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What is body dysmorphic disorder?

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is classed as a mental health condition in which a person presenting with this can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived defects in their appearance. They may see a flaw that appears minor or can’t even be seen by others, but to them it is a major issue and they may feel so embarrassed, ashamed and anxious that they avoid many social situations.

People who have Body Dysmorphic Disorder may focus intensely on their appearance and body image, repeatedly checking the mirror, grooming or seeking reassurance. This may go on for hours each day. The perceived flaw and the repetitive behaviours may cause significant distress and have a negative impact on their ability to function normally in their daily lives.

At an extreme level, they may seek out various cosmetic procedures to try and “fix” the perceived flaw(s). Afterwards, they may feel temporary satisfaction or feel a reduction in their distress, but often the anxiety returns leaving them searching for other ways to fix the perceived flaw(s).

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder include:

  • Being extremely preoccupied with a perceived flaw in appearance that to others can’t be seen or appears minor
  • Strong belief that you have a defect in your appearance that makes you ugly or deformed
  • Belief that others take special notice of your appearance in a negative way or mock you
  • Engaging in behaviours aimed at fixing or hiding the perceived flaw that are difficult to resist or control, such as frequently checking the mirror, grooming or skin picking
  • Attempting to hide perceived flaws with styling, makeup or clothes
  • Constantly comparing appearance with others
  • Frequently seeking reassurance about appearance from others
  • Having perfectionist tendencies
  • Seeking cosmetic procedures with little satisfaction
  • Avoiding social situations

People with BDD are pre-occupied with their appearance and possess excessive thoughts and repetitive behaviours, which can be unwanted and often difficult to control. They are also time-consuming and often cause major distress or problems in their social life, work, school or other areas of functioning.

They may find themselves excessively focusing over one or more parts of their body. The bodily feature that are focused on may change from time to time. The most common features people tend to fixate about include:

  • Face, such as nose, complexion, wrinkles, acne and other blemishes
  • Hair, such as appearance, thinning and baldness
  • Skin and vein appearance
  • Breast size
  • Muscle size and tone
  • Genitalia

A preoccupation with the body build being too small or not muscular enough (Muscle Dysmorphia) occurs almost exclusively in males.

BDD varies from person to person, definitely not a ‘one shoe fits all’ – for example, you may recognize that your beliefs about your perceived flaws may be excessive or not be true, or think that they probably are true, or be absolutely convinced that they’re true. Ultimately, the more convinced people become of their beliefs, the more distress and disruption they are likely to experience in their lives.

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