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Skinny Skinny by Ashton Irwin: Exploring body dysmorphia through music5 min read

Here’s why we need to talk more about body image.

CW: Body dysmorphic disorder and mental illnesses mentioned.

Better known as the drummer for the Australian band 5 Seconds of Summer, Ashton Irwin released his first single Skinny Skinny on September 24, 2020. In the song, he tackles his struggle with body dysmorphia, and as someone who has been dealing with it for years, I was really excited about its release and curious to know how he would translate his experience into music.

The track certainly didn’t disappoint, and it made space for an interesting conversation on this, often misunderstood, disorder. 

What is body dysmorphic disorder?

According to the NHS, body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), or body dysmorphia, is a mental health condition which causes a person to spend a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance.

Stereotypically, when thinking about body dysmorphia, the first picture that jumps to someone’s mind, is a skinny white girl standing in front of a mirror seeing herself as overweight. Sure, these girls exist and the point is not to diminish their struggle, but to remember that they are not the whole picture. 

Indeed, both men and women can suffer from BDD, and for once, I have to say that boys are often underrepresented when it comes to this particular disorder. Mental illnesses can affect anyone no matter their gender, race or sexuality. 

 
 
 
 
 
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In regards to the lack of depiction, some Instagram accounts that advocate for mental illness have started the Unfollow Me trend. Their aim is to raise more awareness about their privileged position and to encourage their followers to break from their echo chambers, introducing more variety in their feeds. 

Breaking down the lyrics

“My second face, my damn reflection / We always meet when I’m defeated / You tear me up all of the time / My second face, don’t wanna listen /We always meet without permission.” 

These lyrics really explain how subtle the disordered voice can be, always showing up when the affected person is exhausted and at their most vulnerable, making it difficult to cut off toxic thoughts. 

It really feels like being bullied by your own uncontrollable brain . The only way to ease the voices seems to be by appeasing and consequently engaging in disordered behaviours.

“Hey skinny skinny / Don’t you think about the future?” 

“I wanna dance but I gotta stay in.” 

In order to ‘obey’ to the strict regime of rules imposed by their disorder, sufferers are likely to give up on everything happening in their lives. 

It’s difficult for them to realise all the opportunities and memories they’re missing out on because of BDD. All the nights out with their friends or all the meals with their loved ones that they might have skipped because they were scared of the food served there. The studies they had to pause, or the job they didn’t get because they were too ill to focus on it. Dreams and aspirations that have slipped away while they were trying to fit in one more workout.  

In reality, these coping mechanisms are just short term solutions to a long term problem. 

Normalising mental illnesses 

Similarly to other eating disorders, there are still a lot of stigmas and misconceptions around BDD. 

It’s easy to mistakenly think that those struggling are just ‘seeking attention’ and that they’re being superficial and egocentric. 

Body dysmorphia is not equal to vainness. 

 
 
 
 
 
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In reality, it can be challenging for those affected to understand that these thoughts are abnormal. It’s most likely that the distorted image of themselves has been triggered by some deeper trauma.

It’s important to remember that BDD is a mental illness and just like any other, it can severely compromise life and health, as Irwin remarks in his song. Sufferers didn’t choose it, you cannot pick a mental illness just like you wouldn’t select any other sickness. 

Yet, mental health related issues are often misunderstood and, unless you’ve been personally affected by them, there’s still a lack of awareness and they’re often considered a taboo topic. Because of it, people dealing with them often feel ashamed and are scared to seek help. 

For these reasons, I think it’s important to have more famous people opening up about their own struggles, normalising battles with mental health, and especially using creative ways to do so.  In this case, Irwin managed to give a very personal yet clear and precise depiction of what is it like to live with body dysmorphia. 

You can watch the music video here:

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