What is Body Dysmorphia

Body dysmorphia is a body image disorder. Simply put, it is an obsession over your looks and appearance. Most of the time, they see flaws in themselves that others can barely or not see. It is a general term that encompasses the mental disorder that was recognized as a disorder.  

What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder or BDD

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a body image disorder. Most of the time, this flaw is either very small or non-existent to others.  It is a mental disorder with an intense fixation on appearance and body image. Body dysmorphia leads to feelings of shame and anxiety. You might constantly be checking the mirror, looking for reassurance and constant self-grooming. This disorder can often take hours out of someones day. Using makeup, clothes, and avoiding situations all can happen in order to make sure no one can see yours perceived physical appearance. 

This obsession can make you take often extreme measures to try to “fix” the perceived flaws. Unfortunately, it is usually a temporary feeling. And the satisfaction lasts only for a bit and the need to address the flaw again returns. It is a disorder that can have a profound effect on your personal life. Body dysmorphia can cause mental distress and emotional strain. 

Body dysmorphia effects around 2% of the population and is even between men and women. While the reason of insecurity can change, the reactions are often the same. Being aware of the severity of this can help people get better and also save lives. 

Body Dysmorphia Examples

Interestingly, body dysmorphia shows itself in many different disguises. And there are studies and cases that give a great look into how it affects people. Someone who is incredibly obsessed with what they consider bad lips would easily spend time and money getting their lips redone. Also, this goes for other plastic surgery as well as people obsessed with skin quality, nose size, and others. Things like nose jobs and getting lips done are more common examples of this dysmorphia. 

Similarly, a person can be obsessed with their body, wanting to look like so and so. However, some people are so recluse we rarely get a look. Taking a closer look at a famous case of BDD, we can look at Michael Jackson and how he dealt with his body dysmorphic disorder.

Michael Jackson Vitiligo

There had always been some debate about Michael Jackson’s look and desires for them. In fact, many people assumed that he wanted to aim to get whiter skin. However, upon his autopsy, it was discovered that he was diagnosed with Vitiligo. Vitiligo is a body disorder which causes light and dark spots on skin. 

While Michael was alive and performing, he caught of slack from people. There has been conversation about how Michael was has a strong desire to get lighter colored skin. However, Michael was on medication as well as therapy for his vitiligo. It is believed that he might have bleached his skin in order to deal with the vitiligo, making sure that it matched the color of the lighter portions. 

It is well documented from within his personal circle that he had issue with dealing with Vitiligo. A cause of stress for him, many think it was one of the reasons of him not wanting to be in public as much. He seems to have been a silent sufferer. 

Michael Jackson Nose 

The king of pop’s appearance has been a popular talking point for a long time. It is very clear that from a young age, Michael Jackson has slowly changed his physical appearance. Though he said he only had two operations on his nose for breathing purposes, many feel it was a sign of body dysmorphia. 

It has been said later that he had a total of 6 nose surgeries, ranging over the course of many years. Two of them were noted to be for breathing issues, however the others were cosmetic.

Through the repetitive behaviors of plastic surgery, he showed to many an addiction to this process. Tracking the progress of his surgeries, you can see a more and more extreme process of changing the shape from his original nose shape. Therefore, these kinds of behaviors are strong indicators that this was a form of body dysmorphic disorder that really affected his life. In many ways, Michael Jackson became known for his unique look and extreme changes. 

Body Dysmorphia Symptoms

When looking at the symptoms for body dysmorphia, one must look directly at the behaviors of a person. They focus intently on their physical appearance. Vanity, usually focused on a specific thing, can take up many hours in their day. Often, it will often cause them to be less social and want to be around others. Some symptoms are constantly checking their appearance, trying to hide their appearance, or comparing themselves to others. Sadly, this can become a hindrance in life. Some miss school, work, and lead more socially isolated lives. 

Some other signs of this are restrictive eating, grooming, repetitive changing of clothing, and possible even avoiding mirrors. 

A few more symptoms are:

  • Feeling as if you are ugly and people think negatively of you for your flaw
  • Always seeking reassurance about your appearance from others
  • Having perfectionist tendencies
  • Seeking frequent cosmetic procedures with little satisfaction

The severity of body dysmorphic disorder can change, ranging from mild discomfort to feelings of extreme distress. Skin picking, eating disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorder have a close association with BDD. In addition, poor concentration and lack of motivation are symptoms because you focus on specifically on one aspect of yourself. 

Unfortunately, there are high rates of suicidal thoughts and attempts due to the stress this disorder can cause. It can be seriously debilitating and seeking help is key. 

Body Dysmorphic Disorder Test

There are ways to help you see if you truly are suffering from body dysmorphia. A free online test from the OCD Center of Los Angeles is designed to help people figure out whether the symptoms they have are really signs of the disorder or not. Remember, it is important to know that this is not in place of going to see a doctor by any means. However, it is a way to get a good initial look into if you feel these things relate to you. 

The test is a survey which asks you to answer true or false statements. Below are two sample questions.

  • Sometimes, I discuss my flaw with others, or ask them to verify my flaw’s appearance
  • Frequently, I use make-up or clothing to camouflage my perceived flaw or defect
  • Often, I arrive late to activities due to carrying out acts related to my perceived flaw

Remember, taking this is a good start but is no replacement. If you feel you may have BDD, contact a mental health professional to seek help and treatment. 

Body Dysmorphia Treatment

Currently, there is no known way to prevent body dysmorphic disorder completely. However, with help from therapy, you can learn to improve and control your mind and actions. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps as it allows you to learn how to act with the thoughts that occur in your head. If you find healthy ways to deal with your thoughts, BDD will be something that can worked on and controlled.

Because body dysmorphia often starts in early teenage years, identifying it early can be helpful. If you can, stepping in a working with your child in an open way to discuss and treat it can help greatly in making sure it doesn’t affect their life as much. 

Also, medication has been know to help. The most common is an antidepressant. It helps coping with the perceived flaw. In fact, is believe that BDD is partially related to the serotonin levels. Antidepressants can help by lowering compulsive thoughts and behaviors that often go with the disorder.

Unfortunately, some people with body dysmorphia are unable to completely cope with the stress or treat the disorder. Suicide can be a result of the distress and the unhappiness one feels from this disorder. Remember, you can find ways to help you through this disorder. Reach out to friends and family, and seek professional help from a mental healthcare professional. 

Body Dysmorphia: Final Thoughts

Body dysmorphia is more than just an obsession with looks. It is a disorder that can have a grave impact on the lives of the person suffering and those around them. These days, our physical appearances have great significance in our lives. Those with more severe body image disorders deserve out acknowledgement. However, we can start to help end the suffering of people by showing them that we care. 





author avatar
Angel Rivera
I am a Bilingual (Spanish) Psychiatrist with a mixture of strong clinical skills including Emergency Psychiatry, Consultation Liaison, Forensic Psychiatry, Telepsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry training in treatment of the elderly. I have training in EMR records thus very comfortable in working with computers. I served the difficult to treat patients in challenging environments in outpatient and inpatient settings
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