What You Should Know About Body Dysmorphia
Body dysmorphia is a mental health condition that will impact an estimated one in 50 people over the course of a lifetime.1 In some cases, those with body dysmorphia also suffer from eating disorder behavioral patterns such as caloric restriction, compulsive exercise, binge-purge cycles, or obsession with weight. The earliest signs of body dysmorphia often manifest in adolescence,2 and anyone can be at risk—no matter their gender pronouns, sexual orientation, body composition, or ethnic background. Here is what you should know about body dysmorphia in case you (or a loved one) are exhibiting symptoms of this mental illness.
What Is Body Dysmorphia, and How Can It Develop?
According to the Cleveland Clinic, body dysmorphia is an unrelenting fixation on imagined physical flaws that will consume a person's thoughts, cause severe anxiety, and sometimes interfere with daily routines such as school, work, or social activities.3 The Cleveland Clinic goes on to point out, these obsessive thoughts commonly center around one or more of the following perceived areas of concern such as:
- Skin imperfections: wrinkles, scars, acne, blemishes, loose skin
- Facial features: nose, chin, hairline, forehead, eyes, brows, ears
- Individual body parts: stomach, thighs, chest, arms, buttocks
The crucial distinction to know about body dysmorphia is this: no matter how real or obvious those so-called flaws can seem, the anxieties and insecurities you feel are nothing more than body image distortions. Think of it as staring into a funhouse mirror—the reflection of yourself might appear accurate from your own skewed perspective, but the fact remains that it's just an optical illusion. That is what makes body dysmorphia so harmful, though.
If untreated, this mental health issue can coerce you to develop all sorts of extreme behaviors to correct the "problem area," often leading to an eventual eating disorder. While there's no singular cause of body dysmorphia, it's also helpful to know which environmental and sociocultural factors can influence the obsession to take root. Here are a few possible body dysmorphia causes to be aware of. The Cleveland Clinic lists the following:
- Traumatic childhood situations that result in lack of control or low self-esteem
- Parents or authority figures who are critical of weight and external appearance
- Pressure from society or social media to achieve a certain projection of beauty
- Bullying or body-shaming harassment from peers (often in the pubescent years)
- Susceptibility to other mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety disorder
What Are the Signs of Body Dysmorphia to Know About?
If you suspect that body dysmorphia has begun to manifest in either yourself or someone you care about, it's crucial to learn the signs and symptoms of this mental illness. According to licensed therapists and psychologists who specialize in the treatment of body image distortions, here are a few specific thought and behavioral patterns to look for.4
- Your appearance or body image insecurities distract from relationships, leisure activities, and work or school commitments.
- You suffer from chronically low self-esteem issues as a result of your perceived flaws.
- You spend an excessive amount of time comparing yourself to others and believing that your appearance is inferior to theirs.
- You either constantly ask others for their thoughts on your appearance, or you choose to avoid the subject at all costs.
- You practice ritualistic behaviors such as pinching body parts, scratching skin blemishes, or wearing oversized clothes.
- You invest an abnormal amount of financial resources into "fixing" your perceived flaws.
- Your schedule changes, you isolate from social interactions, or you refuse to leave the house due to appearance-related fears.
- Your thoughts about appearance or body image become intrusive and all-consuming.
- You either feel obsessively drawn to mirrors, or you are terrified of encountering mirrors.
- Your eating or exercise habits become increasingly compulsive in an effort to control "problem areas" of your appearance.
Do any of those behaviors ring true in your own life? Have you noticed them manifesting in a friend or family member? Are you concerned that body dysmorphia might be at the root? Before these symptoms turn into an eating disorder, it's vital to seek therapeutic resources and interventions from a mental health professional. Do you know an effective coping mechanism to deal with the obsessive anxieties and insecurities that come with body dysmorphia? Please share your insights in the comment section.
- Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Accessed April 10, 2022.
- "Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Youth." Mental Health America. Accessed April 20, 2022.
- Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Cleveland Clinic. October 14, 2020.
- Tschinkel, A., "12 Subtle Warning Signs of Body Dysmorphia." Insider, November 26, 2018.
Schurrer, M. (2022, April 13). What You Should Know About Body Dysmorphia, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, July 2 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivinged/2022/4/what-you-should-know-about-body-dysmorphia