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What is it about our emotional understanding that makes us experience the feeling of not being good enough or not having the shape we feel we need or want? About 2% of the US population has Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), “BDD is a body-image disorder characterized by persistent and intrusive preoccupations with an imagined or slight defect in one’s appearance.”  Some people with BDD may be so concerned with their supposed defect or flaw that they constantly try new ways to “fix” their appearance — whether through exercise or cosmetic surgery — but nothing will ever be good enough. It also causes the afflicted to be antisocial since they are embarrassed of the way they look and are fearful of being scrutinized.

Signs and Symptoms:

paraphrased version of Mayo Clinic’s list

  • Extreme self-consciousness and preoccupation with your physical appearance
  • Near constant self-examination in the mirror or avoidance of mirrors altogether
  • The belief that you’re abnormal in your looks — that there is a defect in your appearance that makes you ugly
  • The belief that people notice you more than others and see you in a negative way
  • Avoidance of social situations, leading to isolation
  • An ongoing need to reach out for reassurance from others concerning your looks
  • Cosmetic procedures that are unsuccessful
  • Compulsive and excessive grooming
  • Camouflaging, either by wearing a beard, wearing too much makeup, or hiding behind your style of clothing
  • Excessive exercise in an effort to improve the flaw
  • Comparing your own appearance to others
  • Avoidance of photographs


Common Features That Are Obsessed Over:

List found on Mayo Clinic

  • 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


People with Body Dysmorphic Disorder may be so obsessed with their supposed flaws that no amount of affirmation from others can convince them that there’s nothing wrong. BDD can lead to extreme depression, and this only worsens the delusion. The shame and embarrassment that goes with BDD can hold someone back from seeking medical advice. Unfortunately, BDD doesn’t get better on its own, and symptoms can become so debilitating that people seclude themselves and are unable to function in everyday life.

It’s important to see your doctor if you have any of these symptoms. Untreated symptoms can worsen, leading to suicidal thoughts and behaviors . 

Although it’s unknown for certain what causes this illness, it’s theorized that BDD can result from abnormalities in brain structure, from genes, from your environment, and from traumatic or negative life experiences. Factors such as childhood teasing and societal pressures can increase the development of this disorder or act as triggers. Certain personality traits, like low self-esteem, can also bring about BDD.


Possible Complications Caused by or Associated with BDD:

List found on Mayo Clinic

  • Unnecessary medical procedures, especially cosmetic surgery
  • Social phobia and social isolation
  • Lack of close relationships
  • Difficulty attending work or school
  • Low self-esteem
  • Repeated hospitalizations
  • Depression or other mood disorders
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance abuse


According to Eating Disorders Expert Susan Cowden, MS, eating disorders can stem from Body Dysmorphic Disorder since BDD also includes seeing your body differently than it appears. A prominent feature in both anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa is an extreme concern over body shape, size, and weight. Though eating disorders and BDD are distinctively different issues, some people may be diagnosed with both types of disorders.

Someone with an eating disorder is often overly worried about their size, weight, and outward appearance. Someone with BDD may overly fixate on the areas of the body that are typical to anorexia or bulimia — like waist, hips, thighs — and they may also go through similar symptoms, like checking their body often, excessive exercise, or fasting diets.

Cowden shared that as many as 12% of people with BDD also suffer from either anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. As mentioned above, there are many people whose focus is on specific body parts, such as the shape of their nose, their skin condition, or their hair, so BDD is still very different than an eating disorder.

It’s important to understand the disorder and its severity. There is hope, and the hope is found in quality medical care that can ease the obsession and help create more positive body image opinions about one’s self.

The topic of Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a vast topic with many facets, but what’s important to really know is that there is help out there.

The first step is knowing that you may have a disorder. The next step is seeking professional help to ease the troubling affliction.

Further criteria for BDD can help you pinpoint some symptoms that can assist you in determining what your ailment may be — from depression to eating disorders to BDD. If you or someone you care about shows signs of severe preoccupation with one or more imagined or minor flaws in appearance, then it is advisable to seek professional help. An example may be the continuous comparison of yourself to others.

There isn’t a simple diagnosis for BDD due to the other ailments that can accompany it — such as eating disorders and depression — but it is possible to get a clearer understanding of the ailment and get the necessary help.

Whether the disorder is BDD or any type of eating disorder, it is important to realize the seriousness of the disease and seek professional assistance. Life can be a beautiful experience if you set your goal to make it just that, and with these medical disorders, you aren’t able to receive the full preciousness that can be derived from this life. It’s important to realize that there is help that can fill your life with more pleasure and happiness.


For more information, and to help find support, talk to your doctor.
You can also call the help line for NEDA Feeding Hope at 1-800-931-2237, or you can visit their website here.


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