Anorexia & gender confusion – why the polar opposite treatments?

A newly launched art installation examining the subject of identity is focussing on body dysmorphia.

Featuring images of pop singer Lady Gaga, the works of ten artists and photographers aim to tackle the theme of people having a distorted perception of themselves.

Body dysmorphic disorder is described by the NHS as “a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance. These flaws are often unnoticeable to others.”


Scarlet Isherwood, one of the artists whose work will be on display, said body dysmorphia – with anorexia being the most common form – has connections with depression and anxiety.

She said celebrities are often glamourised and photoshopped, adding that seeing these “warped” and “unattainable” figures has become the norm for many.

She hopes the exhibition allows people to see that certain fixations aren’t healthy, and to realise “there’s nothing wrong” with their bodies.

The Institute’s View

It is concerning how differently such similar issues as body dysmorphia and gender dysphoria are treated by our National Health Service.

The NHS says body dysmorphia is characterised by worrying about a specific area of your body, comparing your looks with other people’s, going to great lengths to conceal ‘flaws’, and attempting self-harm to correct your appearance.

Any one of these symptoms could apply to gender dysphoria, whereby a person feels so uncomfortable in their body, they believe themselves to be a member of the opposite sex.

Yet the NHS refuses to call gender dysphoria a mental health problem, and instead of helping people come to terms with their bodies, as it does with body dysmorphia, it recommends hormone treatments and even irreversible sex-change surgery.

Media coverage of the conditions is similarly polarised.

For example, the BBC is clear that the best way to tackle body dysmorphia is to help people overcome their internal struggles and embrace the body they have been given.

None of us are perfect in a physical sense, and while many of us wish we could change this or that, for some it becomes an obsession.

It is therefore laudable that the BBC wants to encourage people to speak about their problems with friends and family or professionals so that they can come to accept their body.

Yet the Corporation’s position on gender dysphoria goes to the other extreme.

The broadcaster seeks to affirm every doubt and insecurity in the minds of already deeply troubled people and to tell them they will always be unhappy unless they change.

It is endemic of how confused today’s society is in that we can be so compassionate in trying to help those with body dysmorphia, while simultaneously ignoring the cries for help of those suffering with an almost identical issue.