The Dirty Dozen: 12 Distortions In The Perception Of One’s Own Body

The Dirty Dozen

In a time when, increasingly, efforts are being made to raise awareness about mental health and the influence on people with different mental disorders, the deconstruction of stigmas is more on the table than ever. It is a social responsibility that we should all have; promote healthy beliefs towards people who experience and cope with mental health problems.

Eating Disorders (ED), such as anorexia or bulimia, are among the most prevalent in society, especially in youth. The rise of social networks has facilitated access to dangerous diets, inhumane sports routines and fake bodies, generating unrealistic beauty standards that promote eating disorders. Different psychologists have stated that people with ED generate automatic thoughts about their body and self-perception which, in turn, serve as a negative loop for ED.

In this article, we are going to talk about the dirty dozen: 12 negative thoughts and cognitive distortions that people with eating disorders often develop around their diet, their body and the perception they have of their own image.

What is the dirty dozen?

The dirty dozen groups twelve negative automatic thoughts or cognitive distortions around body image, eating, and weight. These twelve thoughts were coined the dirty dozen by Cash in 1987, collecting some of the most repeated thought trends among his ED patients. It is important to understand that these types of thoughts have a bidirectional relationship with the ED itself; They are at the same time consequence and cause.

Cognitive distortions are negative automatic thoughts that are generated in a distorted and false way, normally bringing negative emotions. Generally, these thoughts imply a false and negative view of ourselves, having a very negative impact on our mental health and well-being. This dirty dozen, as we have been saying, groups together the negative distorted thoughts most characteristic of people with eating disorders. It is important to become aware of them to promote greater understanding and deconstruction of stigmas around people with these types of disorders. Do not hesitate to seek psychological therapy and therapeutic support if you have any thoughts similar to the following.

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The dirty dozen

We now move on to comment, one by one, on the twelve negative distorted thoughts that make up the so-called dirty dozen by Cash (1987).

1. Beauty or the Beast

The thought of beauty or the beast refers to a purely dichotomous thought that only accepts an opinion anchored in one extreme or the other. In bodily and beauty terms, it refers to all thoughts that oscillate between one opposite and another between the beautiful and the ugly. That is, referring to oneself and one’s own image as beautiful or ugly, without being able to understand a middle ground.

For example, applied to the body and diet, it could be an example of beauty or beast thinking, thinking that if you don’t exercise five days a week, you will gain as much weight as a whale.

2. The unreal ideal

In thoughts developed under the unreal ideal, People with an eating disorder start from the social and stereotypical ideal around bodies and beauty. We can find examples of the unrealistic ideal practically everywhere; from television advertisements in which all people appear without any defect, or on social networks in photos of the influencer with the desired body and, in the eyes of society, “perfect”. It is important to understand that there are no perfect bodies, and that these ideals are, in themselves, unrealistic.

3. The unfair comparison

In a similar way to the previous thought, unfair comparison refers to the development of comparisons with people who are in situations, in the eyes of the person who issues this thought, “much better” than one’s own. A person with ED will compare himself to people who have the body or eating and sports habits that he considers ideal, but It is at the same time unfair because each person is unique and diverse in themselves and comparing only serves to compete with unfair ideals that are not a reflection of reality.

4. The magnifying glass

The magnifying glass thought is everything that is emitted, amplifying everything that a person with ED is insecure about. For example, if this person’s biggest insecurity is his legs, he will enter a kind of tunnel vision in which he will only pay attention to the thoughts that reinforce this insecurity. Furthermore, similar to the two previous thoughts, she will look for stimuli or thoughts that make her compare her legs with others and “confirm” that her insecurity is “real.”

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5. The blind mind

Generally associated with magnifying glass thinking, mind blinding refers to when people with EDs are generally unable to recognize any positive characteristics. The insecurity that characterizes this disorder makes people who face it unable to find any aspect of themselves that they feel secure, confident, and proud of.

6. Misinterpretation of the mind

The misinterpretation of the mind refers, as its name indicates, to assuming all the thoughts of others and framing them in one’s own. Basically, assuming that everyone around you will think the same as you about your appearance, diet, or exercise; that is, negative thoughts. Assuming that everyone thinks like you only reinforces this negative loop and gives “validity” to this misinterpretation making it stronger.

7. Radiant ugliness

The cognitive distortion of radiant ugliness is characterized by “brightening” thoughts related to feeling oneself as an ugly person or disliking one’s body. Start thinking about an aspect of the body that you don’t like, and link it with another, and then more and more until there is no part of your body that you are missing because you criticize or develop negative emotions towards it.

8. The blame game

The blame game refers, as its name suggests, to use guilt by relating it to your body to give “validity” to your negative emotions towards it. Basically, blaming your body for the negative things or consequences that a problem has in your life. Typically, the blame game functions as problem-avoidance behavior and to reinforce negative self-image beliefs.

9. Limiting beauty

Limiting beauty assumes that certain conditions related to the body generate limits in our daily lives and our attitudes. For example, assuming that “with your body you will never wear such a short top” or that “you are too fex to be with someone so handsome.” It is important not to limit yourself and not assume that your physical appearance should limit your life; This way you lose many life experiences that could be important to you.

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10. Predicting misfortunes

Similar to the blame game, misfortune prediction works by using body and physical blame projected onto future misfortunes that have neither happened nor need to happen. It works, therefore, like a self-fulfilling prophecy; when we assume that something is going to happen in a certain way because of us, which means that, if it ends up happening like this, assuming that it was our fault is imminent.

11. Bad mood reflection

The distortion of the bad mood reflex means that, on many occasions, people with this thought modulate the way they feel about their body based on the emotions they have experienced that day or close to that vital moment. Therefore, when you have had a more difficult day than normal, you are under a lot of stress or unexpected things happen to you that disrupt all your plans, you end up hating and generating destructive opinions about your body because it is a way of releasing your negative emotions. . Wouldn’t you probably take that anger out on other people? Why do it with yourself?

12. Feeling fex

This last distortion is probably the simplest but most pervasive of all those that make up the dirty dozen. Basically, it consists of transforming the personal feeling of feeling unhappy or disgusted with one’s body into a complete truth. Assume that if you feel that way, it must be true and a reflection of what others see. Therefore, this distortion is directly related to practically all the others and generates a whole flood of negative thoughts and beliefs about the body and self-image.


In summary, these cognitive distortions reveal the complexity and subjectivity in appearance perception. The tendency to compare oneself, focus on the negative and anticipate misfortunes creates a distorted image of oneself. Recognizing and challenging these distortions is essential to cultivating a more realistic and healthy self-image. Awareness of these thought patterns allows us to build a more balanced perception, promoting acceptance and emotional well-being.