Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a mental health condition characterized by intrusive thoughts and a negative preoccupation with a particular aspect of one’s body that a person has deemed to be ugly or a major impairment to their looks. This could be and is often related to a minor blemish that is not noticeable by others, yet, creates significant distress and concern for the individual. Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a treatable disorder, whose influences can be psychosomatic and/or a result of trauma. It is important to note that BDD differs from an eating disorder in the sense that the fixation is not solely related to one’s weight–if even at all. BDD can be a preoccupation with a scar, the size of a particular body part, or even the thinness of one’s hair. It is important to note that this does not mean that BDD and eating disorders do not occur comorbidly; in fact, according to Susan Cowden, MS, approximately 12% of patients diagnosed with BDD have also been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa (2021).
Symptoms and Impact:
Body Dysmorphic Disorder can lead to numerous ruminating behaviors such as picking, spending excessive amounts of time grooming, elongated and reoccurring time in the mirror, and even avoiding social interactions for fear of judgment. This disorder often impairs one’s self-esteem and confidence due to persistent encounters with shame and embarrassment. An individual may also experience excessive amounts of anxiety due to constantly being concerned about others’ perception of how they look, and if their perceived defect is noticeable and unattractive. Other symptoms of BDD include:
-Comparing yourself and your appearance to others
-Constantly seeking reassurance, especially from romantic partners
-Belief that others find you unattractive, specifically due to this particular perceived flaw
-Excessive procedures and processes to hide and/or reduce the presence of this flaw
Risk factors related to Body Dysmorphic Disorder include unrealistic societal standards, having a family member who has been diagnosed with BDD, childhood bullying and/or teasing, as well as abuse and neglect. This disorder is very common in both females and males but affects women at a slightly higher rate at a 3:2 ratio (APA, 2013). Body Dysmorphic Disorder typically begins to present for adolescents as young as 12 years old, and can become comorbidly present with other diagnoses such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and an increased presence of suicidal ideation.
Protective factors for BDD include accessible mental health treatment and a healthy support system. In addition, explicit conversations about the importance of being unique, loving yourself the way you are, and healthy ways to achieve a desired look (i.e., working out). Parents and mentors can also have explicit and vulnerable conversations about unrealistic beauty standards, and the importance of valuing one’s self as an individual.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy commonly referred to as CBT, is a prevalent and effective treatment for Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on changing one’s thought patterns and proclivity towards unhelpful and negative ways of thinking. CBT can be found effective for Body Dysmorphic Disorder because it can help one to reframe internalized societal pressures.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).
- Cowden, Susan. (2021). Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Eating Disorders. VeryWellMind.com. Web Accessed January 2023. https://www.verywellmind.com/body-dysmorphic-disorder-eating-disorders-1138186
- MayClinic.com. (2022). Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Web Accessed January 2023. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/body-dysmorphic-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20353938