If you spend any time on the internet, watching TV, or even reading a magazine, you know that the messaging about what your body should/can/must look like is endless. In this pressure-filled world of cleanses, fitness influencers, and body positivity, you may have heard the terms “body dysmorphic disorder” or “body dysmorphia” thrown around. But, what do they mean?
Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental health disorder in which an individual becomes highly anxious or fixated on a perceived or minor “flaw” in their appearance. This distress affects their quality of life. It can also impact their relationships and other areas of functioning.
In many cases, this anxiety-inducing “flaw” is not visible or noticeable to other people. However, worries about the issue consume the individual’s thoughts. According to the Cleveland Clinic, 1 in 50 people meet the diagnostic criteria for BDD, though researchers believe this number may be even higher as individuals may not want to report their symptoms.
So, what do you need to know about body dysmorphic disorder?
Body Dysmorphic Disorder Is Different Than an Eating Disorder
Body Dysmorphic Disorder may be closely related to eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia. In fact, a research study found that nearly 33% of participants met the criteria for both BDD and an eating disorder in their lifetime. This is a much higher prevalence than seen in the general population.
Despite this critical correlation, body dysmorphic disorder is a different mental health condition. In BDD, individuals are fixated on a specific body part rather than their body shape as a whole. As a result, individuals can have bdd without having an eating disorder, and vice versa.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder Can Affect Anyone
Most conversations about body image focus on young women. However, body dysmorphic disorder can affect anyone- regardless of their gender or age.
Though research on BDD in men is limited, men still struggle. The Body Dysmorphic Disorder Association suggests that BDD symptoms in men typically revolve around:
genital size and presentation.
thinning hair or hair loss.
These expressions of masculinity may also look different when comparing cisgender men to gay, trans, or genderfluid men.
BDD Is Often Comorbid With Other Conditions
What does comorbid mean? This means an individual is presenting with two or more simultaneous physical or mental health concerns. It’s very common for people to have two mental health diagnoses.
In the case of BDD, individuals may also present with an eating disorder, depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or another physical or mental health condition.
BDD symptoms may share similarities with other diagnoses. Therefore, it’s important to discuss symptoms with a qualified mental health professional.
They can provide a proper assessment. Having an accurate diagnosis is one of the first steps towards ensuring effective treatment.
Body Image Concerns Are Not Always BDD
Many people describe themselves as “body dysmorphic,” closely tying the language to poor body image. Though this may be true, low self-esteem or poor body image on their own do not indicate a BDD diagnosis.
So, where does poor body image cross into BDD? When an individual has BDD, they are preoccupied with stress about their appearance. As a result of this chronic stress, they may engage in time-consuming, compulsive behaviors such as:
checking their body in the mirror repeatedly
comparing their photo to a photo from an influencer or magazine
feeling or picking their skin for imperfections
hiding their appearance by dressing in baggy clothing or wearing lots of makeup
In all of these cases, the individual is spending an excess of time on these behaviors.
In addition, an individual may also avoid situations, social interactions, or hobbies they enjoy due to concerns with their appearance. If your body image problems impact your life, it’s a good idea to speak to a mental health professional.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder Is Not Vanity
According to the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation, individuals with BDD often struggle with this disorder for ten years before seeking proper treatment. BDD is not an indication of egotistical or self-absorbed behavior. Instead, it functions similarly to OCD in that the thoughts and feelings are often intrusive and negatively impact the functioning of the individual.
If you find that you or a loved one is preoccupied with thoughts about your body, contact a mental health provider. You do not need to suffer. Safe and effective treatment for BDD exists, and your therapist can support you in your recovery.
Living with body dysmorphic disorder can be challenging. It can be even more difficult if you struggle with other mental health conditions.
At The Mental Health House, we support people at all stages of their recovery. Working through poor body image can help you feel more confident and empowered. Contact us today to learn more.