How we See Ourselves                   
 
In August 2004, when stunning Hollywood A-list star Reese Witherspoon said she was not happy showing off her body, you could be forgiven for thinking there’s no hope for anyone else.
 
The 28-year-old told a magazine that she will never appear in a bikini scene in any of her films again, saying: “I have cellulite. I have stretch marks. My breasts are not what they were before I breast-fed two children.”
 
It’s not surprising many people find it hard to feel even remotely good about their own bodies – regardless of the reality.
 
But whether you just have the occasional ‘fat’ day, or loathe the way you look, such doom and gloom is bad for both your physical and mental health   

"Psychologist Corinne Sweet, an expert in body image, says: “It’s all to do with how confident you feel about yourself.

You meet people who wouldn’t be classed as being in the Reese Witherspoon league of good looks but boy do they feel good about themselves and exude confidence.
 
“And there’s nothing more seductive and gorgeous than someone who likes themselves. What people like Reese Witherspoon are effectively saying is they don’t like themselves.
 
“It all comes from the inside, and if you don’t like yourself inside you’re unlikely to like yourself on the outside – which is why people who spend hundreds of pounds on cosmetic surgery may actually have done much better for themselves if they spent the money on therapy learning to build up self-esteem.”

HOW WE SEE OURSELVES
Sweet explains: “There are two sides to body image. Firstly there is taking care and making the best of yourself. Making sure you look the part when, for example you’re going to a job interview.
 
“You do need to make sure you dress and groom yourself so that you feel confident in important social and professional situations.
 
“The second side is accepting your body. You shouldn’t cover up on the beach because you’ve got scars or marks you want to hide. Who really cares about them?
 
“People shouldn’t try to aim for what they see as perfection but accept their body as it is. You shouldn’t let your body image stop you from doing anything.”
 
Bad body image isn’t something which only affects certain age groups, and our attitude to our bodies can be affected from very early on.
 
“It’s vital parents make sure their children feel good about their own body image. For the first few years of their life the mother’s face is effectively a mirror for her child so they need to get a positive reaction when they look at her,” Sweet says.
 
“When children as young as six are suffering from eating disorders you realise how important it is for parents to develop their children’s self-esteem.
 
“The worst thing parents can do is be obsessed with body image as that will pass down to their children.”
 
The Legacy of the Dieting Mum    The Guy in the Glass


HOW TO LOVE YOUR BODY
Look in the mirror every day and look for what you like about yourself – find 10 things you like and keep reminding yourself of them
 
Emphasise the bits of your body you like – so if you like your eyes, wear make-up that draws attention to them
Believe the compliments people pay you
 
Remember celebrities are paid to look good and the glossy pictures of them are usually airbrushed
Parents have a duty to build up their children’s self-esteem as this helps them develop a good body image later in life
 
BODY DYSMORPHIC DISORDER
While most of us have a few insecurities about our bodies, sufferers of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) can have their lives destroyed by these worries.
 
BDD is a mental disorder where a preoccupation with a slight defect in the sufferer’s appearance – real or imagined – becomes so excessive it interferes with their social and professional life.
 
Dr David Veale, a specialist in treating the disorder at Grovelands Priory Hospital, says: “Most sufferers are preoccupied with some aspect of their face and often focus on several body parts.
 
“To obtain a diagnosis of BDD, the preoccupation must cause significant distress or handicap in one’s social, school or occupational life. Most sufferers are extremely distressed by their condition.
 
“The preoccupation is difficult to control and they spend several hours a day thinking about it. They often avoid a range of social and public situations in order to prevent themselves feeling uncomfortable.
 
“Alternatively they may enter such situations but remain very anxious and self-conscious. They may monitor and camouflage themselves excessively to hide their perceived defect by using heavy make-up, brushing their hair in a particular way, growing a beard, changing their posture, or wearing particular clothes – a hat, for example.”
 
While some people might believe the disorder is just vanity taken to an extreme, Dr Veale is adamant this isn’t the case.
 
“BDD sufferers may be spending hours in front of a mirror but they believe themselves to be hideous or ugly. They are often aware of the senselessness of their behaviour, but nonetheless have difficulty controlling it. They tend to be very secretive and reluctant to seek help because they are afraid that others will think them vain.
 
“Sufferers are usually demoralised and many are clinically depressed.”

SIGNS OF BDD
 
Persistently checking appearance either directly or in a reflective surface (eg mirrors, CDs, shop windows).
Excessive grooming, by removing or cutting hair or combing.
Picking skin to make it smooth.
Making comparisons against models in magazines or television.
Dieting and excessive exercise or weight lifting.

TREATMENT
Treatment usually involves cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and/or anti-depressants.
In CBT the sufferer learns to to change the way they think about their appearance as attitude towards one’s appearance is the crucial hurdle which needs to be overcome.
There are hundreds of examples of people with large birthmarks on their face who don’t let it bother them at all.
 
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Contact OCD Action – national charity for sufferers of BDD as well as Obsessive Compulsive disorder. Go to www.ocdaction.org.uk or call 020 7226 4000.