The theme of one’s body, which is the accurate perception of one’s body, is a topic that we psychotherapists encounter more and more often in our studies. The complexity of the factors that cooperate in body image formation, conservation, and plasticity requires an integrated approach to studying its physiological characteristics and distortions in the neurological and psychiatric fields. Body dysmorphism appears to be central to eating disorders, particularly anorexia nervosa. Patients with anorexia experience excessive distress about their body shape and size and perceive their body as fatter, especially in the abdomen, hips, and legs.
This perceptual alteration is not limited to the image of one’s body but also concerns the perception of the body shapes of other individuals. It is like being part of a world of fantastic forms that take up too much physical and mental space. More and more teenagers (but the problem is also extending to other age groups) live with the fear of gaining weight, constantly and obsessively checking their weight on the scales, refusing food, going so far as to close themselves at home, giving up school, friends to avoid the gaze of others, a look that can observe them as they observe themselves: fat, ugly, substantially inadequate (and therefore exposed to the risk of not being accepted).
Nowadays, it is more and more widespread the idea that showing a slender body, sometimes almost the first of forms, is the best business card in a society that tends to conform one to the other concerning physicality, making one go more and more losing sight of everyone’s diversity. What was once considered a value, the uniqueness of the single person, is today seen as a limit? More often, the value idea of oneself does not coincide with simply being oneself by pursuing one’s inclinations.
Still, it converges in an image of oneself “perfect” from a physical point of view that is thin, slender, and threadlike. If this limits the subjective expression, increasingly conditioned by a society that constantly proposes aesthetic models to aim for, in cases where other delicate dynamics join this one, here is the possibility of the onset of an eating disorder. In this case, the body image is no longer a tool to be used to feel successful but “the only tool” that allows you to “be” or “not to be,” resulting in an absolute obsession with your body, which must be very thin, sometimes almost invisible, to tolerate oneself and the relationship with others.
In these cases, we speak of “bodily despair,” where the image reflected in the mirror no longer coincides with the real one but is perceived by the person as immensely more enormous and extremely cumbersome if not impossible to support. The body, tortured by fasting, extreme diets, emptying practices, and exhausting workouts, becomes the only way to exist, feel, to live. That body, the source of life for the anorexic, can become her most treacherous and fearful persecutor. For this reason, it is essential, at the very first alarm bells, to rely on competent figures to start a psychotherapy path, the only ones able to allow people with eating disorders to get out of the tunnel and start living again.