Body dysmorphia is a serious mental condition that affects many individuals, including mothers. It is a condition in which you can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance – a flaw that appears minor or cannot be seen by others. Your perceived flaw can cause you significant distress and impact your ability to function in your daily life. Body dysmorphia can lead to feelings of low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression, which can significantly impact a mother’s mental health.
During Maternal Mental Health Month, it is important to recognize that body dysmorphia is a common mental health issue for mothers. Many women experience changes in their bodies during and after pregnancy, which can trigger feelings of insecurity and dissatisfaction. The most common features people tend to fixate on include:
- Face, such as nose, complexion, wrinkles, acne, and other blemishes
- Hair, such as appearance, thinning, and baldness
- Skin and vein appearance
- Breast size
- Muscle size and tone
The cause of body dysmorphic disorder is thought to be a combination of environmental, psychological, and biological factors. Bullying or teasing may create or foster feelings of inadequacy, shame, and or fear of ridicule. These feelings may be worsened by societal pressure to look a certain way, which can further contribute to developing body dysmorphia. On social platforms like Instagram and TikTok, many women influencers will show off their baby bump, fashionable clothes, and how they quickly bounced back after giving birth. Unfortunately, most of these impressions of pregnancy are unrealistic and only give a glimpse of another person’s life.
Mothers with body dysmorphia may display several signs and symptoms related to their preoccupation with their appearance. They may spend an excessive amount of time grooming, checking their appearance in mirrors or reflective surfaces, or seeking reassurance from others about their appearance. Mothers with body dysmorphia may avoid social situations or activities that they perceive will expose their perceived flaws. They may also become fixated on certain body parts, such as their skin, breasts, or abdomen, and seek cosmetic procedures to correct these perceived flaws. These behaviors and thoughts can cause significant distress and interfere with daily functioning, including caring for their children.
Pregnancy is a significant life event for many women, and often their body image can suffer as a result. Studies have shown that pregnant women who compare themselves to standards set by media images are more likely to experience negative emotions about their changing bodies. After giving birth, many women feel they have lost control of their bodies and may become overwhelmed by changes in physical appearance due to weight gain or stretch resulting from pregnancy. Although these changes are natural, some women may struggle with keeping a positive body image during and after pregnancy.
Body image is what you make it. Why is that? Because it is your body, and it’s meant to be taken care of and loved by you, not society. Mothers who are struggling with body dysmorphia may benefit from seeking help from a mental health professional. Therapy, medication, and other forms of treatment can help individuals manage the symptoms of body dysmorphia and improve their overall mental health. It is also important for society to recognize and address the harmful stereotypes and unrealistic beauty standards that contribute to the development of body dysmorphia. By promoting body positivity and acceptance, we can help mothers and other individuals feel more confident and secure in their bodies and improve their mental health and well-being.
When it comes to the treatment of mothers with body dysmorphia, a compassionate and comprehensive approach is crucial. Recognizing the emotional toll this disorder can take on women who have given birth and face the societal pressures of postpartum body expectations is a good place to start. Therapeutic interventions can be beneficial to women struggling with their body image and should be tailored to their specific needs. A combination of individual therapy, support groups, and cognitive-behavioral techniques can play a pivotal role in their recovery journey. By fostering a safe and nonjudgmental environment, therapists can guide mothers toward challenging distorted thoughts, enhancing self-compassion, and developing a more positive body image. Additionally, incorporating holistic approaches such as mindfulness, self-care practices, and embracing one’s strengths and accomplishments as a mother can contribute to their overall well-being. With the right treatment and support, mothers can gradually learn to appreciate and love their bodies, focusing on their incredible journey of motherhood rather than fixating on perceived flaws.
Blog Writer: Adiba Hussain, MPH