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Body Dysmorphia - What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Updated on March 8, 2011

What is Body Dysmorphia?

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a psychiatric disorder characterized by severe preoccupation with a perceived physical flaw or defect in the sufferer's appearance. While it often manifests in people who also suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder and/or eating disorders, it should not be confused with the bad body image that is a common symptom of anorexia or bulmia nervosa.

The Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) gives three main criteria for the diagnosis of body dysmorphic disorder:

Preoccupation with an imagined defect in appearance. If a slight physical anomaly is present, the person's concern is markedly excessive.The preoccupation causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.The preoccupation is not better accounted for by another mental disorder (for example, the dissatisfaction with body shape and size in anorexia nervosa).

Body Dysmorphic Disorder causes a preoccupation with appearance.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder causes a preoccupation with appearance.

Symptoms of Body Dysmorphic Disorder

The preoccupation that occurs with body dysmorphia can manifest itself in different ways for different people. While not all these symptoms will show up in every person who suffers, here are a few of the common signs of BDD:

  • compulsively touching the perceived defect
  • skin-picking
  • compulsively looking in mirrors
  • OR complete avoidance of mirrors
  • excessive grooming
  • excessive use of makeup
  • excessive dieting
  • excessive exercise
  • obsession with cosmetic surgery
  • constantly seeking feedback about appearance

Who Has Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Body dysmorphia usually develops in adolescence. While BDD is estimated to affect only 1-2% of the population, this statistic may be lower than the actual numbers, since body dysmorphia is highly under-diagnosed. Many of those who suffer do not reveal their obsessive thoughts and anxiety, for fear of being seen as vain or attention-seeking.

On the contrary, body dysmorphia is a serious mental illness that paralyzes people, impairing social functioning and even bringing people to the point of suicide. More than 3/4 of those with BDD will suffer from major depressive disorder at some point, more than 1/3 will suffer from social phobia, and 15% will attempt suicide as a result of their disorder.

Mirror, Mirror: Body Dysmorphic Disorder (Part 1)

Treatment for BDD

Since many BDD sufferers find themselves unable to function in their lives, it's imperative that people with body dysmorphia get help.

This help can come in many forms. Traditional psychotherapy has been shown to provide relief for body dysmorphia, but cognitive behavior therapy can be even more effective. Research indicates that CBT treatment eliminates body dysmorphic disorder in more than 77% of cases. Medication (especially SSRI drugs) can also aid in the alleviation of symptoms.

If you believe that you or someone you love may suffer from body dysmorphia, get help immediately! Body dysmorphia is a chronic disorder that only worsens over time, so it's important to seek treatment as early as possible.

Mirror, Mirror: Body Dysmorphic Disorder (Part 2)


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      JEL 6 years ago

      They say to get help immediately but help isn't available right away! The help that is available is the help that charges an absolute fortune by the hour or a very long waiting list. Ive been told to read books, been given medicine that has had horrible side effects. The proper help just hasn't been there for me and its not any better.

    • dawnM profile image

      Dawn Michael 7 years ago from THOUSAND OAKS

      Yes one of the new or somewhat new symptoms of body dimorphic is plastic surgery, where a person will obsessively get more and more plastic surgery just to feel good about themselves. Very interesting topic and you presented it extremely well. Thanks for bringing up this very important topic!

    • amykristina profile image

      amykristina 7 years ago from Leeds

      Hi, This is great hub! I've also written on BDD.I think it needs more written on it for more people to understand the condition. Please tell me what you think! x

    • profile image

      Michelle Minero MFT 8 years ago

      The info on BDD was very informative. Loved the links for eating disorder treatment. You are doing a valuable community service! There was one ad I was concerned with. It was advertising for free consulatation for plastic surgery right next to this edcational piece. I'm thinking people on this site might be at risk for seeking surgery for imagined defects, that being said..... Maddie, did a great job of informing people about this sometimes fatal disorder. Thanks for your work in the world.

      Michelle E. Minero

    • betherickson profile image

      betherickson 9 years ago from Minnesota

      Good thing you've come up with this lens. I'm sharing this to a friend who has this symptoms. Very informative.

    • madellen profile image

      madellen 9 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Good stuff.

    • Pete Michner profile image

      Pete Michner 9 years ago from Virginia

      Very informative article, thanks! I just saw on 20/20 going on about a month ago little boys who were certain that they should be little girls and vice versa. In addition to the high quality content, I'm envious of your ability to generate such a plentiful list of tags :)

    • Marlene_OnTheWall profile image

      Marlene_OnTheWall 9 years ago from Singapore

      The first I heard of BDD was an episode of CSI (sometimes you do actually learn things from watching TV). But this article gives me more info. About mirbog's comment on the preoccupation with image, I think it's a misconception that anxiety disorders are directly related to that. From my understanding of the subject, anxiety disorders may be triggered by stressful or traumatic events. It could also be related to personality type. You may be extremely vain and concerned about how you look without having an anxiety disorder.

    • talford profile image

      talford 9 years ago from U.S.A.

      Good article.

    • New Day profile image

      New Day 9 years ago from Western United States

      Yikes! I have a friend who used to be bulimic and now she picks at her body constantly. I had no idea that it could be symptom.

    • profile image

      jedgrey 9 years ago

      Thanks for the clarification and bringing this condition out into the open.

      Well done!

    • profile image

      mirbog 9 years ago

      Very interesting topic and informative. Unfortunatey we live in a world with obsessions of how we look and how others see us. My 21 year old daughter is very consious about her appearance. Lately she did a chemical peel for her acne and she cried the day after because her face was terrible due to the effect. I think it's very common amongst youths.

    • amulets profile image

      amulets 9 years ago from Singapore

      Hmm.... this sounds scary. Thanks for your information. I do not know about this disorder. Now at least I am aware of it.

    • profile image

      Jeanette M 9 years ago

      Hi, Maddie. This is a great hub both informative and well written. I have known a few women who suffer from BDD. One of them spent two years in seclusion because of it. Most of her family, that were out of state, were unaware of the problem. Fortunately, she is getting help now, and her future is much brighter. Thanks for the hub


    • profile image

      SirDent 9 years ago

      I must admit this is the first time I have heard of this disorder. Very informative and well written. It really makes me think. Good job.