In the age of social media, anything and everything can be made to look “beautiful.” Pop on a couple of filters, add a little Facetune and voila! You could go from looking like Kermit the Frog to Timothée Chalamet in a second – or so I’ve told myself, once upon a time.
Social media outlets like Instagram and Pinterest have made it marketable to curate your own highly aesthetic lifestyle, while dating apps like Tinder and Grindr have taken “window shopping” to a whole new level. In this digital era, we’re in the hunger games of “living my best life”-core — and everyone’s competing for who looks the happiest, fittest, richest and most successful. But truth be told, it seems like the odds may not be in our favour.
ADHD, body dysmorphia and social media
Growing up without social media – and for you Gen Z readers out there, this probably will sound like the Medieval times – the only projections of beauty standards I saw were the ones conventional marketing campaigns would plaster on billboards and TV commercials (geeze, I do sound old).
These neurobehavioural patterns not only relate to how you see other people and things, but can also affect how you see yourself.
Near the end of high school, in 2011, I was diagnosed with ADHD, which at the time helped me rationalize my fixation on (mostly) unimportant details that would otherwise distract me from my larger objectives — re: annoying exams, group projects, etc. It even came in the form of anything small like font sizes in Word or colour coordinating a presentation slide. Face value, you wouldn’t think these attributes are anything more than a distraction – but you’d be wrong.
These neurobehavioural patterns not only relate to how you see other people and things, but can also affect how you see yourself. What your brain is really telling your body is a laundry list of critiques and modifications you need in order to fit a standard of beauty that nobody has manufactured but yourself. A recent US study even found linkages to those who are diagnosed with ADHD have similar traits of those who experience various levels of body dysmorphia or body dysmorphoic disorder (BDD).
What is body dysmorphia?
According to the BDD Foundation, BDD is a “disabling preoccupation with perceived defects or flaws in appearance. It can affect all genders, and makes sufferers excessively self-conscious.”
Looking in the mirror and seeing something different from what other people see is just one common indicator amongst a myriad of character traits that can lead to more intensified reactions in anything from social settings to work-related responsibilities and even just day-to-day activities. In some extreme cases, there may be a connection between those who suffer with body dysmorphia and self harm.
The Refuge reports that between 2.3 and 7 per cent of the general population is struggling with body dysmorphia — and with social media being an accessible gateway into self deprecation — how does the average person navigate a life in the “metaverse” while still fostering healthy relationships?
You may also like: Khloe Kardashian speaks out on leaked photo and body image struggles.
Navigating body dysmorphia in day-to-day life
I’ve been working in social media for the past six or so years, and have had some sort of social media profile for double that amount. In that time, I’ve learned a few things:
- Social media has completely elevated the way people can communicate,
- Social media can provide new opportunities for your career,
- Social media can connect you with the most incredible people and
- Social media can bring out the worst parts of yourself.
I’m a firm believer that no matter how hard you work on curating your FYP, adjusting your followers list and even making yourself private — the algorithm always finds a way to get your attention, whether it be better or for worse.
As a marketer in the industry, it’s my job to creatively strategize the best and most efficient ways to grab your attention. Think of your serotonin as an investor — where are you going to put your time and dedication? How long can you truly last watching a video on YouTube or even a TikTok? IG stories, TikToks, YouTube Shorts and REELS are so short because the industry has discovered the best way to capture the average viewer’s attention is to captivate them in the first 15 seconds — this is the average watch time across most platforms.
When you work in social media, it’s as if the average time you spend on the apps mimics the average time of when you sleep.
So with that being the objective, you often find these short-form videos are oversaturated with content of flashy images and idyllic backgrounds catering to anyone from the style influencer, beauty buff or fitness guru. Predating these new form videos, digital campaigns took their time to storytell without inundating so much all at once. You can now view as many as 200 short form videos in a consecutive watch time versus one whole long form video. The best part for marketers, is that you’ll do it — because you’re getting new content, each and every time.
It’s not all bad, you absorb more “information” quicker and you have a diversity of content to explore and be entertained by. But at what point does it start affecting your mental health and how can you work to prevent any real harm?
It’s important that anyone working or casually participating in the world of social media sets boundaries for themselves, even when it can feel like an impossible feat.
I dedicate about an average of eight hours per working day on social media — whether that’s commenting to fans, looking for trends, creating content or just enjoying my personal time on the apps. When you work in social media, it’s as if the average time you spend on the apps mimics the average time of when you sleep. It becomes such an integral part of your day, anything attributed to that experience almost becomes “normal.” This is the point when the causal viewer needs to take caution.
How I manage my BDD
BDD thrives in an environment where it can find comparables — someone that has the ideal nose, perfect skin, best outfits etc. It’s important that anyone working or casually participating in the world of social media sets boundaries for themselves, even when it can feel like an impossible feat.
Beauty is subjective, and the relationship with oneself is paramount.
As someone who loves food, being active and stylish, in a lot of ways I feel incredibly vulnerable to the most harmful spectrums of what social media can inflict on someone with BDD. Some ways that I’ve personally been able to manage and curb my BDD are:
- Staying active: There’s a difference between hating your body and working out versus just maintaining bodily health. Working out doesn’t have to mean bench pressing double your body weight or going to spin class everyday — it just means having a healthy relationship with the body as a whole. That can come in the form of a short walk to a bike ride or even breathing exercises.
- Taking time back: Oftentimes someone with BDD will compare themselves to their own friend groups. It’s important to take time to yourself, appreciate your own company and learn to say “no.” If something doesn’t feel right, give yourself the opportunity to breathe and step back.
- Stepping outside my comfort zone: In that same vein, don’t fall into a comfort zone where every time your friends ask you to go out, your answer is always no. Go at your own pace but work to indulge in an “uncomfortable” outing every once in a while. Social settings can be challenging, but I’ve found that in most cases it’ll be to your benefit to meet new people.
- Cultivating a supportive friend group: Educating your friends on BDD is an important step in making sure they understand your limitations and challenges of engaging in social settings. The more they know, the more patient they are to support you long term.
- Sleeping: Reaching the recommended amount of sleep for your age group is important in curbing the more challenging daily struggles with BDD. If you’re too tired, you won’t be motivated to clean yourself up for the day, which can perpetuate negative thought processes about yourself that can debilitate other unrelated activities.
- Setting boundaries: I’m the first person to admit that sometimes social media can feel like a rabbit hole, and you may not realize it, but two hours will pass by and all you’ve done is watch prank videos. What I’ve learned to do is set alarms and time myself for how long I spend on the apps outside of my working hours. It truly takes only one triggering video to send you in a mental spiral that can lead to hours of unhinged watchtime in unnecessary fitness hacks.
Remember, having BDD doesn’t define you. Beauty is subjective, and the relationship with oneself is paramount. You have the ability to cultivate a healthy living, work and social environment.
Appreciate that not everything positive comes right away or lasts forever, but to always strive for the peace and serenity you deserve. No matter how beautiful that one influencer’s life may seem, keep in mind that all the filters, lighting, angles and time that went into making that piece of content is only one highly curated facet of a life that is not too far off from your own.
DISCLOSURE: This discussion is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare practitioner. Always seek medical advice that is specific to you and your situation.