Body dysmorphia is a common feature of many mental illnesses but it perhaps most commonly associated with Anorexia nervosa. A quick search for images of Anorexia on the internet will land you at now famously iconic image of a teenage girl in her bedroom looking in the mirror. The figure we can see only the back of is gaunt. Every vertebra can be seen and arms and legs look barely able to support her weight or carry anything. In the mirror though, is a pleasantly plump, attractive girl. This is the image in the mind of the thin woman. This is what she sees when she looks in the mirror.
Some Narcissists too are often thought to have body dysmorphia. Now whilst there are many facets linking body dysmorphia and narcissism (for example is an overly strong interest in one’s appearance by its very nature be narcissistic) This is a characteristic of a somatic narcissist who perhaps cannot accept his or her body as it is but like the anorexic, sees an alternate reality, very much in tune with the dysmorphia experienced by the anorexic
The Narcissus of myth after whom the personality disorder was named, was trapped because of a self-obsession with the object of his own beauty. A narcissistic person then, exists with a tension on one hand of pathological self-regard which causes them to have a warped sense of self including their physical attributes and on the other hand a creeping sense that they are very definitely not ok. Their mirrored reflection may appear to them either godlike in its perfection, or be a confirmation of a deformity – small hands or an overly large head as the following examples demonstrate.
Examples of narcissistic body dysmorphia
Like narcissus some narcissists are drawn to focus on their physical body. Whilst at the same time they have a grandiose sense of self and their own achievements. If you combine these twin track ideas of self then you are left with a person who may have a very warped sense of their own physicality – which in its more serious incarnation could be body dysmorphia. Sam Vaknin a blogger living with NPD describes his body dysmorphia in this way:
“For most of my childhood and adolescence I believed that I had an enormous, elephantine skull. I didn’t. Actually, I am told that my head is unusually small in comparison to my body. This is especially true after I put on another 20 kilos in weight.
So, why was I wrong about the size of my head for such a long and critical period of my life? I am a cerebral narcissist. I derive my Narcissistic Supply from people’s reactions to my intellectual achievements – real or fictitious. No wonder that I exaggerated the dimensions of the site and exclusive source of my life sustaining gratification. Children draw adults as giants. Budding cerebral narcissists misconstrue the size of their skulls.”
POTUS Donald Trump, who is widely believed to have narcissistic tendencies was very sensitive about the length of his fingers which are said to be short in comparison to his stature. Various scientific studies have correlated some aspects of hand size with the size of the p***s, notably the length of the ring finger in comparison to the index finger. Trump was teased with this fact whilst he was campaigning and took the bait in that although reports of him tweeting a photo of his p***s were fabricated and used as clickbait, he responded vigorously to claims that he has a small p***s.
The truth is that whatever the size of the Trump member, he probably sees it as of large proportions when he looks in the mirror.
The Somatic Narcissist and Dysmorphia
Somatic narcissists are obsessed by their body. They gain their narcissistic supply from flaunting their physical attributes. A narcissistic woman with decent enough legs may wear a skirt that is too short for the occasion or her age. Before leaving the house, she will have stood in self-admiration of her gorgeous attribute totally oblivious to the rest of her body. Similarly, a man proud of his p***s may well wear inappropriate clothing or adopt a stance guaranteed to metaphorically thrust his member as one of my friends remarked about a head teacher colleague she once worked with:
“James was in his 50’s, had narcissistic tendencies and had recently married a new, younger wife. He took to cycling to school to keep fit and used to wear tight, shiny, bright-red lycra cycling shorts which mean his “package” was as well-defined as a bunch of grapes in them. He would frequently get changed into these shorts about half an hour before leaving work. One evening, he called me into his office and there he stood with feet slightly apart and began talking to me about a pupil. Afraid to look down I gave him the best eye contact ever. He was completely oblivious to my obvious discomfort.”
To him I guess, his p***s was the best and he didn’t want to hide it under a bushel.
Dysmorphia, ageing and the plastic surgeon’s bank account.
Ageing presents a challenge to the narcissist anyway, no longer the top of his or her game they find it hard to step out of the limelight and let another, even a family member take over. But in terms of dysmorphia the ageing narcissist has another problem. If your body is your temple, what do you do when the plaster begins to crack? Get in a builder of course! To the somatic narcissist, the plastic surgeon has the skill and attributes of Michelangelo or Rodin. They will re-sculpt the temple and make it as good as new, or at least that is what the mirror will tell them.
Hence the world of celebrity is full of those who’s faces are frozen with botulin toxin, lips so full they would only look good on a trout and eyes so tight they belie the ethnic origin of the wearer. We know they look ridiculous but to them it is perfection reborn.
So perhaps next time you look in a mirror and see a new line or an extra greying hair, be grateful that you can see it for living with body dysmorphia is hell.