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Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a mental health condition whereby an individual spends a considerable amount of time worrying about perceived flaws in their appearance. These flaws could be anything from a crooked tooth to a large nose, but often they are almost entirely unnoticeable to others. For those with BDD, however, a fixation is developed and the obsession with the perceived flaw can start to have a significant impact on their lives. BDD can affect anyone, at any time in life, but is most common in teenagers and young adults. There are a number of reasons why people may start to show signs of BDD – often, social media, bullying, trauma or cultural ideals can be key catalysts.
It is not uncommon to have insecurities or worry about your appearance, but for those with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), a fixation on a perceived flaw can start to become overwhelming. People with BDD may begin to engage in efforts to conceal or change their appearance and avoid situations that they find triggering, which may affect them socially as well as mentally.
Of course, it isn’t only comparing ourselves to others and the media that can contribute to having BDD; abuse or bullying, low self esteem, genetics, depression, anxiety or OCD can also have a significant impact, and over time the condition can become serious. If you’re asking yourself ‘do I have body dysmorphia?’, in this blog we will cover some of the key signs to look out for before deciding to speak to a specialist.
Body dysmorphia is an anxiety disorder, often characterised by an obsession with one or more perceived flaws in one’s appearance. Individuals with BDD may experience feelings of embarrassment or anxiousness when around other people, as they are preoccupied with thoughts of their perceived flaw or defect, and how others may react to it. Each individual with BDD will experience it differently, however there are some more common signs that you can look out for if you have been asking yourself if you have body dysmorphia.
If you have BDD, you will likely have strong beliefs about a perceived flaw or defect in your appearance that you believe makes you look unattractive. You may experience regular, intrusive thoughts and worries about this perceived flaw that are difficult to control. These thoughts may trigger significant distress, and you could find that you are spending several hours per day feeling concerned about your appearance. While some symptoms of BDD are similar to those of eating disorders, there is a significant difference between the two, in that to be diagnosed with an eating disorder, eating habits must be impaired. The preoccupation with the body in an eating disorder is more generalised to shape and weight concerns, whereas with BDD, an individual may feel that a specific part of their body lacks symmetry, is out of proportion or unattractive, for example.
Those with severe body dysmorphia may start to convince themselves that their perceived flaw is in fact a serious defect and that they are ‘deformed’ or ‘ugly’. If this is the case for yourself or a loved one, seek guidance from a BDD specialist.
Many people who suffer with anxiety disorders and other mental health issues develop compulsive behaviours that help them to deal with how they are feeling. These behaviors, while sometimes able to briefly relieve anxieties, can also be quite harmful. Examples may include excessive use of products such as self-tan and make up, seeking constant approval and reassurance about your appearance, picking your skin, compulsively checking mirrors (or avoiding mirrors) and exercising or weighing yourself too frequently. Engaging in these behaviors may seem harmless at first, but once you start becoming reliant on them, this could mean your negative beliefs are being reinforced by the behaviour. This can cause you to engage excessively in these behaviours, which can then start to affect your work, home and social life. If you are concerned about your compulsive behaviors, you can find out more about how Psymplicity Healthcare can diagnose and treat them here.
It’s likely that we will all compare ourselves to others on numerous occasions, even within the space of a day, and sometimes without even realising. Sometimes these comparisons are completely unmeaningful, but they can also be harmful to our self-esteem, and for those with BDD they can encourage action to be taken against a perceived flaw. For example, if somebody is fixated on how their nose looks, they may see someone else’s nose and begin to wish theirs looked the same. This may encourage the individual to seek surgery to ‘fix’ their flaw, but in many cases when it comes to BDD, even taking action to amend a perceived flaw may not subdue the effects of the disorder, depending on its severity.
In many cases, signs of body dysmorphia will begin to develop during the teenage years, as this is when our bodies begin to change during puberty. We start to pay attention to these changes and also begin to learn about unhelpful and unachievable ‘image ideals’ that are thrust upon us through social media. We also begin to compare ourselves to others and are more vulnerable to peer pressure and criticism from our peers. While there is no way of preventing BDD completely, there are actions that can be taken to reduce its impact and the likelihood of developing other anxiety disorders such as OCD.
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