Chances are you’ve probably heard about Body Dysmorphic Disorder. BDD is characterized by an obsessive preoccupation that some aspect of one’s own appearance is severely flawed. This obsession is then partnered with the compulsion of going to extreme lengths and measures to hide or fix this “flaw.” If there is a real flaw, its importance is severly exaggerated. A person suffering from BDD spends much of their day thinking, obsessing and compulsing over this real or perceived flaw.
Have you heard of Muscle Dysmorphic Disorder? Chances are, you haven’t. Muscle Dysmorphic Disorder is a subset of Body Dysmorphic Disorder. MDD primarily affects males, often athletes, and presents as an obsessive preoccupation with a delusional or exaggerated belief that one’s own body is too small, too skinny, or insufficiently muscular. In most cases the individual’s actual build is normal or exceptionally large and muscular already.
Men suffering from MDD are obsessed about being inadquetly muscular and lean, when in fact, they are not. Their compulsion may include spending many hours in the gym, spending inordinate amounts of money on supplements, having strange eating patterns and even substance abuse.
What drives these obsessions? Are we just talking about crazy people that are too self-focused? Or has our society run amok?
If you are an Instagram user, a Facebook user- really any social media- you see #fitspo every day. Generally there is a photo of an extremely defined body part like abs, arms, or chest, along with this caption. Sometimes faces are included and sometimes they aren’t.
So what does #fitspo stand for? “Fitsporation.” In theory, #fitspo images are supposed to inspire “healthy” bodies. And maybe some of them do. But if you just googled #fitspo, you will find image after image of an exceptionally “fit” person’s body part. Image after image after image. Most of them have received many hearts!
What does it mean that we are collectively acknowledging well-developed near perfect body parts by giving them hearts? What about the people that lost 20 pounds by eating clean healthy food and engaging in a fitness routine that brought down their cholesterol but didn’t happen to end up with a six pack? Shouldn’t they receive just as much attention and adulation?
#fitspo seems to focus directly on the appearance of body parts, the size and visual perfection of the part and that seems dangerous to me. Maybe the photo should say: #8hoursadayinthegym or #Mywifeleftmebecauseofmyobsession or #Ispendallmytimeandmoneyonthis. It’s easy to see how a person’s own expectations about what is realistic could become distorted, especially when one is bombarded with these images over and over again, and they are glorified. They may set the standard of perfection so high that the would be health seeker just gives up. Again, I am speaking directly about the images, as opposed to someone posting something like, “Just broke my personal record for dead lifting,” or #myfirsttriathalon. Both of those are based on personal fitness goals. It is important to note the difference.
So next time you are about to hashtag a photo, or are about to heart an image on Instagram, ask yourself this question:
Is it really #fitspo? Am I helping or hurting? Maybe I am encouraging #BDD or #MDD……
Dr. J. Renae Norton is a clinical psychologist, specializing in the outpatient treatment of eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, bulimarexia, and binge eating disorder (BED), as well as obesity. She is also the author of The Sun Plus Diet, due out in summer 2016.
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