Mir­ror, mir­ror .... im­age mat­ters af­ter all

Khaleej Times - - OPINION -

What do you see when you look in the mir­ror? Most peo­ple see at least one part or as­pect of their phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance that they don’t like. Con­stant ex­po­sure to ide­alised im­ages of flaw­less hu­man per­fec­tion can keep us aware of our phys­i­cal short­com­ings. Mag­a­zines, tar­geted to­ward women, ad­vo­cate for self-love and ac­cep­tance yet are of­ten filled with ar­ti­cles on how to get a flat abs, a tiny waist, toned arms … the list goes on. In the light of these ubiq­ui­tous mes­sages, it’s not sur­pris­ing that we see an in­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple with one body im­age is­sue or an­other.

These body im­age is­sues run the gamut from be­ing slightly an­noyed by a tiny flaw to an ob­ses­sion with a body part that in­trudes on one’s ev­ery wak­ing mo­ment. For those suf­fer­ing from, Body Dys­mor­phic Dis­or­der (BDD) their phys­i­cal flaws (real or imag­ined) come to rule their lives. One per cent of the pop­u­la­tion, men, and women alike, ex­pe­ri­ence BDD which is a men­tal health dis­or­der char­ac­terised with a con­tin­ued ob­ses­sion with one or more parts of their body, caus­ing se­vere dis­tress that in­ter­feres with their daily func­tion­ing. This par­tic­u­lar as­pect of their body may be only barely vis­i­ble to oth­ers or even nonex­is­tent.

Peo­ple with BDD deal with symp­toms that ex­tend be­yond un­ease when they look in a mir­ror; They have an ever-present ob­ses­sion with their looks. There are five main char­ac­ter­is­tics of BDD that dif­fer­en­ti­ate the dis­or­der from an av­er­age range of dis­com­fort with one’s phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance.

> BDD suf­fer­ers have a per­sis­tent pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with a cer­tain part of the body (com­mon ar­eas in­clude hair, skin, nose, chest, or stom­ach). They can of­ten dwell on a par­tic­u­lar body part for hours and days on end.

> The be­lieved de­fect may only be a slight im­per­fec­tion or com­pletely in­vis­i­ble and gen­er­ally goes un­no­ticed by oth­ers.

> The pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the body part in­ter­feres with their daily life be­cause they can’t fo­cus on any­thing but their per­ceived im­per­fec­tion.

> BDD suf­fer­ers ex­pe­ri­ence so­cial anx­i­ety and tend to avoid so­cial sit­u­a­tions for fear that oth­ers may see their flaw and then ridicule and re­ject them.

Re­search finds that ex­po­sure to a mir­ror can re­duce even com­mon self-crit­i­cal eval­u­a­tions

> BDD suf­fer­ers per­form com­pul­sive or repet­i­tive be­hav­iours such as ex­ces­sive groom­ing, at­tempt­ing to cam­ou­flage the flaw with cos­met­ics, and seek­ing surgery and other phys­i­cal al­ter­ations. These be­hav­iours pro­vide only tem­po­rary re­lief at best.

Re­searchers have dis­cov­ered that BDD suf­fer­ers have a num­ber of vis­ual pro­cess­ing dif­fi­cul­ties. No­tably, be­cause they ha­bit­u­ally fo­cus on one spe­cific as­pect of their ap­pear­ance, their at­ten­tion and vis­ual pro­cess­ing can be­come very fixed and nar­row; they have dif­fi­culty see­ing the whole im­age of them­selves. They also have dif­fi­culty recog­nis­ing their own emo­tions when they look in the mir­ror.

Mir­ror ex­po­sure ther­apy comes in handy here. It in­volves ask­ing the ob­sessed to ob­serve them­selves re­peat­edly and for pro­longed pe­ri­ods in a full-length mir­ror. At first, one’s own im­age evokes neg­a­tive emo­tions and crit­i­cal thoughts, and then with pro­longed and re­peated mir­ror ex­po­sures, the neg­a­tive re­ac­tions change and lessen through ha­bit­u­a­tion — that is, through re­peated ex­po­sure the as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween their neg­a­tive re­ac­tion and see­ing the par­tic­u­lar as­pect of their ap­pear­ance fades away. The mir­ror is used as a tool to chal­lenge their dis­torted view of them­selves.

Mir­rors have also been used to treat body im­age dis­tor­tions of those suf­fer­ing from eat­ing dis­or­ders. Eat­ing dis­or­der pa­tients can see them­selves as very fat when they’re ac­tu­ally quite thin. Ther­a­pists and loved ones are un­able to con­vince them that they aren’t fat, but they can of­ten to come to this re­al­i­sa­tion with the help of a mir­ror and a sup­port­ive ther­a­pist.

Even for those who don’t have se­ri­ously de­bil­i­tat­ing body im­age is­sues, look­ing in the mir­ror can still cre­ate a twinge of dis­com­fort or crit­i­cism. Re­search finds that ex­po­sure to a mir­ror can re­duce even these com­mon self-crit­i­cal eval­u­a­tions.

Al­though it may seem coun­ter­in­tu­itive, re­search sug­gests that one of the best ways to deal with self­crit­i­cal body im­age is­sues is to take a long look in the mir­ror. —Psy­chol­ogy To­day Tara Well, PhD is a psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor at Barnard

Col­lege of Columbia Uni­ver­sity

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.