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Workshop 20"19. Dismorphophobia,
or the War within Your Mind

Behind thy thoughts and feelings,
my brother, there is a mighty lord,
an unknown sage—it is called Self;
it dwelleth in thy body, it is thy body.
Friedrich Nietzsche. Thus Spake Zarathustra
(Transl. Thomas Common)

Under the skin the body is an over-heated factory,
and outside,
the invalid shines,
from every burst pore.
Antonin Artaud Van Gogh The Man Suicided by Society
(Transl. By Mary Beach and Lawrence Ferlinghetti)

I wonder if there are people on earth who can affirm without any touch of guile that they are perfectly content with their body and appearance. It’s highly unlikely. The whole history of civilization, society and culture is governed by standards of beauty. In these latter days, with their permanent and almost instant access to information, their mass dependence on approval in social networks, the problem of self-representation comes to the fore. It is cool to be tall, hot, slender and fit — or at least to look it. We subject our body to numerous corrections: go on a diet, practice fitness and hot yoga, wear bodyshaping underwear and high hills... From under the scalpels of plastic surgeons rise successions of stock physiognomic types, whose range of interests and according level of social motivation are easy to guess from their new look.

The connection with our body starts influencing our conduct right from the cradle. The baby is the most honest creature only transmitting outwards the signals about the existing physiological needs and problems. Given that by the age of one month a person starts to discern their own sensations, ones within their own body, and to recognise them from external events and influences. That is to say the brain has already formed the so-called ‘homunculus’, the internal scheme of the body. The first psychological crisis, the ‘neonatal crisis’, is also directly connected to the corporality. Coming from the mother’s womb, the baby loses the protection and physical comfort of their previous condition and has to master the control mechanisms of their own body in less than no time, to make sure to duly meet its needs. From here to eternity. By the adolescent age the awareness comes that the body is the mediator between the self and the external world and that others perceive our appearance as indissolubly associated with our ‘self’. Hence the incredible diversity of external manifestations in youth subcultures — from particular hairdos and elements of apparel to tattoos and earspools. They are both defiance against society and the notion of ‘us and them’ as the marker within a community.

Sometimes the dependence on the reaction of the society blows out of proportion, so that external deficiencies, often the imaginary ones, give rise to psychological issues, sometimes resulting in utterly negative attitude towards one’s body. It is widely thought that, in case of genetic susceptibility, this scenario may lead to a compulsive idea of a physical defect — dismorphophobia. It may take different forms. The best known is anorexia (total inability to take food on the false notion of overweight). However it has a number of other manifestations, including tanorexia (the obsession with a certain level of suntan), tattoo addiction, plastic surgery disorder. They all channel the urge to conform to a certain ‘ideal’ image.

Sometimes a possible outcome is such a strong rejection of one’s own corporality that an individual tries to maim their own body through ‘self harm’ or even to fundamentally alter their species through radical body modifications that can turn people into exact copies of animation heroes or fantastical extra-terrestrials. On top of everything, according to medical investigations, such disorders of self-perception are most frequent in individuals lacking any visible physical defects, striking or unusual body features. From this it is easy to conclude that the war goes on in the minds, while the body surface is just a territory under attack.

This year I’d like to offer young artists to address this problem, the mechanisms of its genesis and its manifestations. It is a problem rising in every single mind.

Daria Kamyshnikova