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Body Dysmorphic Disorder: What It Is And What It Is Not

Updated on October 31, 2014
Cynthianne profile image

Cynthianne has a B.S. in Psychology and is licensed in Astrology. She is autistic, as are three of her children.

Not Seeing Themselves Clearly
Not Seeing Themselves Clearly | Source

What Is It?

Body Dysmorphic Disorder is characterized by a person who is fixated on something they see wrong with their body that no one else sees. This person may feel that their nose is crooked when in reality, it is perfectly straight. A person with Body Dysmorphic Disorder, or BDD, is pretty miserable in their daily life.

A person with BDD does not only fixate on a problem area that they see; they obsess over it. They may have multiple corrective surgeries even though the doctors tell them there is nothing wrong. When this person sees themselves in the mirror, they do not see themselves as others do.

Signs of Body Dysmorphic Disorder

  • They are preoccupied with something that they imagine is wrong with them, something only they can see.
  • They are concerned to the point of illness or societal stress.
  • They may not go out in public because they do not want others seeing their defect.
  • They change their style of clothing to hide what they perceive as a defect.
  • They do not have an eating, anxiety or other mental disorder.
  • Their concerns are above and beyond what is normal for dissatisfaction with their body.
  • They are preoccupied with looking at themselves, checking for flaws.
  • They may avoid mirrors altogether, even removing them from their environment.
  • Severe exaggeration of body part, repulsive, sickening, or other words that describe an extreme dislike for their body
  • The person spends an average of 3 – 8 hours a day fretting and focusing on their issue
  • The person may see scars or imperfections when there are none

Low self esteem, worrying about something in particular about their appearance
Low self esteem, worrying about something in particular about their appearance | Source

What It Is Not

BDD is not:

  • Feeling inadequate because of different skills than others
  • Not liking your nose or hair, for example
  • Anorexia or Bulimia
  • Transgender
  • Transvestite
  • Any dislikes a person may have about themselves that does not cause them daily upset in their routine or interacting with others.

Age of Onset

BDD is present when the person is young but may be seen as the child learning what they like or do not like, or the teenager reacting to peer pressure. As the young person grows; so does the disorder. If caught early on, the disorder may be treated easier than if not addressed until into adulthood.

May be treated for other mental health issues at the same time
May be treated for other mental health issues at the same time | Source

Coexisting Disorders

The person suffering BDD will likely also suffer other mental disorders according to clinical studies. Not surprising Major Depressive Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder are among the list of co-existing disorders. If a person is unhappy with their appearance and constantly trying to fix it, they will have MDD and OCD.

The Diagnosis

How does one get diagnosed with BDD? It is important that a professional make the diagnosis though there are tests online that can tell if there is need for an appointment. Generally the person with BDD will need some prompting as they suffer from depression and may not feel there is help for them. If you know someone who is preoccupied with their appearance in a negative way, and they are obsessed with it, they may need help getting past this issue.


It is not uncommon for a person with BDD to initially be diagnosed with MDD or Panic Disorder or even schizophrenia, depending on what symptoms they allow to present while seeing the doctor and what the tests show. It usually takes some time to get to the diagnosis of BDD because although not uncommon, it mimics many other mental disorders. The person may even get diagnosed with agoraphobia because they do not like to leave their house due to what they think is wrong with them.

In severe cases the person can get diagnosed right away, without going through the steps of being diagnosed with the other mental disorders first. Since BDD co-exists with other mental disorders, this is the common steps to take. But if the person has had to have emergency medical treatment due to their own efforts to make themselves more attractive, they may get diagnosed with BDD before other mental disorders are diagnosed.


Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a real and painful disorder. The person who suffers from this disorder has depression and low self esteem that goes beyond what is treatable by a day out shopping or a few therapy sessions. The person who is transgender does not have BDD, those who are lesbian or gay do not have BDD. BDD is also not an eating disorder. People who suffer with BDD see things on their skin, face, body, head, that are not there or they are seen in an exaggerated way that is very real to them. This is different from schizophrenia or any other mental health issue though it may also encompass a panic or anxiety disorder, Major Depressive Disorder and possibly Agoraphobia.

Do you or someone you love suffer with BDD?

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© 2014 Cynthianne Neighbors


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