Sunday, 13 March 2011

Body Matters: Are You Killing Yourself Slowly?

By Coach Cj Swaby

It was all over the newspapers. The forums and social network sites were buzzing with the story. Claudia Aderotimi, aged 20 had died in a hotel in Philidelphia after being injected with silicone, which entered into her blood stream and killed her.

It became apparent her death was the result of "bootleg" cosmetic surgery procedure for "Bottom Augmentation", gone horibbly, horribly wrong. As the story unfolded in the media, the picture painted was one of an aspiring, attractive singer, aspiring to break into the industry with her group, Chocolatez. Claudia wanted to be a superstar. Claudia, was to make the headlines of newspapers worldwide, sadly not for the reason she had hoped for.

It's November 2009. The Daily Mail features an article on Hannah Camille. Hannah first attempted to kill herself at the age of 15 by over dosing on pain killers. At the age of 9, Hannah began puberty early, and that's when her nightmare began, triggered by self loathing and paranoia. By the tender age of 12 she had developed anorexia and was on prozac, with professional help from a psychologist in her formative teenage years. From the age of 15 onwards a series of suicide attempts was to feature heavily in her life.

"When I look in the mirror all I see is where it's fat,' she said. 'I can see parts of me that look thin but I push that aside. I see my stomach sticking out, my hips are wide and my legs are huge.

When it first started I can remember thinking that people thought I was disgusting to be around. I remember feeling everybody hated me. I used to focus on everyone's put downs, and dismiss any compliments. The worst point was just before I started college. I tried to commit suicide for the first time. That was when I felt I didn't care if I'm not alive. I was not afraid to die."

Its now 2006 and Hannah has hit rock bottom. She's 23, her final suicide attempt led to Doctors wanting to admit her into psychiatric care, her mother Heather, aged 69 intervened. Hannah was allowed to stay home under 24 hour suicide watch. A treatment plan of medication and, the assistance of a therapaist who utlised photography to aid in Hannah's self healing was key. Hannah later went on to exhibit her work in the Chameleon Art Gallery in Walsall. Hannah said,

"I looked at them and I just saw myself as an art piece rather than me.
'It really helped to accept myself and not think about body and image but a person as a whole. It was then I contacted other sufferers and offered to take pictures of them. I believe that it helped them in a way as much as it did me - it was a kind of group therapy."

Hannah's story is online here

So WHAT was going on?

Two different women, two different extremes. For whatever reason be it social pressures, media or even biological factors, body image can be a battle ground for some. At war with a sense of who we are, and what we want to be (or others want us to be) can lead to self destructive tendencies. Body Dysmorphic Disorder is clinically defined as;

"BDD is a mental health problem related to body image, in which an individual has a preoccupation with one or more perceived or slight defects in his or her appearance. BDD is diagnosed only if the preoccupation causes significant distress, disrupts daily functioning or both.....People with BDD may feel compelled to frequently repeat time-consuming behaviours such as:

checking their appearance in a mirror or reflective surface
seeking reassurance about their appearance
checking by feeling their skin with their fingers
cutting or combing their hair to make it 'just so'
picking their skin to make it smooth
comparing themselves with models in magazines or people in the street. "

( March 2011)

HOW common is it?

The disturbing thing is that the charity, Mind, claim that beacuse so many people are ashamed to reveal their problem, and it is often misdiagnosed or missed by doctors, true figures are not readily available.

While clinical cases of BDD may be difficult to assertain, negative body image can have a huge impact on our lives. But is BDD exclusive to females? it would appear not. Muscle Dysmorphia is a growing phenomenon amongst men.

"A recently recognised form of body dysmorphic disorder that occurs almost exclusively in men is muscle dysmorphia, a preoccupation that one's body is too small, “puny,” and inadequately muscular.1 In reality, many of these men are unusually muscular and large. Compulsive working out at the gym is common, as is painstaking attention to diet and dietary supplements. Of particular concern, muscle dysmorphia may lead to potentially dangerous abuse of anabolic steroids, and studies indicate that 6-7% of high school boys have used these drugs.1

(British Medical Journal: 12 March 2011:

Men, Body Matters

I know first hand about how body image can drastically affect your life. Growing up in a household of domestic violence I was not a confident child (although it may appear outwardly that I was), I had "train track" braces for many years as my teeth were messed up. The usual on slaught of name calling came from my peers, and little attention from girls. Physically I was bigger than your average child, but loved my food. In my mid teenage years I started weight training and actively competed in boxing. My body changed. But the demons still persisted.

So the year is 2000. I stared dating a dancer and model, Rachel , who was to have a massive impact on me, and I am forever grateful to her. She suggested that I hand some pictures into an agency to get some work, as she believed I "looked the part" and had potential. Not convinced, I took some pictures, made a list of some agencies and off I went.

The first agency I went to I got rejected. Then the second . Then the third. On it went. What was interesting to me was not so much that I was getting rejected but my strong emotional response I was having. Feelings of self loathing, hatred, and frustration. My demons were coming to the surface, I didn' like the way this felt or the lack of control I perceived.

