'The Bachelor' Star Clayton Echard Opens Up About His Body Dysmorphic Disorder

"I don't see what everybody else sees," he tells Shape.

Photo: Getty Images

While his season of The Bachelor may have come to a messy end (i.e., no proposal and lots of tears), Clayton Echard is now using his platform to support a good cause. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Week, which was October 2 through October 8, the reality TV star partnered with the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) to bring awareness to body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), a condition he's been open about in the past.

Though many fans of the long-running ABC series may assume The Bachelor's former leading man (a former professional football player, no less) wouldn't have body image issues, that couldn't be farther than the truth for Echard. He remembers first comparing himself and his body to his peers when he was in the seventh grade.

"I just saw the way they looked, and I wanted to look that way as well," he tells Shape over Zoom. "But I just found myself constantly obsessing over my stomach area...staring in the mirror a lot, pinching my lower abdominal, pinching my obliques," explains Echard.

Though he didn't have a term for it at the time, he was experiencing symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder. While most people feel critical about certain parts of their appearance from time to time, people with BDD struggle with "persistent and intrusive" thoughts about "real or perceived flaws," according to the ADAA. "They can't control their negative thoughts and don't believe people who tell them that they look fine," adds the organization.

Growing up with the understanding that only women and girls dealt with body image issues, Echard "suppressed" what he was feeling. "I just basically kept it to myself until I went to college," he says. "And then, that was when I started just doing more research." (Read more: What Is Toxic Masculinity, Exactly, and How Can You Deal with It?)

Still, he struggled with BDD in college and during his time in the NFL, partially because he needed to "be very big" to play his position well, he explains. "I naturally started to accumulate more fat because I needed to be heavier to play the sport," says Echard. "So, it actually kind of increased those negative feelings that I had about my body."

On top of it all, the assumptions some people make about professional athletes and celebrities further exacerbate the issue, according to Echard. "I think there's always a sense of some type of projection," he says. "Physically, as I stand in front of somebody, they think, 'Oh, he's got it all together,' and they make these assumptions," he continues. "And the reality is, I still, some days, feel like that seventh-grade kid that used to get bullied...I still see that kid in the mirror. I don't see what everybody else sees. And that's kind of the frustrating part about body dysmorphia," says Echard. "I see what I don't want to see."

It's a common misconception that conditions like BDD impact women more than men. However, research shows it affects men and women equally, with about one in 50 people dealing with the disorder, reports the ADAA.

That's one of the reasons it's been important to Echard to speak out about his experiences with the common mental health issue. In fact, it was his idea to plan the group date on his season of The Bachelor that involved a vulnerable discussion with some of his contestants, in which he initially shared his history with BDD publicly.

"The show didn't know that I had [BDD] until I had brought it up," says Echard, explaining that being shirtless during a previous date made him "a little uncomfortable" while filming. Because of that, he decided to have a date where he and the women could talk about some of their struggles in a safe space.

"That date was about opening up and being vulnerable," he says. "I wanted these women to know like, 'Hey, this is who I am, and I struggle with these things, and I'm willing to have the discussion, and I think it needs to be had more often.'"

A big part of what's helped Echard cope with BDD has been educating himself and finding resources. "Just being able to see that I'm not alone," he says.

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