Body Dysmorphia

With the exception of the fashion industry, the health and fitness industry has to be one of the most body and appearance oriented fields going around. Media, magazines constantly bombard us with images of beautiful young things with great looking bodies (airbrushed or not). The focus on external appearance is paramount and in the bodybuilding world it is more so – we put ourselves up on stage to be judged subjectively based purely on our appearance.

Competing of course, takes your focus on your body to a whole other level – diet, training, bulking, prepping all require close attention to be paid to the way your body reacts in a given circumstance. Many competitors who get up on stage have gone though amazing transformations, or overcome huge obstacles – physical, mental and emotional. The ANB have an award for the most inspirational competitor on the day. And once you get into that incredible shape it completely changes your perspective on what you can do and how your body looks.

After competitions are over and you lose all that nice definition you have to re-adjust your perspective to whatever level your body wants to sit at – of course its going to cause you to focus a lot on your body and its appearance – how can it not?

We’ve all been in the gym on chest and bi day and seen the ranks of guys admiring themselves in the mirror – just yesterday I had a quiet chuckle to myself at a guy standing front and centre, in the free wights area lifting his shirt to admire his abs – turning this way and that way to catch the light at different angles, crunching to make sure all 4…were visible

Yes he didn’t even have the 6 pack!

But when does a healthy interest in physical appearance turn into an unhealthy obsession? A syndrome known as body dysmorphia.

I got to thinking about this the other day and ironically enough it was sparked by comments on how good I’m looking and how I’ve really filled out in the last few months now that I’m beginning to get some real training into me. Aiden is constantly commenting at training about how my body is changing so rapidly, and its true, it is.

I finally feel real again after losing a lot of muscle through 9 months of not being able to train and am beginning to look very solid – yesterdays dexa scan showed I’ve finally got back all the muscle I lost post surgery  – you’d almost believe that I was once a figure competitor!

But now that I have got back to where I was 13 months ago, I’m have moments when I get worried about my size (isn’t that a guy thing?) – you see last year I wasn’t big enough – I knew that, my trainer knew that, everyone else knew that, how I came 4th in the Universe Novice lineup that included Taylor Smith (1st place) – now a Pro, and Lauren Webb (3rd), now Miss Olympia I don’t know. That’s not a shabby lineup.

How I came 3rd in the Masters category which can be a very tough category I don’t know – I somehow punched way above my weight.

So the comments I’ve been getting about how big I am seem to be having the opposite effect – I’m not reassured, instead, I’m acutely aware of just how much work I need to do in order to be competitive.

And this is the rub. By Next year some people who I will be on stage with, will have had 2 full years of work gone into their physique, whereas by next year as long as I stay injury free (touch every tree in the forest!) AND my shoulders come together properly, I’ll have had only 1 years work gone into me. Now, if I wasn’t big enough LAST year, then there is no point stepping on stage NEXT year presenting last years physique against competitors with 2 full years of work – I’ll be even further behind the game than I already was! For example – I noticed from the Universe photos, I was actually on stage with Bridget Freeman (Masters I think) and how good did she look this year? How much better will she look next year?

Its an uphill climb…

mind you, I do, do uphill rather well…the steeper the better in my book 🙂

So what do I see when I look in the mirror? I see a lack of medial and anterior delts – I don’t have that nice ‘boulder’ look to my shoulders (no surprises there really!)

I see skinny (fat) arms with the beginnings of nice peaky biceps, I see the beginnings of that nice horseshoe triceps but not the whole ropey effect that will come out when the fat has come off. I see the beginnings of nice wide lats, but they only appear when I flex.

I see very poor (read ‘No’) abs, I see nice big fat inner gastroc, but a lack of outer gastroc that will give that beautiful balanced diamond effect to my calves.

Obviously I can’t see my back, but photos indicate that its coming along nicely.

I see that my butt is getting better ie. I have one now! 🙂 but is still out of proportion with my legs. I see upper and lower body proportion imbalance – Mr Dexa has backed this up as well – I gained more muscle on my legs than my upper body thereby increasing the imbalance. I see quad dominance and lack of VMO developement, I can’t see the hamstrings that Aiden insists are there.

