Me and my Dysmorphic Shadow: Narcissism and the Body Imperfect

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.

  • Very fascinating article. I never looked at it from that side. I always thought it had to be on the victims side. I know that being a “victim” and I say that in all love, I saw my body differently than it was. And having sexual abuse while a child and yes as an adult, my view of what my body looked like and was supposed to react to got very convoluted. I thought my body frame was bigger and heavier than it ever was or ever will be. I am 5’9″ tall. So I have height but my frame is quite small. So as I have detoxed and detoxed I have discovered my frame underneath. Not at all what I saw in my heart or has been told to be. Yet I give myself grace. I am a beautiful woman..easier to say it this time than times before. I saw my everything as huge. But I realize that was the goal of the abuser…to so distort my reality so I will stay and be compliant. And honestly when you get someone all twisted about their vision of self, you can mess and control everything else. JACKPOT.
    So thank you. This lightened me a lot…hmmm. I think, no I know it made me realize that I am fantastic and these souls are so not. You have no idea what your words have done for me. I wish this for every victim out there. This magical revelation.
    On a side note, the sociopath narc I was on and off involved with for almost five years, used to go commando(no underwear). The only time he wore underwear was at one work place where there were screaming hot machines and hard material uniforms. I just thought, because he has had sex with many, many people in very evil was always available to whip out and go for it..always ready for action..sick but funny. And he always thought he was the greatest lover. And all he did was rape..yes I am healing from that. Totally obscured view of what he really is. Thank you for listening…this was a huge aha.

  • That’s one way to look at anorexia. I was intentionally anorexic as a child and young adult. It was the only control I had over anything in my life given my father was a full blown narcissist and my mother was a textbook psychopath who would have won admiration from the little girl from the Bad Seed and Hannibal Lechter. From the time I came out of the womb, my needs were ignored by both of my parents (thank God for wealth and the care of hired staff like maids, baby nurses, and other non-parental adults). However, when I was noticed by mom and/or Dad, I was instantly degraded (called “stupid”, “fat”, “ugly”, “s**t” [as if an infant or small child can be a s**t] while usually getting the crud beat out of me out of the blue without any reason ever given except that I was there). As I got older, though my parents seemed to hate my very existence, they would both need to know where I was at all times and constantly told me what I thought. Additionally, one or both would show up to situations where it was inappropriate for them to be and they’d insist on making themselves the center of attention when their action(s) & presence were clearly inappropriate (example: Mom enrolled me in a ballet class. Everyone in the class was under the age of 14. I was 9. Mom somehow was allowed to take the class and when it was time for all of us to do some move across the floor independently, my mother would take to the floor like Baby Jane Hudson and totally embarrass herself and me….. I could give another 100 situations of both Mom and Dad pulling stunts like this straight off the top of my head which continued well into adulthood!). They’d also pull all the classics like gaslighting (a favorite in my home) of which the worst part was their constantly lining people up against me by spreading blatant untruths about me.

    Oh gee, I could write a book (or a few screenplays) about the side show that were my parents. Nonetheless, to get back to the topic of anorexia – I used it as a means of grasping some feeling of personal control over my life and I think that this motive is the more predominant motive behind anorexia/bulimia than a young person’s being a full force narcissist. I am in my 50’s now (and not anorexic nor bulimic) and in my career (I am an attorney who early in my career took on a lot of matters advocating for abused children, abused women, and abused elderly individuals) I have observed that most children/young adults (predominately girls) who become anorexic/bulimic are trying to gain some sort of control back over their lives which they feel has been stolen by some abusive force a/o/t starving themselves to get some sort of attention/N supply from the world at large.

    [Just an aside on the plastic surgery angle and narcissism – it’s a matter of degree. A 50 y/o person wanting a little botox or a nip/tuck isn’t necessarily a narcissist. There’s a difference between wanting to “put your best face forward” in the mirror for yourself regardless of what others say about the situation and the person who undergoes the same procedures so as to garner admiration and attention from others.]

  • >