12 Minutes

Edited & medically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
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Do you ever feel like you’re not good enough? Like something about your appearance is just not right, even though others may not see it? This feeling can be a sign of a mental health condition called body dysmorphia.

You might not realize it, but body dysmorphia is one of the most common mental health conditions out there. Every year, body dysmorphia costs the global economy billions of dollars in lost productivity and healthcare costs. It’s estimated that up to 2.5% of the world’s population experiences body dysmorphia, a disorder that distorts one’s perception of their appearance.

Body dysmorphia can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or background, and understanding the signs and symptoms is crucial in seeking appropriate treatment.

Body dysmorphia is a condition that causes a person to have a distorted perception of their physical appearance [1]. People with this condition may focus on minor or non-existent flaws and become overly preoccupied with their appearance, often leading to significant distress and interference in their daily lives. This condition is also known as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) and affects both men and women [2].

Types of Body Dysmorphia

Classification of body dysmorphia is often done based on the severity and the specific features of the condition. Some classifications include mild, moderate, and severe BDD, and some also divide the condition into muscle dysmorphia, genital dysmorphia, and skin dysmorphia [1]. Muscle dysmorphia is characterized by a preoccupation with building muscle and being lean, while genital dysmorphia is characterized by excessive concern about the size, shape, or symmetry of one’s genitals. Skin dysmorphia, on the other hand, is characterized by an obsessive concern with the appearance of the skin and features like wrinkles, blemishes, or moles [1].

Beyond Skin Deep: The Mechanisms of Body Dysmorphia

The underlying mechanism of body dysmorphia is complex and not yet fully understood. One possible cause is a neurobiological difference in the way the brain processes information about appearance. Another possible cause is the result of negative experiences or trauma related to one’s appearance, leading to a distorted perception of their body [2]. Some researchers suggest that body dysmorphia may be a defense mechanism against underlying psychological conflicts, serving as a way to avoid anxiety or other uncomfortable feelings [3].

Risk Factors for Body Dysmorphia

Several risk factors increase the likelihood of developing body dysmorphia. These include a history of childhood abuse, bullying, or teasing about physical appearance [2]. Other risk factors include a family history of body dysmorphia, depression, or anxiety. Also, people with low self-esteem or perfectionist tendencies may be at a higher risk of developing the condition. Finally, individuals in professions that emphasize physical appearances, such as modeling, acting, or bodybuilding, may be at an increased risk of developing body dysmorphia [2].

In summary, body dysmorphia is a mental health condition that causes people to have a distorted perception of their physical appearance. It’s classified based on severity and specific features such as muscle dysmorphia, genital dysmorphia, and skin dysmorphia. The underlying mechanism of the condition is complex, and risk factors include a history of childhood abuse or bullying, family history, and low self-esteem. If you or someone you know is struggling with body dysmorphia, it’s essential to seek professional help and support [2].

Body dysmorphia, also known as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), is a mental health condition that affects how a person sees. It’s more than just feeling insecure about your appearance; it’s an obsessive preoccupation with perceived flaws or defects that are often not noticeable to others [1].

But is body dysmorphia a mental illness? The answer is yes. It’s classified as a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) [2]. It’s important to recognize that having body dysmorphia is not a personal failing or a choice; it’s a legitimate mental health condition that can significantly impact a person’s quality of life.

People with body dysmorphia may spend hours a day trying to conceal or fix the perceived flaws in their appearance, which can lead to significant distress and interference with daily activities [3]. For example, someone with body dysmorphia may avoid social situations or become fixated on specific body parts to the point where it affects their ability to function normally [4].

It’s also worth noting that body dysmorphia affects both men and women, and it can occur at any age [2]. While anyone can experience body dysmorphia, certain risk factors may make some individuals more susceptible than others. These include a family history of mental health conditions, past experiences of bullying or teasing about appearance, and societal pressure to meet unrealistic beauty standards [5][6].

Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror and felt unhappy with what you see? Perhaps you’ve had moments of insecurity about your appearance, but how do you know when these feelings cross the line into something more serious like body dysmorphia? [2]

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a mental health condition that causes a person to obsess over perceived flaws in their appearance, often to the point of significant distress and dysfunction in their daily life. BDD affects both men and women and can manifest in a variety of ways.

