Body Dysmorphic Disorder is not Vanity
Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), or body dysmorphia, is a mental disorder where a person is obsessively preoccupied by some aspect of their appearance, which they perceive to be a defect or flaw. Someone with BDD may describe themselves as being ugly, deformed or unattractive and will spend significant amounts of time thinking or worrying about their imagined flaws, or something about their appearance that is so minor that nobody else can see it. BDD is viewed as an obsessional disorder, which can interfere with many areas of a person’s life, such as their social, home or work life.
BDD is not vanity. It can be very distressing for the person with this mental health condition. It is common for a person to have some aspect of their appearance that they are not particularly fond of – this does not mean you have BDD. When a perceived flaw consumes your thoughts for hours every day and stops you doing the things you want to do in life, then it could be viewed as BDD. Common signs of BDD include:
- Seeing yourself as ugly or even as a monster
- Spending a significant amount of time (hours each day) thinking about your perceived flaws
- Missing work, school or social events because you don’t want to be seen by other people
- Avoiding spending time with people on a regular basis
- Checking yourself in the mirror a lot, or avoiding mirrors completely
- Making a lot of effort to try to conceal your perceived flaws
- Having cosmetic procedures (such as surgery) in an attempt to make yourself feel better about your appearance
- Spending a lot of time comparing how you look to others
- Experiencing emotional distress and/or carrying out harmful behaviours
BDD can affect anyone. It most frequently occurs during adolescence, since this is when young people begin to experience changes in their body and appearance and start to compare themselves more with others. It can also be present during later life, especially if BDD is pre-existing has not been addressed earlier in life. As people age and experience greying hair or wrinkles, they can become unhappy and display signs of BDD.
The unrealistic, socially constructed ideals of beauty can exacerbate BDD. Social media has been associated with body dissatisfaction and eating disorder symptoms among women and men. Social media platforms that focus on imagery, such as Instagram, may be of greater concern than non-image-focused platforms.
People with BDD often have a comorbid disorder. Research suggests the most common comorbid disorders are major depression, social phobia, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and substance use disorders. Eating disorders have been shown to be relatively common in people with BDD. It has been suggested that whereas people with eating disorders have primarily preoccupations with weight and body shape, people with BDD have more diverse physical complaints. Yet, people with eating disorders and BDD can display equally severe body image issues overall.
Due to its obsessive nature, BDD is often treated in a similar way to OCD, with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) being a common method of treatment. Other talking therapies and medication, such as anti-depressants, may also be used.
BDD can significantly impact on a person’s quality of life. Seeking help is therefore of great importance. If you think you have BDD, it is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a mental health condition that deserves treatment, so that you can live a more fulfilling life that is free from obsessional concerns about your appearance.