Updated: Apr 21
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As much as 1.7% to 2.9% of the general population — about 1 in 50 people — suffers from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), a mental health condition in which one worries excessively about perceived flaws in their appearance. While therapy and training have been the best types of treatment for this body image disorder, recent scientific studies on psychedelics as a potential treatment - and cure - are now coming to light.
What is Body Image?
Body image is the way you see yourself in the mirror, and how you imagine yourself in your mind. It's the internal representation of our body, and also the way we believe that others see us. Your body image is made up of a combination of factors:
the way you feel about your body, including your height, shape, and weight.
the way you feel and control your body as you move
what you believe to be your own appearance (according to your memories, assumptions and generalizations)
Affective body image is the way you feel about your body. How satisfied or dissatisfied you feel about its shape, weight, and individual body parts is associated with it.
Cognitive body image is the way you imagine your body. This could result in concerns about your body shape and weight. For instance, many women believe that they would be more attractive if they were thinner or more muscular.
Perceptual body image is how you see your body. This is not always a correct representation of what you actually look like. A woman may perceive herself to be fat when she is actually underweight.
Behavioral body image refers to the behaviors you engage in as a result of your overall body image. When a woman is deeply dissatisfied with her body image, she can isolate herself, or even engage in destructive behaviors to change her appearance.
Eating Disorders and Negative Body Image
A negative, unhealthy body image and eating disorders go hand in hand. People dissatisfied with their appearance sometimes come to believe that changing their bodies or looks would make them feel better about themselves. Restrictive diets, surgeries, and excessive exercise are often the strategies used in weight loss, but some will even develop harmful eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating.
What is Negative Body Image?
Someone with a negative body image has a distorted perception of their body - they perceive parts of your body differently from how they actually are. If you are suffering from negative body image, you often…
feel ashamed and anxious about your body
feel uncomfortable and strange in your body
are convinced that only other people are attractive
believe that your body size or shape is a sign of personal failure
Women with a negative body image are more likely to develop an eating disorder. They are also more likely to suffer from feelings of depression, isolation, low self-esteem, and obsessions with weight loss.
What Causes Negative Body Image?
Frequently having negative thoughts and feelings about your own body can develop into body dissatisfaction. It is an internal process but can be influenced by external factors such as family, friends, acquaintances, or teachers. The media also has a huge impact on how a woman sees and feels about herself and her appearance.
Women of all ages are bombarded with images on TV and movies, in magazines and advertising, and through social media on the internet. These images often promote unrealistic, unattainable, and highly stylized appearance ideals that have been manufactured by teams of stylists, art directors, and digital manipulation. Since these standards of beauty cannot be achieved in real life, many women feel they cannot measure up and start to experience intense body dissatisfaction. This is extremely detrimental to their psychological and physical well-being.
Some people are more likely to develop a negative body image than others because of the following factors:
Age: body image is often formed during late childhood and adolescence, but body dissatisfaction can affect people of all ages
Gender: female adolescents are more prone to body dissatisfaction than male adolescents, and it is just as prevalent in adulthood and middle age in women
Personality traits: rigid thinkers, those with perfectionist tendencies, who internalize beauty ideals, or compares themselves to others, are at greater risk to develop body dissatisfaction
Bullying: those who have been ridiculed or humiliated because of their appearance or weight, regardless of the actual body type
Larger body size or type: in a weight and image-driven society, someone with a larger body size is at an increased risk of body dissatisfaction
Role models: those surrounded by family members, friends, or role models who constantly diet and express excessive concerns about their bodies
What is Positive Body Image?
Someone with a positive body image has a true and clear perception of their body and can see it as it truly is. Do you…
feel proud of and accept your body type?
feel comfortable and confident in your own skin?
appreciate your body's natural shape?
not worry excessively about food, weight, and calories?
understand that your physical appearance is not linked to your character and worth?
If you answered yes to those questions, then congratulations, you have a healthy and positive body image!
Why is Positive Body Image Important?
Being able to accept, appreciate, and respect your body makes you happier and less likely to suffer from eating and mood disorders. The most effective eating disorder prevention programs focus on building positive body image and self-esteem, with a balanced approach to nutrition and physical activity.
A positive body image is a healthy one and contributes greatly to overall happiness and well-being. It is crucial for:
self-esteem: which defines how a woman feels about herself
self-acceptance: making a woman more resilient against unrealistic standards of beauty and social pressures to look a certain way
healthy perspectives and behaviors: which allows a woman to lead a balanced lifestyle in tune with her body's needs
healthy relationships: making one more likely to feel comfortable and happy with themselves and the people around them
We all have days when we feel strange or uncomfortable in our bodies, but the key to developing a positive body image is to recognize and respect our natural shape. With practice, we can learn to recognize and transform negative thoughts and feelings towards our bodies with healthy attitudes and positive affirmations.
The Potential of Psychedelics to Build a Positive Body Image
Examining why treatment for eating disorders fail, this 2013 review shows that the resistance comes from the “ego-syntonic” nature of the illness. This means that many of the behaviors, feelings, and values behind these diseases stem from the needs and goals of the ego.
Hinting at the potential of psychedelics to heal body image disorders are a recent study at Imperial College on the wellbeing of sufferers of eating disorders, as well as an ongoing study on anorexia at the John Hopkins Institute.
MAPS Canada and MAPS USA are also proposing a multisite, proof of concept study to examine the effect of psychedelic psychotherapy on eating disorders. The study is to be led by Dr. Adele Lafrance, and the aim is to offer MDMA assisted psychotherapy for anorexia nervosa and bulimia. MAPS is currently looking for individuals or institutions to help fund this study.
People diagnosed with mood or eating disorders, or suffering from negative body image often have other mental health conditions relating to anxiety, depression, OCD, or other trauma-related issues.
The dissolution of the ego is one of the most significant aspects of a psychedelic experience. With that, we are able to gain a new perspective on the world, and most importantly, on ourselves in the world. Psychedelics have the potential to be the catalysts for transformation, healing, and change in people stuck in certain behaviors, thought patterns, or addictions. Perhaps we can harness its power to positively impact self-acceptance, self-esteem, and develop a healthy body image as well.
Jessika Lagarde is a storyteller, Earth and climate activist, and Women On Psychedelics Co-founder. Her personal healing work with psychedelics have made her more aware not only of the crisis of our planet but also of the mental crisis humanity is in. All of her work is informed in taking action in a way that serves the Earth and our human collective, in hopes of mobilizing inner healing towards outer action.
Our WOOP Team will keep up-to-date with this new research in order to bring more information on this to our platform in the future.