Curious, I decided to continue with this and just observe my mental chatter as I went to each audition. Not trying to change it, but just observe and see what came up. After a while, all this rejection got a bit boring so I called Rachel up. Told her what had happened, and all the rejections. She asked me WHICH agencies I had tried. So I told her.

Rachel then did something so simplistic and obvious, but the penny dropped. What was going on in my head did not directly correlate to what was going on in the outside world. My perception, which informed my actions, was the problem. I had been going to the wrong agencies. I was not suitable for them. Not that I was UGLY per se. She pointed out that I was bigger, more muscular and HEAVILY tattoed then most models that you see in the agencies I went to. That's not the type of work they do. She told me some agencies to try and I did. Sure enough she was right. I subsequently got several jobs, and did a short stint in the industry modelling, acting and music video extra. I used it as an opportunity to tackle my demons head on. They still came up, but I would dismantle the false belief, or simply force myself to act more boldy.

The year is 2011. I don't worry so much about how I look, even when I train I focus on performance goals (which will get you the body you desire as a side product) rather than simply on the way I look, weight etc. I believe this helps to create a more healthy mind set as you progress every session, getting better every time. I encourage this with all the clients and people I train. However, I've noticed a surge with men preoccupied with their masculinity and directly correlating it to they way they look physically. Since focusing on training outcomes, I am actually in better shape than I was before. Check out the pics below.

Coach Cj Swaby 2003

Coach Cj Swaby 2011

WHAT To Do: Identify The Problem, Fix The Problem


Identify The Problem: Create Self Awareness

Pay attention to your self talk
Notice grooming behaviours
Notice your relationship to your body, face, feet the whole thing!

(you can also refer to the BDD check list earlier in the post for guidance).

Fix The Problem

Surround Yourself with supportive positive people (eliminate those who are not)
Self Help books / Mantras
Self / Professional Hypnosis
Solution Focused Therapy
Take quiet time daily to reconnect with yourself and remind yourself how amazing you are.

I have personally used some of the above to help me. It might work for you too. While not directly related to BDD, a book I highly recommend is Feal The Fear and Do It Anyway (some great insights and practical strategies).

If you suspect you may need further proefsessional help in the UK you can contact the Charity MIND at or T:0845 766 0163


Craig said...

Brilliant Article CJ
I'm sure this will be a massive help and inspiration to people. when they may need it most.

The Fitness Explorer said...

This is a great article and really gets to the heart of the matter.

What strikes me is the fact most visual imagery in relation to [fitness] is all about the body beautiful, that is a big part of the problem.

What are your thoughts?

Coach Cj Swaby said...

@ Craig: Thanks Craig, that is my intention.
@ Darryl: I agree with you and that needs to be addressed, it would aslo be intereting for me to find out is if incidnence of BDD or negative body image presents itself the same in the blind or those visually imapired. Or even how if manafiests in the "physically impaired" incomparison.

A starting point is for people to recognise the media and supplement industry is always "selling you something" be it an ideal or a new "evidence based" product. Then develop self esteem and meaningful definitions of fitness and standards that are unique to, and empower the individual. Marry this with meaningful, engaging relationships to each other and the world around us then you're exploring the right path ;)

Gita Ramdharry said...

Sadly we are valued primarily by our appearance in today's Western world.

People who excell in other areas, such as the arts and academia, do they have fewer concerns about their appearance because they are praised for their intellect or creativity? I'm not sure, but my hunch is that this could have some truth. What you said about focussing on performance rather than appearance with sporting pursuits may relate to the same thing.

It seems strange that there is such pressure to focus on an attribute that will inevitably deteriorate relatively early on in our lifetimes, wheras many other attributes improve with age and experience.

We should be positively reinforcing the strengths and talents of young and vulnerable people to this kind of disorder.

Coach Cj Swaby said...

Appreciate your comments Gita,

Slightly of track but I'll put it in there I don't subscribe to the "Myth" of age related deterioration.

I'm not saying change to attributes doesn't happen, but no to the extent we are "fed" to believe. I alwyas look at the exception not the rule.

(as an example and there are others).

The take home message is the BDD as a clinical disorder is something that should be addressed and those with the condition supported.

Those with non BDD but body image related issues, should also be supported in establishing their own self esteem and body values and also be supported.

Gita Ramdharry said...

Picking up on your "off track" bit, the research on this is interesting. We can shift the slope to the right (i.e. delay the decline) with things like age related muscle loss and sarcopenia with targetted exercise. There does seem to be a threshold where exercise stops having the same effect. Fortunately it's much older than you, I and many of our clients/patients as it's around 80ish years. That's not to say that sedantary 80 year olds won't benefit, it'll just not be so dramatic.

The aging of muscle used to be thought to be due to reduced efficiancy on dealing with free radicals (much to the delight of the companies selling anti-oxidants), but it now appears to be due to reduced function of signalling proteins (hot off the press from the boffins in Oxford). Not too popular a concept with the makers of supplements!

You don't have to post all this, CJ, as it is a bit off piste, just might be of interest.

Coach Cj Swaby said...

Thanks for sharing Gita, and yes fully aware of that and have read a bit about it. If you have any other studies etc please do send my way!