We all have days when we look in the mirror and don’t like what we see. But for someone with body dysmorphic disorder, it’s not a fleeting thought, but a fixation that fills their mind with obsessive, negative thoughts.
“It’s where somebody has a fixation on some part of their body, coupled with a conviction that it is not “right”. It doesn’t look right, it’s too big, too small, too anything,” she tells Mamamia.
“They constantly check it. They constantly compare themselves to others. It’s a fixation of all their energies and attention… and it’s often coupled with attempts to try to change it.
“It’s not necessarily what your body looks like, it’s what you think it looks like.”
Listen: Thanks, gym owner, but your message is not motivational.
So what do you say to someone who’s feeling that bad about themselves?
Well, according to Morgan, definitely not “just stop worrying about it”.
“The most unhelpful thing is ‘just get over it’, ‘stop worrying about it’, ‘just let it go’. Because when it’s a mental disorder you can’t ‘just’ do anything. It truly is embedded in the way you think, the framework of your actions, so you can’t just ‘let it go’.”
“Telling someone to just let it go does not work, at all.”
Morgan adds that trying to argue logically that what they see is not true will not “jolt them out of it”.
Instead, Morgan suggests trying these tactics when your friend or loved one starts to mention what they don’t like about their body.
Steer the conversation, without dismissing them.
When your friend has just told you they “hate their fat arms”, it can be tricky to not immediately say: “don’t be silly, your arms a skinny”. While what you’re trying to do is tell them that’s not what you see, a better way is to shift their focus away from their external features and onto their positive non-physical traits.
“It’s steering the conversation away from what they’ve observed,” Morgan says.
“You could say something like, ‘I think you are gorgeous as you are. Not only do you look great, but I love your conversation, I love the way you speak, I love what you can do’.
“So, taking the conversation into a more positive place and trying to take it away from the physical appearance.”
Stop the negative spiral in its tracks.
Morgan says that trying to relate to them by talking about your own insecurities, isn’t going to be helpful, but understands that people aren’t robots and that it’s about making a conscious effort to stop the negative talk.
“We bully ourselves with our own comments about our bodies, we shame ourselves. When you feel a conversation heading the way of a competition about who can feel the worst about themselves, put a stop to it.”
Reassure them your love is not about looks.
While you might assume it’s a given that you love your bestie or partner for their personality, not their looks, Morgan says not to underestimate how helpful it can be to reassure them of this.
“The best thing you can do is continue to reassure them that you are there for them, that you care for them not for anything to do with what they look like, that what they look like is never going to change how you feel about them, that you love them for who they are and support them.”
It’s important your loved one hears that you understand that what they see is true for them, Morgan says.
Try this: “I can really see that this is a challenge for you, and while I don’t think you look like you think you do, you do, so there is help that you can get.”
Encourage them to get help, and help them find it.
When you're telling your friend you understand this is real for them, always finish with "there is help", Morgan says.
She says that you can assist them, by offering to help them with this next step.
A great place to start is the Butterfly Foundation's helpline. They could also seek a referral from their GP to start seeing a psychologist.
Tell them: "I'm here".
Morgan says that it's often a series of conversations that will result in your loved one seeking help, so it's important not to give up if they insist they don't need help.
"The best thing to do with somebody who is being challenged by body dysmorphia this, but doesn't want to get help at this point, is to stay close to them. So that if they do reach a point where they want to get help, they know they can rely on you to help them get there."
If you or anyone you care about is suffering from body dysmorphia or any kind of eating disorder, please phone the Butterfly Foundation's helpline on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673).