Body Dysmorphic Disorder: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

We need to talk about body dysmorphia. BDD is a mental health condition which encourages someone to obsess over one part of their body. This behaviour threatens their personal lives as well as professional and academic careers. BDD leads to many people developing OCD and eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. 

With the rise of the body positive movement and self-care, we need to stay informed about conditions like BDD. Here are some of the common body dysmorphia questions answered. 

What is body dysmorphia? 

Body dysmorphia is an anxiety disorder in which a person obsesses over one of their characteristic. This is often seen as a flaw to that particular person but is unnoticeable to many others. The condition mainly affects younger people but it does affect both men and women. 

The unhealthy thinking patterns attached to BDD often lead to compulsive behaviours, in a bid to ‘fix’ their flaw. These habits can develop into other disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and anorexia. 

What causes body dysmorphia? 

Low self-esteem and poor body image can be causes and symptoms of body dysmorphia. According to some medical experts, about 8% of people who suffer from the condition have a close relative who has also experienced it. 

Traumatic childhood experiences play a contributing factor in developing symptoms of BDD. Body shaming and bullying have been suggested to increase a person’s chances of developing BDD. The individual’s awareness of unrealistic beauty ideals leads them to fixate on their appearance, despite the fact that they are impossible to achieve. 

One study from 2004 states that up to 37% of individuals with BDD will also have OCD, which may be due to an individual’s genetics. Serotonin may play a part in provoking BDD. Low levels of serotonin are common in those who have anxiety, depression and even sleep conditions. It still unclear what the link between serotonin and body dysmorphia is though.

What are the common symptoms of BDD? 

According to the NHS, A person may have body dysmorphia if they are experiencing any of the following: 

  • excessively worrying about a specific area of the body 

  • spending a lot of time comparing their looks with other people's

  • constantly looking at themselves in the mirror

  • avoiding mirrors altogether

  • spending considerable time to apply makeup, style hair or choose clothes

  • skin picking 

We all moan about our bodies. No one EVER has liked their body consistently every day of their lives. Factors such as mood, hormones, contraception, your period and lack of sleep can all affect how we think about our bodies on the day-to-day. When it is stopping you from leaving the house, seeing loved ones or going to work, then there may be a problem. 

What does body dysmorphia feel like? 

Set the scene. You’re looking at yourself in the mirror and you notice you have a spot on your chin. It’s annoying but it will pass and you can leave the house without a care in the world. Imagine now that you’ve seen the spot and panic kicks in. You can’t leave the house. 

You feel like everyone will be looking at you, judging you, criticising you. You need to get rid of it immediately, whether it is covering it with excessive amounts of makeup or physically scratching it off your face. You have a panic attack. You decide not to leave the house. All because of one tiny spot. 

How is body dysmorphia treated?

If you believe you have body dysmorphia your GP is your first port of call. They may ask you some questions that may make you feel uncomfortable. That is totally normal. They only what to understand your symptoms to give you the most accurate diagnosis that they can. 

They make ask you about your self-image, your perceived flaw, your routine and whether or not you have experienced self-harm. After consulting your GP, you may be referred to a mental health specialist. 

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy may also be offered to you. CBT aims to change a person’s thought and behavioural patterns. The specialist will want to gain a better understanding of your behaviour to tackle the root of BDD. They will teach you techniques to fight the urge to fall back into unhealthy habits such as skin picking or mirror checking. 

Remember, when seeking advice or help for BDD there is nothing to be ashamed of. Whichever treatment path you choose, be in the safe knowledge those resources are there to help you. You deserve to feel comfortable and at home in your body. Feeling safe and secure in your body is a right, not a privilege. 

At BeYou HQ we believe it is as equally as important to talk about body positivity as it is self-acceptance. Many people don’t have the mental space to jump into all-encompassing Lizzo kind of self-love, right off the bat. And that’s okay. It is far more important to accept yourself for who you are than fall into more overwhelming behaviours. 

Did you find this article useful? Comment below and let us know, we love to hear what you guys think. Share this article on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to show your support as a body-positive ally. 

Meet the Author

jess simms

Jess is our Content & Community executive who writes about, well ...everything! She loves talking about period positivity and body positivity and, let's face it, loves a good debate. When she isn't talking about all things BeYou, she has probably got her nose in a book, cuddling her Jack Russell Terrier, Buster 🧚‍♀🐶📖

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