By Avnee Satija
It’s 9:00 a.m. in the morning and you have just woken up with your period. You rush to the loo and as you change, you notice yourself in the mirror, period cramps now become the least of your worries.
There are days when I wake up and can’t look at myself in the mirror because of all the acne and bloating that my period brings upon me. I will stand for hours in front of the mirror – pick my acne – and sometimes go as far as making lines on my body to understand how to get that hourglass figure. As a woman in the 21st century, I am often criticized for not having a conventional body straight out of the magazine. However, I am learning to deal with it everyday through self-affirmations, meditation and unlearning the superfluous societal expectations; but all that I have ever learnt is forgotten instantly when menstruation is around the corner, as my bodily insecurities amplify during that time.
Why do you feel more insecure about your body during menstruation?
Along with the headaches, cramps, acne, and other menstrual symptoms, also come the perceived flaws that are insignificant or non-existent. Menstruators often find it difficult to deal with the negative thoughts about their physical appearance and this phenomena is known as period-related body dysmorphia. Body dysmorphia during periods might not be medically recognized but it is a very common issue among menstruators.
A 2013 study found that the “ideal body size did not differ between menstrual phases, although participants desired a significantly smaller ideal size as compared to the perceived size.” Another study had a similar conclusion: “Body dissatisfaction was significantly greater during the premenstrual and menstrual phases.”
Body dysmorphia is the trickiest of all period-related issues. Around 20-40% menstruators experience moderate to severe PMS symptoms, out of these 3-8% of them may experience symptoms that hinder their daily functioning, they may suffer through Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). It is a severe form of PMS.
Period-related dysmorphia is different from PMDD. While PMDD is a chronic condition, period-related dysmorphia is similar to body dysmorphic disorder wherein a person has negative feelings towards their appearance for a couple of hours during the day, according to Patricia Celan, MD, a psychiatry resident at Canada’s Dalhousie University.
This article talks about period-related dysmorphia.
How can you recognise it and how long does it last for?
If you catch yourself being extremely critical of your appearance or going as far as picking your skin – premenstrually or during menstruation – chances are that you are experiencing body dysmorphia. It can be recognised from any recurrent patterns such as not being able to look in the mirror or something as extreme as starving yourself.
While some people might experience body dysmorphia a few days before menstruating, others may experience it during menstruation or both — either way it only lasts for a few days.
What can you do?
Body Dysmorphia is caused by extreme changes in hormone levels during menstruation. It is always recommended to consult with a medical expert first, before trying any self-remedies. There aren’t any concrete remedies for this condition because of the insufficient research around it
However, you can try to maintain a healthy lifestyle, exercise more, reduce red meat consumption, and moderate your smoking and drinking habits, if you engage in any.
You can try keeping your routine habits intact while making time for yourself; journal your feelings, this will help you to calm down and rationalize your thoughts.
Throughout my research, something that stuck with me is how body dysmorphia during menstruation has not received the required medical attention; and how most of the researches are women-oriented and forget about inclusivity. This is not something new as many period-related disorders have minimal research on them – a manifestation of period stigmas and sexism in the medical field. Body dysmorphia needs to be talked about more and every menstruator needs to be told that ‘you are not alone’.
As a part of the menstrual movement, this issue can be dealt with demanding more medical research on various menstrual disorders. Breaking menstrual taboos are the way to go, to crack this medical mystery!