Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) affects about 1 in 5 people. Around 5 to 10 million people, in the US alone, struggle with BDD. The number could be exponentially more since most people feel reluctant to share their symptoms.
Most people believe body dysmorphic disorder refers strictly to insecurities about one’s appearance. BDD is much more than that. Let’s talk about it.
What’s Body Dysmorphic Disorder?
Body dysmorphic disorder, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a mental illness in which you can’t stop thinking about one or more flaws in your appearance – one that appears minor or cannot be seen by others. The discomfort with such a flaw, makes people with BDD feel so ashamed, embarrassed, and anxious that they tend to avoid social encounters.
On occasions, such a flaw isn’t real. However, the person may spend hours, sometimes a lifetime, trying to fix it. Some people even go to extremes, such as plastic surgery to correct these flaws. Those with BDD often compare their appearance to others and avoid social situations and photos at all costs.
Understanding the Symptoms
To understand what living with body dysmorphic disorder feels like, we first must understand the symptoms.
- Being extremely preoccupied with a flaw in one’s appearance that others can’t see or appears minor
- A strong belief that others notice your appearance in a negative way
- Always comparing yourself to others
- Frequently seeking reassurance about your appearance
- Having perfectionist tendencies
- Avoiding social situations
In most cases, the preoccupations with your appearance are unwanted, uncontrollable, and time-consuming, to the point it causes distress and anxiety. The excessive focus over one or more parts of the body often involves the face, hair, skin, breast size, or muscle size (muscle dysmorphia), which occurs almost exclusively in men.
What about the Causes?
Like many other mental illnesses, there’s no specific cause for BDD. In the end, body dysmorphic disorder is the result of many other mental illnesses, a family history of the disorder, negative experiences related to self-image, and abnormalities in the brain.
The Connection to Other Mental Illnesses
Many compare body dysmorphic disorder to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). So much that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) considers BDD as part of the obsessive-compulsive disorder spectrum. With OCD, people experience recurrent fears and thoughts they cannot control. Similarly, people struggling with BDD also develop rituals or routines (known as compulsions) such as skin picking, excessive grooming, excessive exercise, and other behaviors.
It’s common for people with body dysmorphia to also experience a social anxiety disorder, an eating disorder, and depression. Since symptoms of these conditions overlap, it’s critical to check-in with a mental health care provider to make sure you’re not misdiagnosed.
What Body Dysmorphia Feels Like
It feels different to everyone. I’m not here to speak for others, but to sum up what most people with BDD experience. Those struggling with body dysmorphic disorder are never satisfied with what they see in the mirror. Imagine living with a feeling that you’re well aware you see your body in a way people don’t.
Here’s the thing, even opening up about your struggles with body dysmorphia is scary. Many celebrities have opened up about their struggles with BDD, and even then, some people don’t understand it. If you or someone you know is struggling with body dysmorphic disorder, don’t stay silent. Seek help and spread the word, because you are not alone.