has an effect. In fact, it is true to say that the media representation of women and men does have an effect on body rating scores following exposure to the thin ideals exposed in magazines, television or movies (Boothroyd et al., 2012). However, other factors are also at play. Research has recently illustrated that parent-child relations are an important mitigating factor.

Nevertheless, how does an individual go from what is part of the spectrum to a diagnosis of body dysmorphia? Well, according to the DSM V, body dysmorphia is characterised by a preoccupation with defects or flaws in physical appearance, that causes the individual to be so strictly driven by this, causing deficits in social routine or daily life. There have been some adaptions to this so that there is a particular specifier for body dysmorphia relating to muscle enhancement, something that was rising in clinical research due to the muscle drive in males being prominent (Olivardia et al., 2014).

There is always something that we want to alter about ourselves. Whether that be their breasts, thighs, stomach, muscle tone or even facial features.

There is always something that we want to alter about ourselves. Whether that be their breasts, thighs, stomach, muscle tone or even facial features.

Overall, no one is entirely happy with his or her skin; this can mainly be due to the thinness ideal or even the drive to be muscular. However, each individual should know that this impulsive behaviour to be ‘ideal’ or ‘perfect’ could be placing them at great risk of developing an eating disorder. Yes, it is good to exercise. Yes, it is good to eat healthy. Nevertheless, skipping a day at the gym or eating some chocolate occasionally, is not terrible. Also, be aware that what you may see in the mirror can be distorted to how you actually are. Therefore, when your partner says you’re “beautiful”, instead of shrugging it off, realise that your own body perception may not be an accurate representation, and in fact you are beautiful, whether you are thin, muscly, or chubby.

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