What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?
Being unhappy with a part of our appearance is a natural part of being human, whether we would like to be more muscular, have more prominent cheekbones, or a less crooked nose. For some individuals, their preoccupation with their perceived flaws becomes so time-consuming that functioning becomes difficult. Such an obsession with one’s imperfections, whether they are real or imagined, can be explained by body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). Individuals with BDD become consumed with intrusive and unwanted negative thoughts and feelings regarding their appearance such that they interfere with their ability to live their lives. They may be hyper-focused on parts of their appearance that they consider ugly, unattractive, deformed, or asymmetrical and are convinced that others will notice such “defects” as well.
Why is BDD a Problem?
BDD is similar to the obsessive and compulsive nature of OCD, except it focuses on obsessions and behaviors explicitly surrounding one’s physical appearance. Unlike with eating disorders, which include an obsession with body weight and associated food and compensatory behaviors, individuals with BDD may not necessarily be focused on their weight, but hyper-fixated on particular aspects of their image that they might consider defective – skin, hair, nose, musculature, chest, buttocks, etc. This perceived defect may seem miniscule or unnoticeable to an outsider, but consumes the individual with BDD with severe emotional distress and impairs functioning. Individuals with BDD may avoid social situations to hide their flaws, skip obligations such as work or school, or spend excessive amounts of time and money trying to “fix” their defect.
What Are Some Signs of BDD?
- Preoccupation with one’s appearance that can last for hours or the whole day.
- Repetitive behaviors or mental acts in response to appearance concerns:
- Mirror checking
- Mirror avoiding
- Camouflaging defect
- Asking for reassurance
- Comparing appearance with that of others
- Skin picking
- Seeking surgery
- Exercising excessively
- Changing clothes excessively
- Thoughts and behaviors are so intrusive that they impair the person’s focus and functioning.
- The perceived defect or flaw is not noticeable or is very slight to others.
- Social avoidance/isolation due to shame or embarrassment.
- Decreased performance in school/work
- Low self-esteem, high anxiety, depression, and/or perfectionism
BDD is a mental illness that if not accurately diagnosed and treated, can fundamentally impact the quality of a person’s life. If you notice that you are struggling with some of these symptoms, talk to a mental health or medical professional who is trained to support your recovery.
Bio: Bahar Moheban, M.A. is a clinical psychology doctoral candidate and psychological assistant in Torrance under the supervision of Dr. Nazanin Moali. She offers individual and group therapy for adults and adolescents with disordered eating, body image and body dysmorphic concerns, as well as mood or anxiety disorders. Bahar has mentored individuals seeking eating disorder recovery and has facilitated body image support groups. She is also well-versed in research investigating the role of culture and family on disordered eating. Call us today to make an appointment with Bahar.