There are many who will never have heard of the term normative discontent, even though it was first coined back in the ’80s. Researchers into BDD, or Body Dysmorphic Disorder, first starting using the phrase when they started to break down BDD into smaller segments in order to treat sufferers.
Those suffering from BDD see something very wrong with themselves whenever they look in the mirror and the perceived flaw they pick out results in a skewed body image which then causes them to obsess about these imperfections. BDD is rarely alone in that it usually accompanies OCD, depression and several other psychological disorders. Researchers believe that BDD stems from a chemical imbalance in the brain combined with cultural and psychological influences.
While true BDD actually only affects a small number of people, normative discontent is much more widespread. This is when you don’t pick out specific flaws in yourself and your appearance, you are generally unhappy with your lot. The problem is that those with normative discontent don’t see it as a problem; we are all supposed to be unhappy with ourselves. Women should want to be slimmer/taller/prettier, men should want to be muscular/toned/bulky. Those who fall short of this don’t only know it, they constantly talk about it.
Studies have shown that, in the US, as many as 46% of the population suffer from normative discontent. Fretting over their weight and body image is very common in females, and this can start from a very early age. No child should fret about this but they do, and this snowballs over the years. For men, on the other hand, it first starts to rear its ugly head during puberty, when they suddenly become more aware of their bodies and in particular the skinny ones have the lowest self esteem when it comes to their bodies.
Messages we receive from family, friends and in particular the media all play a part in normative discontent. Teens and adolescents are, obviously, the group with the greatest susceptibility to negative body image. Those in this age group who are unhappy about what nature has given them in terms of their body are the most likely to develop, hand in hand, depression and eating disorders.
While men also suffer from normative discontent it is by no means an even split between the sexes. In fact, there hasn’t been one study yet which found a higher proportion of males who had a negative body image. Other statistics back up this, such as the fact that is 2007 91% of those who underwent cosmetic surgery in the US were female. Men are also more likely to accept the aging process whilst women, should their bank balances allow it, will undergo several procedures to win the battle against aging.
Those who accept their bodies and have a positive image report many benefits including increased sexual satisfaction and self confidence. They also tend to be more successful in their careers due to their confidence. The deep rooted issues beneath normative discontent are complex and the fact sufferers see themselves as normal means millions go untreated and live out their lives without ever being truly happy with themselves.