Periods & Body Dysmorphia
Body Dysmorphia: What It Is and How It Is Affected By PMS
The truth is that most of us can pinpoint a thing or two we don’t like about our appearance. Whether it’s a crooked tooth or the size of our waist, almost everyone has a personal detail they dislike or would like to change.
These perceived imperfections don’t often interrupt our day-to-day flow, and most of us don’t dwell on these flaws when we hang out with friends, scroll through our Instagram feed, or type emails to our co-workers. But for those with body dysmorphic disorder or BDD, it’s a totally different situation.
What Is Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, body dysmorphic disorder “is a body-image disorder characterized by persistent and interruptive preoccupations with an imagined or slight defect in one’s appearance.” In short, it’s a mental disorder where you literally can’t stop thinking about the flaws you notice in your physical appearance, and it can be highly disruptive to your daily life.
From intense feelings of shame to constantly checking your reflection in the mirror, BDD can present itself differently in each person who experiences it. Maybe you bail on social obligations when your feelings are overwhelming . Maybe you turn to cosmetic procedures to “fix” what you see. Maybe you go to therapy twice a week and keep a journal for your negative thoughts. However you handle your BDD, take comfort in knowing that there are a lot of people going through something similar and are also looking for ways to cope. In fact, in the United States alone, BDD affects nearly 1.7-2.9% of people. That’s anywhere between 5-10 million people!
How Does BDD Relate to Menstrual Cycles And Periods?
Just like how sore boobs and junk food cravings can get intense during your period, BDD can be exacerbated by your cycle. The feeling of dissatisfaction with your looks or obsession over something physical can rear its head when the hormone volume is turned up, and a disorder that normally feels manageable may feel much heavier.
For those with BDD, the emotional rollercoaster caused by a period can trigger their disorder and cause them to feel a more heightened sense of stress during their cycle – thanks to things like temporary weight gain and hormonal acne.
How Can I Prepare for the Period + BDD Combo?
We are not licensed clinicians, nor are we experts in the BDD subject area. What we can recommend comes from reading journals, scouring the Internet and speaking with friends who’ve faced PMS + BDD challenges before. Below are some solutions that work for them during this complicated time of the month.
- Be open about what you’re experiencing. Like with many things, keeping your feelings or personal experiences bottled up isn’t good and doesn’t help you feel any better. If BDD is something that’s heightened because of your period, open up about it with a friend, a trusted ally, or a therapist. An outside perspective might give you some distance on your thoughts and help you get through this time. Remember that it takes guts to be vulnerable.
- Focus on a recovery mindset in eating and exercise habits. When a period begins, many of us struggle to navigate our eating habits and exercise regime. We have a tendency to over do it, to commit to eating only healthy foods and subscribing to exercising goals that aren't attainable. For those with BDD, this can be even more challenging, and compulsive exercising and dangerous eating habits could rear their heads (e.g. controlling caloric intake). If you have BDD and get your period, it's important to try and not let heightened BDD influence what you eat and how much you exercise. Instead, focus on intuitive eating, listening to your body, and sticking to your recovery plan (if you have one).
- Talk to your health practitioner. If your period is triggering your BDD or it feels way more intense than normal, a convo with your doctor could open up some doors for you. Hormonal birth control could help regulate your cycle and stunt some of the symptoms you’ve been experiencing.
- Feel the feels. There’s no magic potion that will solve this issue overnight and no blog post that’s going to make you feel cured. Give yourself space to feel how you feel and don’t judge yourself for feeling that way.
Have BDD? We Want to Hear About Your Experience.
Our community is stronger when we share our voices and stories. If you’re working through your BDD or have experienced it in the past, particularly in conjunction with your period, we’d love to hear more about it. We want your point of view.
To share your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some Helpful Resources:
- To learn more about body dysmorphic disorder, visit this link.
- To take an online quiz and see if it’s something you should speak with someone about, visit this ink.
- Finally, here’s an interesting TedTalk on having a new perspective on body dysmorphia.
Corazza, Ornella et al. “The emergence of Exercise Addiction, Body Dysmorphic Disorder, and other image-related psychopathological correlates in fitness settings: A cross sectional study.” PloS one vol. 14,4 e0213060. 3 Apr. 2019, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0213060