Social Physique Anxiety (SPA) is a lesser-known type of anxiety disorder but is still as real and apparent within society as other types of anxiety. SPA is a form of anxiety that refers to the discomfort experienced when people feel that their body is being evaluated by others in various social situations. It stems from a place of insecurity related to one’s physical condition. This includes the size of the body, condition of the skin and even uncontrollable elements such as height. The more one’s body strays from the “ideal” body type, the more likely one are to experience anxiety about their appearance.
You might think that attractive people do not suffer from this form of anxiety but the truth is that everyone is prone to SPA. Unattractive people strive to be more attractive and those already attractive have unrealistic ideas about how their bodies should look. It is experienced in daily life when doing everyday things such as giving a presentation in front of a group, attending meetings with clients or wearing a swimsuit at the beach.
Younger people, including adolescents and even children, tend to be more anxious about their appearance than more mature adults. This is due to the prolonged exposure to highly interactive social media platforms where they are constantly exposed to the media’s definition of a “perfect body”. For women, this includes having a slim figure, clear skin and long silky hair amongst other things. For men, it’s more focused on having a built and muscular body. Peer pressure also plays a role in the development of SPA – when your friends and family look a certain way, the want to conform and fit in arises.
Researchers who have studied this form of anxiety have found that people with this problem tend to have lower satisfaction with their body’s shape and size, more problems with food and negative eating behaviours, alongside a stronger desire to avoid exercising in public. SPA can also trigger other mental health issues such as depression and self-esteem disorders. In order to fix what they think is wrong with their bodies, people with SPA sometimes undergo extreme diets or get invasive plastic surgery. This includes liposuction, facial bone surgery and implants. Before any procedure, behaviours, however, it is advisable to do your own research regarding the treatment and look for properly licensed and certified doctors (registered with the Malaysian Medical Council for Malaysians). Without proper research or information, these procedures can go wrong and lead to worse results.
As of now, there is no certain cure for SPA but if the condition gets progressively worse it is always good to seek professional help. Reach out to a therapist or a counsellor who would be able to provide insights and methods of coping with SPA. It is also alright to seek out whatever treatments that will make you feel better about yourself in the long run, as long as it doesn’t harm your health. The journey to self-love and recovery will be a slow but sure path, so take each day as it comes.
Let us all be a little more compassionate and kind to other people but most importantly, to ourselves first.