In an era of social media perfection, unrealistic body standards and pressure to conform, it’s sadly not uncommon for young women and teenage girls to feel dissatisfied, anxious or even ashamed of their appearance. Though some women have noticed a marked change in the intensity of these feelings just before or during their period. It’s completely possible that the hormone fluctuations that occur at this time of the month that make us feel teary, moody, sensitive and generally aaargh could also be making us feel ugly.
Everybody has flaws and not even those seemingly perfect girls that dominate the Instagram space are perfect in real life. But if your flaws suddenly seem like colossal imperfections, or you suddenly notice new ones out of the blue that you become obsessed with when your PMSing, you could be experiencing period induced body distortion.
A study from 2013 published in the Perceptual & Motor Skills found that most participants thoughts their body size was larger than it actually was during their period. Yes, you are more likely to feel huge on your period, really really. Reproductive psychologist Catherine Birndorf told The Cut that there’s still not enough research on the link between changing levels of hormones like estrogen and mental health.
Premenstrual body dysmorphic disorder is not officially a ‘classified’ condition, but psychiatrist Dr Edwin Raffi of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Centre for Women’s Mental Health told Teen Vogue he thinks it’s totally possible, especially if somebody already has body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) and their symptoms are worse around menstruation. This is known as PME, which is when an existing or underlying condition gets worse just before your period (great, do periods ever just come and go quietly without causing a fuss? Find out next month on Probably Not).
PMS and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) can both cause a million and one emotional and mental symptoms that can make you feel like your losing your grasp on everything and suddenly unable to cope (like when Tai from Clueless is “totally freaking out’ but worse).
Dr Raffi also told Teen Vogue that “If someone is struggling with low moods or obsessive thinking, then in that one week before your cycle, those symptoms are sort of bolded.”
Bustle’s Kelsea told her colleague that “the most anti-body pos thoughts tend to flow through my head at the time”, while Teen Vogue’s Meghan Nesmith describes feeling like her entire face was literally changing during her period, causing her to prod and push at it to try and force it back into the shape she knew.
Sim, who was interviewed for Meghan’s Teen Vogue piece on the premenstrual body dysmorphia phenomenon describes feeling like she blew up like Violet from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (we’ve all been here). She became more sensitive to perceived spots and lines on her face, doubting whether she saw those things or not once her period finished.
Sim has an autoimmune disorder which has resulted in significant body changes, something that she’s had to cope with having no control over. Another member of the Bustle team, Jordan says she’s noticed a “stereotypical cycle’ where she feels in control one minute and the next she feels like “a monster – bloated, puffy and uncomfortable” (Bloated, Puffy and Uncomfortable are our middle names when it’s period time). In Rachel Krantz Bustle piece on premenstrual body dysmorphia, Jordan also reveals that she grew up with an eating disorder.
So what can you do if your body image issues seem to morph into something uncontrollable around your period? Clinical psychologist and researcher at the University of Illinois, Tory Eisenlohr-Moul who has been studying the effects the menstrual cycle has on behaviour and emotions told Teen Vogue, “any feelings of shame and insecurity – all of those feelings will really just be amped up…PMS can distort your sensory cues, so you might fixate on things you already struggle with”.
“Address the severity of your symptoms. Severe menstrual disruption, true obsession with negative thoughts about your body – these are real disorders that deserve medical attention.”
But if you truly only struggle with intense intrusive thoughts to do with body image around your period, taking a look at your diet, exercise and body chemistry, as well as social factors (it’s not the best time to be scrolling through pseudo reality and Barbie level airbrushing on Instagram) and seasonal changes. Even keeping a diary can be empowering and you’ll become more aware of what’s going on.
We all have to adjust to bodily and sometimes emotional changes during menstruation, but don’t stay silent if negative thoughts to do with body image start to overwhelm you. Talk to your friends, family or GP, they want to help and there are more people struggling with this than you think. More power to you, you’ve got this!