Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Krisca Te.
The Mirror Lies
Over and over again in the medical journals there are stories of attractive young women who have severely disfigured themselves with self-imposed dieting or purging. They see their emaciated faces and figures and think they are still flawed and unlovable; indeed, that they are still too fat to warrant any love. Though it is not unheard of in men, adolescent girls and young women are by far the greater number who fall victim to this disorder to the tune of about ten to one.
Though roots of the disorder can often be traced to causes transpiring in early childhood, today’s culture, that insists that one cannot be too rich or too thin, has a lot to do with the insurgency of the syndrome. Girls and young women who are constantly exposed to ultra-thin body examples of what are supposed to be the glory of feminine beauty, find themselves constantly at war with their bodies so they can emulate this “beauty” – even to the point of becoming rather grotesque.
Causes Versus Symptoms
Anorexia is a strange and self-fulfilling disease, driving otherwise attractive people to become quite ugly resulting from their attempts to be beautiful. Obviously those who suffer can’t see the truth that the mirror imparts. Untreated, victims can come to exhibit all the disease and discomfort common to people being starved to death in a gulag or a concentration camp. Obviously, the restricted diet or purging that ultimately ruins the body is a symptom of the affliction, not the cause.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) and Rib Removal
BDD is listed as a mental or emotional disorder that is characterised by excessive attention to an actual or imagined physical flaw. In a past edition of Academic Psychiatry (PsychiatryOnline), a brief historical account of women and body image was posted, abbreviated here:
In earlier times, the harsh environment required large families, so children could help tend the land and do chores. Fertile, physically strong, and able women were valued. In the 19th century, women with tiny waists and large bustles came to be valued. Men wanted to be able to span a woman’s waist with the hands. Emphasis was placed on female fragility. The ideal woman of the time was sickly, prone to headaches; the fine art of fainting was taught in most finishing schools. Women would go as far as having ribs removed to further decrease their waist size. Physically harmful corsets became the height of fashion.
Our Western culture seems to still operate under those constrictive “girdles” to a degree. We are probably fortunate that more women in our modern times don’t succumb to BDD, in spite of the bra-burning feminism that characterised the latter part of the 20th Century.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as Important as Diet
Of course, restoring the patient’s weight is an important first step, but the best treatment includes encouraging and monitoring behavioural change. That is, getting down to why a person can really think that she, or he, is still too fat or too uncomely even when seeing a skeletal reflection in the mirror. The patient has to address the underlying issues of control, perfectionism, and most importantly, self-perception. And it can be a rough row to hoe. After all, treatment must involve body, mind, and, most importantly, spirit:
- Medical Treatment
Focuses on detecting and treating the many physical complications of the disorder.
- Prescription Medicines
Anti-depressants may help manage behaviour that threatens life or complicates therapy.
- Nutritional Therapy
Helps the patient improve the relationship with food, striving for nutritional ideals.
- Botanical Therapy
Teas, poultices, aromas, and even supplements to offset medical scrip side effects.
- Psychological Monitoring
Therapy to identify and treat mood and personality disorders.
- Life-Skills Training
Monitoring day-to-day activity to assist coping more realistically with life’s stresses.
- Body Movement
Light exercise to get back in touch with the physical self and tend to body care.
12-Step Programs Can Assist Toward Personal Growth
Anorexia is about anxiety, depression, and an obsessive, self-loathing belief that one is unlovable or somehow wrong. As such, it is often helpful for patients to listen to the travails of others like themselves and how they approach life’s problems. More often than not, the whole family or close circle of friends must be a involved with the therapy to make it effective. Many blogs and websites exist that encourage all sorts of activities – poetry or journal-keeping, for instance – so patients can eventually approach a mirror and see a healthy body and a happy soul that can once again be loved – rather than the dingy reflection they used to see.
Krisca Te works with Open Colleges, Australia’s leading provider of TAFE courses equivalent and nutrition courses. When not working, you can find her actively participating in local dog show events – in support of her husband.