Dissatisfaction with one’s appearance is a familiar feeling to many of us. In a society with idealized bodies plastered all over the media we consume, from magazines to movies and everywhere in between, drawing unfavorable comparisons of oneself to the results of Photoshop might even be inevitable. People do not fret over their looks for no reason, either: perceived attractiveness is, for example, likely to be tied to employment rate and wages earned.[1] Teenagers, too, feel the pressure of trying to measure up to modern times’ Aphrodite and Adonis – perhaps even more keenly than adults, at times. Research shows time and again that young people worry quite a lot over their looks, and sometimes those worries can put them on the path to self-destruction. And since such low self-perception and the disorders associated with it tend to be rooted in adolescence, if they do not outright begin then, it is important to be aware of how these problems crop up in young people if we hope to combat them in the population at large.

 In young women, body dysmorphia – the belief that one’s appearance is defective to the point of needing to be hidden or fixed – appears to be more common. A 2011 study from the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Psychology found that over the time between 8th and 10th grade, girls reported a higher rate of dissatisfaction with their bodies than boys, and their dissatisfaction increased with time whereas the boys’ did not.[2] Canadian studies have suggested that more than 20% of teenage girls are on a diet at any given time, and studies in America, Australia and the UK have found similar results.[3] In turn, dieting appears to be the most significant risk factor in developing an eating disorder, according to Australian research.[4] Discouraging teenage diets, then, may be a good way to prevent disordered eating in teenage girls, and dieting behaviors should be a warning to friends and family that something serious may be at work. Symptoms of depression can act as a similar warning: while both depression and eating disorders are serious problems for teens by themselves, they often go hand-in-hand, and almost 50% of people with eating disorders are estimated to also have depression.[5] And while eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, only 1 in 10 people suffering from them will receive treatment.[6]

 It is, however, important to note that problems of self-perception are not exclusive to girls. Young men, too, can suffer from the physical standards they feel society has imposed on them. While eating disorders in boys are rare – only 10% of people with anorexia or bulimia are male[7] - they in turn have their own self-destructive disorders used to cope with the idealized image of the strong, attractive male. For example, muscle dysmorphic disorder is a subset of body dysmorphia focused on the idea that one is underdeveloped and weak, even after attempting to address the problem with extreme weightlifting and similar behaviors; it’s sometimes referred to as “reverse anorexia” due to its focus on bulking up rather than slimming down. While 90 percent of those struggling with anorexia and bulimia are female, 90 percent of people with MDD are male, usually between the ages of 16 and 35.[8] Unfortunately, part of the perception of the idealized male is the ability to rely only on oneself, which can lead young men to refuse to seek treatment for fear of showing weakness. A 2005 study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that men aged 16 to 24 were the least likely to say they would seek psychiatric help, and the most likely to say outright that they would not.[9] As such, the true prevalence of body dysmorphic disorders such as MDD is hard to know, and not many studies have been done in this direction. Still, even this preliminary data suggests that more attention needs to be paid to the self-perception of young men, as they too can experience disorders resulting from a poor body image.

 At times teenagers can be melodramatic and self-involved, but adults must be careful not to fall into thinking that such behavior invalidates the real and often quite serious issues they can be wrestling with internally. Too often, it would appear, young people are left to face their demons all on their own, and their attempts to do so can cause serious harm both mentally and physically. It is therefore always important to be on the lookout for symptoms of these and other disorders, so that if they appear, the young person in question can have the assistance they may not even realize they need. Mental illness leaves an indelible mark on those afflicted, and the fewer people who need to suffer through it – sometimes even to the point of self-destruction – the better.



[1]{C} Christian Pfeifer, 2011, Physical Attractiveness, Employment, and Earnings. Available at: http://ftp.iza.org/dp5664.pdf, accessed 10/18/2014.

{C}[2]{C} Sarah Kate Bearman, Erin Martinez, and Eric Stice, 2006, The Skinny on Body Dissatisfaction: A Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Girls and Boys. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1540456/, accessed 10/18/2014.

{C}[3]{C} Adolescent Health Committee (2003-2004), 2004, Dieting in Adolescence. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2720870/, accessed 10/18/2014.

{C}[4]{C} Eating Disorders Victoria, 2013, Key Research and Statistics. Available at: http://www.eatingdisorders.org.au/key-research-a-statistics, accessed 10/18/2014.

{C}[5]{C} National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, Eating Disorders Statistics. Available at: http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/, accessed 10/18/2014.

{C}[6]{C} Ibid.

{C}[7]{C} Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, 2011, Statistics: How many people have eating disorders? Available at: http://www.anred.com/stats.html, accessed 10/18/2014.

{C}[8]{C} Dual Diagnosis, 2014, Muscle Dysmorphia and Substance Abuse. Available at: http://www.dualdiagnosis.org/mental-health-and-addiction/muscle-dysmorphia/, accessed 10/18/2014.

{C}[9]{C} Marie Isabel Oliver, Nicky Pearson, Nicola Coe, and David Gunnell, 2004, Help-seeking behaviour in men and women with common mental health problems: cross-sectional study.  Available at: http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/186/4/297.full, accessed 10/18/2014.

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THE HIDDEN COST OF NEGATIVE BODY IMAGE by UrbanSculpt Staff Writer Elektra Christensen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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