What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

 16th Jan 2018

Anyone who remembers the US television series Nip Tuck will have some understanding of the crazy world of cosmetic surgery. Or at least a highly glamorised version with some truly bizarre plot twists thrown in.

What it highlighted however was a cultural obsession with perfection: the idea that an individual is somehow deficient or needs improving.

It’s important to understand that we are not slamming cosmetic surgery. There are times when it is entirely reasonable or even necessary to go under the knife for cosmetic reasons.

However, where cosmetic surgery becomes a problem or even a danger is when there is an overriding need to correct something the individual incorrectly perceives as critically flawed.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Body Dysmorphia is a mental health issue that causes the individual to worry about flaws in their appearance – usually flaws that no one else can see.

It can affect men and women and most commonly in their teenage years or as a young adult.

Body dysmorphia was thrust into the public eye when Heroes and Nashville star Hayden Panettiere confessed to suffering from the disorder when she was a teenager, stemming from a tabloid image of her allegedly showing signs of cellulite.

It’s very important to understand that Body Dysmorphia Disorder (BDD) is not vanity, self-obsession or narcissism. It also isn’t exclusive to the Hollywood elite. Although a surprising number of stars do experience BDD including Sarah Michelle Gellar, Lily Allen and the late Michael Jackson.

This challenging disorder does not come from bloated sense of self-worth.

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The reality of living with BDD is one of going through every day feeling that you are – in some way – defective and less beautiful/normal/attractive than everyone else.

It is a very lonely issue to have.

As the case with Michael Jackson, some individuals who have the means will seek to ‘correct’ their perceived flaw. As such they can go to extreme lengths in order to put it right. Although the reality is it will never be fixed and this can result in ever more extreme procedures, often exacerbating, rather than relieving the issue.

Or, because the condition is entirely psychological, a new flaw will manifest and the cycle will start over.

What are the Symptoms?

Chances are we all have things about ourselves we don’t like be it our waistline after the holiday season, a scar from a childhood mistake or one of countless other perceived flaws. The majority can either live with it (in the case of the scar) or take positive steps to correct it such as exercise or change of diet (in the case of weight). However, body dysmorphic disorder is a little more insidious than that.

If you or someone you know exhibits some of these behaviours then BDD could be the cause:

  • Worrying a lot about a specific area of the body (commonly the face)
  • Spending a great deal of time comparing looks to that of others – not necessarily those in the public eye
  • Looking at themselves in mirrors a lot or avoiding them altogether
  • Going to considerable lengths to conceal perceived flaws such as:
    • Styling hair to cover parts of the face
    • Applying excessive make up
    • Wearing clothes that conceal the ‘offending’ body part
  • Picking at the skin to make it ‘smooth’.

BDD can have a huge impact on the individual’s quality of life, severely damaging relationships, cause isolation and affect employment opportunities.

Getting Support

If you are concerned that you or someone you care about has body dysmorphic disorder then you should seek support as soon as possible.

In the first instance you should consult your GP who can refer you to your local community mental health team for assessment.

If your BDD is mild then you may be referred to talking therapies like CBT. If you live in the Dorset area services like Steps2Wellbeing operate on a self-referral basis.

For moderate or severe cases you will likely be offered talking therapies as well as a commonly used antidepressant called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. In addition to helping with BDD, this medication tends to have fewer side effects than other medications.

Alternatively organisations like Mind or the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation can offer advice and support.

Encompass supports individuals in the Dorset area with enduring mental health issues. If you or someone you care about are experiencing challenges and feel we can help, contact us today to speak to one of our team for more information or advice.

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