TW: Some of the content in this story may be triggering for people experiencing body dysmorphia, eating disorders, or other body-related issues.
Body dysmorphia has always been an issue, but in the age of social media, the pressure to keep a certain type of physical appearance and work out, even during a pandemic, can take a toll on our mental health. Away from the usual distractions of “normal” pre-pandemic life, it’s easy to fixate on how our bodies may be changing or coping with what’s happening in the world. With more time at home, it’s also easier to get stuck scrolling on social media and comparing our bodies to others.
On a clinical level, the Mayo Clinic defines body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) as, “a mental health disorder in which you can't stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance — a flaw that appears minor or can't be seen by others.”
NBCLX Storyteller Isa Gutiérrez spoke with several people across the country about their relationships with their bodies and their experiences with body dysmorphia. You can watch the full NBCLX story in the video above.
Q: What is your relationship with your body like?
A: (Rachel Wallack - Houston, TX) I grew up doing dance and I quit. I quit because I felt too big for dance and I was kind of taught that, right? Like, dancers should be thin, petite, small. My relationship to my body has always been, since that point I think 13 onward, has been very tumultuous.
A: (Haley Williams - Miami, FL) I've struggled with eating disorders in the past, my own form of body dysmorphia, body dissatisfaction. My issues with my body started, I would say, in high school. When I was in high school, I started getting teased and kicked at, poked at, for just being curvy. My lower half, specifically. I am a very curvy person and I have been since my early teen years. And, I started being so self-conscious and ashamed. It makes me just so devastated for that girl who thought that her body wasn’t enough, because I was told it wasn’t.
Q: Have you experienced body dysmorphia and what has that looked like for you?
A: (Caitlin Kelley - New York, NY) I can look at myself in the mirror in the morning and be like, huh, you know, “I look good.” Like, “cool, love that for me.” And then later that day I'll be getting dressed up to go out or something, and suddenly I'm looking at myself and see, like, I gained 10 or 15 pounds within the day. You know that's not really possible as far as I know. But, part of me thinks it is...the times I've been skinniest and have been least healthy in that sense, I have not seen it on my body. Like, I've been shocked when people have called me out and been like, “You look scary,” because I'm like I feel like I look normal, you know?
Q: What, if anything, have you noticed makes this worse?
A: (Kaylee Best - Seattle, WA) The biggest influences on my body are my athletic background, being very performance-driven and competitive in that way, and then my experience bodybuilding for about a year and a half in my earlier 20s. In bodybuilding there’s the constant critique on your body every single day, and that can kind of wear on you. It was from, “I see I'm not strong enough,” to, “my muscles are too big,” to, “OK, I need to be leaner.” Looking at every single piece of your body and measuring percentage of fat and how lean you are and things like that, really just getting down to the most miniscule details of how your body looks.
Q: How has social media impacted your relationship with your body and how you view your body?
A: (Kaylee Best - Seattle, WA) The social media influence, especially as an athlete and as a competitor, was huge. You see other athletes and women who might be doing the same thing, playing the same sport as you, but they look so different. And you're wondering, “how can I live like that?” or “why don't I look like that?” when in reality there very well may be someone saying the exact same thing about your physique.
A: (Nikki Llorens - Chicago, IL) When Ashley and I got injured, we found a lot of disabled influencers. But even then, they're not as big as these big Hollywood names. And, it would be cool to see better representation.
A: (Ashley Llorens - Chicago, IL) Society portrays disabled people as not as desirable, and that's been a journey in itself for me to be like, “no, that's not true.” We're just normal people in a wheelchair, and that's OK.
Q: How has your relationship with your body been during the pandemic? Do you find that you are more critical of your body/experiencing more body dysmorphia than usual in these times?
A: (Rocio Mendez-Rozo - Chicago, IL) I think my fixation on my body has just been a lot heavier than it has been in the past. We have so much more time at home and more time to spend in front of mirrors and sitting so much that I think it's really made me realize how much body scanning I do during the day.
A: (Caitlin Kelley - New York, NY) I'm just sitting in my house alone. So, I think between the mental toll of that and the fear that everyone was going through, and then also the fact that the gyms are closed. You're not really walking around to limit exposure. I think that was hard for sure.
A: (Haley Williams - Miami, FL) We've all spent so much more time on our phones, on social media. When social media awareness goes up, but your physicality probably goes down, it just creates this nightmare of looking at your self-worth and being like, well, now what do I do? How could I ever possibly get back there? And, it just seems really daunting.
To hear more from these conversations, watch the full story in the video above.
And if you or someone you know needs to speak with a mental health professional, here are some resources that may help:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255)