We all have an opinion of our body, even Aiden was commenting the other when I mentioned I was going to write this post, that he still see’s himself as skinny like when he was a kid – but he’s a good solid 88kg of lean muscle so not skinny at all!

But given that I see many areas that can be improved upon does that make me body dysmorphic? or am I just being realistic and using it as motivation to get better?

How do you know when you’ve crossed the line?

so I decided to look it up

here’s wiki’s interpretation of BDD:

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD, also body dysmorphia, dysmorphic syndrome; originally dysmorphophobia) is a type of mental illness, a somatoform disorder, wherein the affected person is concerned with body image, manifested as excessive concern about and preoccupation with a perceived defect of their physical features. The person complains of a defect in either one feature or several features of their body; or vaguely complains about their general appearance, which causes psychological distress that causes clinically significant distress or impairs occupational or social functioning. Often BDD co-occurs with emotional depression and anxiety, social withdrawal or social isolation.

BDD is linked to a diminished quality of life, can be co-morbid with major depressive disorder and social phobia (chronic social anxiety); features a suicidal ideation rate of 80 percent, in extreme cases linked with issociation, and thus can be considered a factor in the person’s attempting suicide. BDD can be treated with either psychotherapy or psychiatric medication, or both; moreover, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are effective treatments.

Although originally a mental-illness diagnosis usually applied to women, Body Dysmorphic Disorder occurs equally among men and women, Approximately one to two percent (1–2%) of the world’s population meets the diagnostic criteria for Body Dysmorphic Disorder.


I am concerned with my bodies appearance – but I don’t think its excessive. I do see physical ‘defects’ that can be worked on…I prefer to call them ‘potentialities’ – but does it cause me ‘clinically significant distress that impairs occupational or social functioning’?


I do discuss my perceived weaknesses with Aiden as a way of working out what we need to do with my training, but then I leave all the training plans and decisions to him as I have total faith in his ability and knowledge to get the best out of whatever my potential is. As long as he is happy with my progress, then I just trust that all is going according to plan.

Body Dysmorphic? Well, inside the gym and at training I prefer to think of myself as…very focussed…well, ok maybe a little obsessive about getting everything right and doing what I have to do to ensure I am continually progressing, and you’d better believe that I will bust my butt to get back on stage and present the best figure that I can.

Outside the gym – well it doesn’t matter, overall health is more important than looks. Yes, I do look good, I know this and that is something that I am very proud of and can enjoy (flaunt??!)…particularly now its beach season…love the fact that I am in far better shape than the majority of people my age and most of the twenty somethings as well!  🙂

Besides I’m so busy, I just don’t have time to worry if ‘my bum looks big in this’.

Inside the gym is my body focus time, and that’s a mere 5 hours a week…or more to the point probably about 5 minutes a session before I get told to stop being a sook, suck it up princess, and give me 12 arse to grass heavy squats. 🙂

So its definitely healthy for you to have an awareness of your body, how you’re treating it and the results you’re getting as an outcome of that treatment, but if its occupying your every waking moment and thought then you might want to look at how thats impacting the rest of your life, because that’s when it does become dysmorphic.

So on that note, I’m going to take my skinny arms, wobbly butt and thunder thighs off to a café and go hide in a corner where no-one can see me whilst I attempt a set of single arm long black lifts without failure (spilling!)




  1. thanks for writing this. not sure if its old of not but I met a guy training to be a body builder and he told me he has been diagnosed with this disorder and it has really got me thinking especially after exam study last semester- about what % of body builders can be diagnosed with this. Theres someone in my work place that I am concerned about this and I just don’t know the fine line between this disorder and normal fitness lifestyle and I think it needs to be brought to the attention and spotlight… But then again. I am just at the beginning of my journey to stage 🙂


    1. Hi Brittany
      Thats interesting that you know someone who has actually been diagnosed with this, I’d be fascinated to know what % of bodybuilders (male and female!) could be considered to be in this category. I’m also willing to bet thats it not just bodybuilder who are susceptible to this.
      When are you competing?


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