While his season of The Bachelor may have concluded in a messy manner (i.e., no proposal and an abundance of tears), Clayton Echard is now utilizing his platform to advocate for a noble cause. In commemoration of Mental Health Awareness Week, which took place from October 2 through October 8, the reality TV star collaborated with the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) to generate awareness about body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), a condition he has been candid about in the past.
Although many fans of the long-running ABC series might assume that The Bachelor’s former leading man (a former professional football player, no less) wouldn’t struggle with body image issues, this couldn’t be further from the truth for Echard. He recalls initially comparing himself and his physique to his peers when he was in the seventh grade.
“I simply witnessed their appearance and desired to attain a similar look,” he informs Shape during a Zoom interview. “However, I found myself continually fixating on my stomach area…spending considerable time scrutinizing myself in the mirror, pinching my lower abdomen, and pinching my obliques,” Echard explains.
Although he lacked a term for it at the time, he was displaying symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder. While most individuals occasionally feel self-critical about particular aspects of their appearance, those with BDD grapple with “persistent and intrusive” thoughts concerning “real or perceived flaws,” according to the ADAA. “They are unable to govern their negative thoughts and reject the affirmations from people assuring them that their appearance is acceptable,” adds the organization.
Growing up with the belief that body image issues exclusively affected women and girls, Echard “suppressed” his emotions. “I essentially kept it to myself until I enrolled in college,” he explains. “Subsequently, that was when I began delving into more research” (Read more: What Is Toxic Masculinity, Exactly, and How Can You Deal with It?).
Nonetheless, he grappled with BDD in college and throughout his football career, partly because he needed to maintain a higher body weight to excel in his position. “As a consequence, I naturally accumulated more body fat since I required additional weight to excel in the sport,” Echard reveals. “Consequently, it intensified those negative sentiments I held toward my physical appearance.”
Moreover, Echard highlights that the presumptions people make about professional athletes and celebrities only exacerbate the problem. “I believe there’s always an element of projection involved,” he points out. “Physically, when I stand before an individual, they assume that I have it all figured out, leading them to make certain assumptions,” he continues. “However, the reality is that, on some days, I still feel like that seventh-grade kid who was once subjected to bullying…I still see that version of myself in the reflection. I don’t perceive myself in the manner that others do. And that’s the frustrating aspect of body dysmorphia,” Echard conveys. “I observe what I wish not to see.
It’s a widespread misconception that conditions like Body Dysmorphic Disorder impact women more than men. However, research indicates that it affects both genders equally, with approximately one in 50 individuals dealing with the disorder, as stated by the ADAA.
That’s one of the reasons why it has been important for Echard to speak out about his experiences with this prevalent mental health issue. In fact, it was his own suggestion to organize the group date on his season of The Bachelor that involved a candid discussion with some of his contestants, during which he initially shared his history with Body Dysmorphic Disorder publicly.
“The show wasn’t aware of my condition until I disclosed it,” explains Echard, clarifying that being bare-chested during a previous date made him “slightly uncomfortable” while filming. As a result, he decided to arrange a date where both he and the women could openly discuss their struggles in a safe environment.
“That particular date was all about opening up and embracing vulnerability,” he expresses. “I wanted these women to understand that, ‘Hey, this is who I am, and I battle with these things, and I’m willing to engage in this discussion, which I believe should occur more frequently.'”
A significant aspect of Echard’s journey in coping with Body Dysmorphic Disorder has been self-education and seeking out helpful resources. “Just realizing that I’m not alone has made a tremendous difference,” he affirms.