Bullying and Body Dysmorphia

By Amanda

Tonight my daughter came into the family room and announced, “I just saw myself in the mirror and I look so cute!!” Her confidence (arrogance?) used to worry me, but I remember talking with my sister-in-law about it once and she advised me to let it be, “Life,” she said, “will wear her down. Let her get a head start and she’ll be a healthy woman.”

Growing up is just hard. I don’t care where you come from or how you look, adolescence is thankfully a short trip on the journey to being a “grown-up,” which (SURPRISE!) isn’t much easier. Whether you were bullied of not, each of us felt awkward a fairly large percent of the time.

body imageIn a recent news story on CNN, a 15 year old bullied girl, who for two years chose to be home schooled in lieu of facing the cruelty of her fellow students, underwent plastic surgery and finally returned to school. I’m still trying to wrap my mind (and heart) around the story.  What makes the story all the more complex is that a non-profit organization paid for the procedures on her nose and chin.

Children driven to plastic surgery?

 Foundations that are set up for this?

I don’t blame the girl; who could or would want to subject themselves to daily ridicule? But the levels to which bullying has risen says a tremendous amount about our society, from the standards of beauty to which people are held, to the lack of control over bullying within our schools.

When I was in 5th grade, the most popular girl in school did the unthinkable. She dressed up like a “nerd” and nearly completely disguised herself and sat by herself until someone recognized her and alerted the rest of us. What resulted was a scene from “Lord of the Flies.” The kids began taunting her and bullying her until a teacher came to break up the commotion and haul her off to the principal’s office. To my shame, I don’t remember what I did, but intercede for her I did not. I don’t remember any of us being reprimanded. I have never forgotten the incident, because it seemed such a bizarre sociological experiment for a 10 year old to undergo.

What well-worn rut is established in the minds of kids that lead them to their future self-image?

When I was in elementary school, I was chunky – very chunky. I was often picked on, given degrading nicknames and often found myself in the principal’s office for attempting to beat up the boys who taunted me. By the summer of 7th grade I’d had enough and decided to take control.

I became anorexic and limited myself to 500 calories a day and was sure to burn off as much of those as I could at the gym. My plan worked and by the end of my 8th grade year, I’d lost 40 pounds and weighed in at 92 pounds when I entered high school. I left the fat behind (for a time) but the image of myself as the fat kid has never left. I carry her with me every day. I always see the curves that don’t exist.

Dove recently did a “Real Beauty” campaign, an experiment regarding body dysmorphia (the way women perceive their appearance opposed to reality). A series of women are asked to describe themselves to a forensic artist who cannot see them. The artist proceeds to draw them according to their self-descriptions. When finished, someone who has just spent time with that woman enters the room and takes their turn describing the woman the artist just drew, but now begins a second portrait according to the new description. The results are astounding. Every woman described herself in ways that are unflattering, exaggerated, and less attractive than they really are, while the stranger describes them to near perfection and gives them a glimpse of their true beauty.

What causes people to see themselves askew? The tendency to self-loathe is far more prevalent than to esteem themselves accurately, let alone highly. Why does falsehood wedge its way into our minds and the truth evade it?

Surprisingly (at least for me), men suffer from this condition to a large extent as well, and although they typically focus on different areas of the body, they are just as likely as women to undergo corrective surgery. Unfortunately research shows that the majority of people who undergo plastic surgery to “fix” a perceived bodily flaw are not cured in their mind’s eye. They still see themselves as flawed, regardless.

I can’t help but wonder, therefore, whether the key to recognizing beauty in ourselves is to just believe others when they tell us they see it?



  1. JasonJanuary 8, 2014

    Everyone reaches that point when they just become comfortable in their own skin at a different time in their lives (for me it was freshman year of high school). Until you get there, you’re ripe for this kind of crap you describe.

    The key is to teach kids to value the right things, which seems impossible in this culture.

  2. […] Excellent article on bullying and our bodies on HFTV… […]

  3. Amanda GarciaJanuary 8, 2014

    Yes that is the key. It’s so hard to redirect their thinking. I wish I had my daughter’s confidence. I remember a conversation I had with my grandma a couple years ago about getting to that age, as a woman, when we are at peace with ourselves. She said, “35. I was 35.” I was 36, but the body image struggles still haunt me, but I like who I am as a person – the whole package.

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