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Body Dysmorphic Disorder: Symptoms And Treatment

4 Mins read


Body dysmorphic disorder, also known as body dysmorphia, is a mental disorder that causes a person to constantly obsess about their perceived flaws in their appearance.

These perceived flaws are typically only noticeable to themselves and not their peers. Although the flaws in question are often minor, they can make one feel embarrassed, ashamed, and anxious to be around others.

Studies have shown that 0.7 to 2.4 per cent of the general population has body dysmorphia. Worryingly, 80 per cent of people who suffer from this are reported to have suicidal thoughts.

Is This Mental Health Condition More Common In Men or Women? What Age Group Does It Most Affect?

Most people think that body image disorders are mainly found in women, but this is not the case. Although body dysmorphic disorder is more common among women than men, there is only a slim difference of 0.2 per cent in America.

Just as body dysmorphia can affect both genders, it can also affect people of all age groups.

It is most common among teenagers and young adults because those are the years when it’s common to start comparing yourself to others.

Media Standards of Beauty and How This Plays a Role

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In this current day and age, the media plays a major role in perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards that make people constantly doubt themselves, and compare themselves to others.

Social media is a highlight reel where people share their best photos and moments. With the prevalence of editing apps and beauty filters, the current beauty expectation is unobtainable naturally.

Beauty companies are taking advantage of this by using media outlets, celebrities, and paparazzi to bring out new perceived flaws in people. Hip dips and facial symmetry are just two examples of new insecurities that people have had in recent years.

Furthermore, the constantly changing standards of beauty make it impossible for people to feel adequate in terms of beauty. One decade, it’s all about being thin. The next decade, it’s all about having curves or having an hourglass figure. 

It’s no surprise that millions of people across the globe are insecure and constantly worrying about their physical appearance.

Causes of Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Body dysmorphic disorder can be caused by a multitude of reasons such as mental health issues, media influence, poor self-esteem, constant comparison of yourself to others, and constant nitpicking on your physical appearance by peers.

Suffering from traumatic experiences in childhood such as bullying or abuse can also lead to body dysmorphic disorder.

In other cases, it could be down to your genetics as you are more likely to develop body dysmorphia if you have chemical imbalances in your brain, or you have a family member with body dysmorphia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or depression. 

Signs and Symptoms That You or Someone You Love Has Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Body dysmorphic disorder can make you or your loved ones be under a lot of stress, causing one to act uncharacteristically.

If you notice a sudden change in behaviour that endangers their health and well-being, it could be a tell-tale sign of body dysmorphia. However, signs and symptoms can also be much more subtle. 

Below are some common signs that are found in people with body dysmorphia. 

Behavioural signs and symptoms:

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  • If they constantly check their appearance in mirrors
  • They compulsively pick at their skin
  • Taking personal grooming to the extremes
  • If they have severe emotional distress
  • They exhibit harmful behaviour
  • Obsessed with exercising
  • If they abuse steroids
  • Overusing makeup
  • They constantly put themselves down
  • Constantly seek reassurance or validation from others
  • They turn to cosmetic medical procedures to fix their perceived flaws
  • They express dissatisfaction with existing cosmetic medical procedures
  • Withdrawing from social activities
  • Skipping school or work to avoid social interaction
  • If they stop spending time with friends and family, or develop social anxiety

Physical symptoms:

  • If their skin is damaged due to compulsive picking
  • They have muscle damage due to excessive exercise
  • Extreme weight loss

Mental symptoms:

  • If they make obsessive physical comparisons of themselves and others
  • They’re preoccupied with physical flaws that are not visible to others
  • They have low self-esteem
  • If they always see themselves as ‘ugly’
  • Constantly feeling shame
  • Regularly having anxiety
  • Depression
  • If they have neuroticism
  • They suffer from delusions

Effects of Body Dysmorphic Disorder

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Besides the strong negative mental impact of body dysmorphic disorder, it can also create more havoc in your life.

It doesn’t sound serious to not partake in social activity and be a homebody, but when taken to the extremes, it can have serious impacts such as:

  • Strain or destruction of friendships
  • Discord amongst family members at home
  • Disruption of romantic relationships
  • Decrease in academic performance
  • Quitting school
  • Difficulty to get or keep a job
  • Poor performance at work
  • Financial struggles
  • Substance abuse
  • Substance addiction
  • Self-harm while alone
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Suicide

It can also cause the onset of other mental health problems like:

  • Major depressive disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Substance use disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

What to Do If You Think Someone You Care About Has Body Dysmorphic Disorder

You might not be able to prevent body dysmorphic disorder, but you can help yourself or your loved ones stay healthy and reduce their risk of developing body dysmorphia by:

  • Doing relaxation and breathing exercises to relieve stress
  • Learning mindfulness exercises to help relieve anxiety and low emotions
  • Trying something new to improve mental wellbeing
  • Organising get-togethers with friends and family to be surrounded by loved ones
  • Discussing and promoting a healthy and realistic body image
  • Seeking treatment when there are clear signs of body dysmorphic disorder
  • Creating a safe and supportive environment to deal with the struggles of body dysmorphic disorder

Body Dysmorphic Disorder Treatment

If you or someone you know has body dysmorphic disorder and needs treatment, here are some options:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy: To change the way you think and lessen your compulsive behaviour
  • Exposure and response prevention: To learn that your view of yourself may not be accurate
  • Group therapy: To get validation, understanding and support
  • Medication: In serious cases, antidepressants may be used to treat body dysmorphic disorder

What We Can Do Collectively to Reduce Body Dysmorphic Disorder

On top of all the preventative and supportive actions you can take to help or prevent body dysmorphic disorder, you can also dig deep to find ways that will help you learn to love yourself. This can be as simple as trying something new and indulging in your hobbies.

You may also want to learn about your DNA to understand your natural body shape and structure to form a greater appreciation and understanding for your body.

Together, we can spread body positivity and help reduce the risk of developing body dysmorphic disorder globally.

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The editorial team behind CircleMagazine, dedicated to bringing you bite-size health tips, real-life health stories and the latest genetic-related findings at this digital health hub.
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