Mental Health

Body Dysmorphia in the Queer Community: “Summer Judgin’ Happens So Fast!”

By July 9, 2024No Comments

This blog is authored by Anthony Lopez, MA, QMHP, a member of the IntraSpectrum Counseling clinical team.

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Now that summer is here there’s more opportunities for you to go out, socialize, and enjoy the weather. Summer is associated with a lot of fun activities. Going to the beach, swimming, outdoor activities, festivals, and more. You might already be getting invited to these types of hang outs by the people you know. Perhaps you start thinking about how long it’s been since you’ve had a beach day. You start to get excited about the idea of spending the day on the lakeshore. But then when you start looking at everyone’s stories and posts and pictures of their summer fun you find yourself saying, “I wish I looked like that in a swim suit”. Or, “I could never wear so little clothing, people would think I look ridiculous”. Or, “Why should I bother going out if I’m just gonna end up hating the way my body looks all day?”

Sometimes these really critical thoughts can be accompanied by feelings of shame, judgement, or even worthlessness. All coming from a dissatisfaction with the way that our body looks. These feelings might also drive us to behaviors that are not very fun to deal with:

  1. constantly comparing our bodies to that of others
  2. focusing on a specific set of flaws we see in ourselves
  3. assuming we must look unattractive or even disgusting to others when they look at our bodies, clothed or otherwise

There’s a word to describe this specific set of experiences. If the above sounds intimately familiar to you, you may be dealing with Body Dysmorphia.

The reasons why we experience body dysmorphia are different for every individual. That being said, there are certainly things that don’t help us to avoid experiencing body dysmorphia. For starters, living in the social media age exposes us to viewing the bodies of others constantly, incessantly, and every day. Unfortunately, due to the way that social media, filtering, & photoshop works, we do not see average bodies as much as we see fit, skinny, light skinned bodies in our feeds, stories, and discover pages.

It can be hard to remember that social media is not an accurate reflection of reality. Sometimes it’s easier to believe that fact if we consider why we see the bodies that we often see on social media. Influencers, models, sex workers, social media personalities, celebrities, all of these careers are extremely public facing. For this reason, a lot of the time and money that is spent on one’s appearance is an expected expense for these individuals. In short, it’s part of their job to look conventionally attractive.

Most of us do not have jobs that prioritize or incentivize us to spend time and money on altering our appearance. When we forget that, it’s easier to draw up the narrative that “wow, they look so good. I wish I had the energy or the commitment to look as good as they do”. It’s an unfair comparison for many reasons. Some of them more concrete than others. A gym membership costs money. A personal trainer costs even more money. Clothes that fit our particular body measurements cost money. Cosmetic products or a skin routine cost money. Hair care products for your specific hair type cost money. Starting to see a theme here?

These thoughts and feelings about our body can cause us to feel disconnected from the person we want to be and the life we want to live. I believe that naturally we are wired to connect with others. Sometimes we will try and connect by trying to incorporate change into our life. Sometimes we might even set a goal to change our bodies to look more conventionally attractive. In order to ensure that any change, goal, or commitment is healthy, I recommend practicing checking in with yourself:

  • Is what I’m doing uncomfortable, or is it harming my well-being?”
  • Is this change for me to be happy with myself, or to be accepted by others who don’t know me?”

There is nothing wrong with wanting to incorporate change into our lives. But what’s important is maintaining a healthy, and sustainable relationship with ourselves while we work towards change. So I offer this reframe to you:

  • Consider your body, as it presently is, as a work of art.But it’s not beautiful!” “Who would want to see it?!” I hear you scream through your phone or computer screen. Art can be considered beautiful no matter what shape or form it takes. And also, no matter how much you make adjustments. No piece of art will ever be universally thought of as beautiful. Think of this not as a limitation, but as a freedom! It means we get to find the beauty in our bodies in the present moment, rather than after a jury of invisible silent critics gives us their approval.
  • Changing our bodies is not the only way for us to experience love for our bodies. Consider you enter a room with people who have a similar body to that of yours. Maybe it’s a really comfortable space, there’s good food, atmosphere, and the space lends itself to good conversation. You start to laugh and smile and truly enjoy each others company. You may find yourself feeling safe, accepted, and maybe even desirable. Desired for not just your body as it stands, but for what your body holds, which is you! Finding community that is affirming and welcoming in this way can help us move towards feelings of connection, happiness, and pride much faster than waiting for that invisible court of critics to give us their approval to finally put ourselves out there.

It is important to note that dealing with prolonged feelings of being “othered” for the way our body looks can leave marks on our mental health. This can lead to fear of being judged, scrutinized, or humiliated no matter where we go. Healing through this pain and moving towards authentic and empathetic connection with others can often be a challenging process, and you don’t have to take that journey alone. And sometimes having another person to help you feel more connected to your most authentic and proud-self can be extremely helpful towards making sure we stick with our commitment to develop a healthier relationship with our bodies. You guessed it, I’m talking about therapy. This can come in many forms. Working in a group to hear and be moved by the stories of others as they work through their relationship their bodies. But sometimes we can sense that we need a bit more of a personalized journey in order for us to heal. That is a journey that many therapists, including myself, would love and feel honored to help you work through. So if you find yourself needing support as you move towards connection, feel free to reach out to us to start that journey!

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This blog is authored by Anthony Lopez, MA, QMHP. IntraSpectrum Counseling is Chicago’s leading psychotherapy practice dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community, and we strive to provide the highest quality mental health care for multicultural, identity, kink, polyamorous, and intersectional issues. For anyone needing affirming and validating support, please click here or contact us at help@intraspectrum-chicago.com.