So, how do you know if you have body dysmorphia? First, it’s important to understand that everyone has some level of dissatisfaction with their appearance from time to time. However, individuals with body dysmorphia experience these feelings to an extreme and debilitating degree. [4]

If you find yourself constantly checking your appearance in the mirror or avoiding mirrors altogether, this could be a sign of body dysmorphia. Similarly, if you spend an excessive amount of time grooming or covering up perceived flaws, such as applying makeup, wearing hats or clothes that cover your body, or even hiding in your home to avoid being seen, this could also indicate BDD. [2]

Individuals with body dysmorphia may also engage in repetitive behaviors related to their perceived flaws, such as constantly picking at their skin, excessive exercise or grooming, or even seeking multiple cosmetic procedures to try to fix the perceived issue. [2]

In addition to these behaviors, those with body dysmorphia often experience significant distress related to their perceived flaws. This may include feeling ashamed or embarrassed about their appearance, avoiding social situations or relationships, or experiencing severe anxiety or depression related to their appearance. [6]

It’s also important to note that body dysmorphia is not just limited to concerns about weight or body shape. While these may be common themes, individuals with BDD may also obsess over other aspects of their appearance such as skin, hair, nose, or genitalia. [2]

If you’re still unsure whether you may have body dysmorphia, there are several online screening tests available that can help you assess your symptoms. These tests ask a series of questions about your thoughts and behaviors related to your appearance and can guide whether you may need to seek professional help. [5]

Overall, it’s important to remember that body dysmorphia is a real and serious mental health condition that can significantly impact a person’s daily life. If you suspect that you may have BDD, it’s important to seek help from a mental health professional who can provide an accurate diagnosis and recommend the appropriate treatment. [3]

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a mental health condition that affects both men and women, characterized by a persistent and distressing preoccupation with a perceived flaw in one’s appearance that others may not see. Here are some of the most common symptoms of Body Dysmorphia Disorder:

Excessive grooming: People with BDD may spend hours each day obsessively checking, grooming, or trying to conceal the perceived flaws. (4)

Comparison to others: Individuals with BDD may compare their appearance to others frequently and may feel inferior or ugly as a result. (2)

Avoiding social situations: People with BDD may avoid social situations or isolate themselves because of their perceived flaws, which can lead to significant social impairment. (7)

Repeatedly seeking reassurance: People with BDD may constantly ask for reassurance from others that their appearance is normal or acceptable. (6)

Mental health issues: BDD can co-occur with other mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. (1)

Repetitive behaviors: Individuals with BDD may engage in repetitive behaviors such as skin picking, mirror checking, or excessive exercise. (3)

Difficulty functioning: BDD can impact daily functioning and interfere with work, school, and personal relationships. (8)

Poor self-image: People with BDD may have a negative self-image and may have difficulty accepting compliments or feeling good about their appearance. (5)

Overall, if you or someone you know is experiencing distressing preoccupation with a perceived flaw in appearance, it is important to seek professional help from a mental health provider to assess for possible BDD. Early diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve the quality of life and reduce the impact of BDD symptoms. (2)

Body dysmorphia can lead to distress and impairment in daily life, and can greatly impact one’s mental and emotional well-being. Fortunately, there are various treatments available to help individuals with body dysmorphia.

Types of Therapies for Body Dysmorphia Treatment

Therapy is a crucial component in the treatment of body dysmorphia. 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a well-known therapy approach that aims to modify negative thinking patterns and behaviors. In the context of body dysmorphic disorder, CBT focuses on altering the distorted self-image and negative beliefs related to appearance [4]. 

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is a subcategory of CBT that helps patients reduce anxiety caused by their obsessive-compulsive symptoms. The therapist gradually exposes patients to their feared situations or objects while preventing their usual compulsive response to these stimuli. In the case of body dysmorphia, patients may be asked to look in the mirror for long periods without any corrective action [6]. Cognitive restructuring is another CBT approach used in treating body dysmorphia that helps patients challenge and replace negative thoughts and beliefs about their appearance with positive and realistic ones.

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is another therapy approach used to treat body dysmorphia. ACT focuses on changing how patients relate to their negative thoughts, emotions, and sensations rather than eliminating them [6]. The aim is to help patients understand that negative thoughts about their appearance are just thoughts and not necessarily the truth. They learn to detach from these thoughts and choose actions that align with their values and goals, despite how they feel about their appearance.

Family-based therapy is another type of therapy that can be effective in treating body dysmorphia, especially in adolescents. Family therapy helps family members to understand and support the patient while coping with their anxiety and concerns. The therapy helps to foster open communication between the patient and their family members and to promote a healthy family environment that can help improve the patient’s self-image [4]. Other types of therapies, such as psychodynamic therapy and mindfulness-based therapy, may also be utilized [1].

Levels of Care for Body Dysmorphia Treatment

The severity and complexity of body dysmorphia symptoms may require different levels of care. These levels range from outpatient to inpatient care. Outpatient care involves regular visits to a therapist, while inpatient care involves hospitalization for more intensive treatment. The following are the different levels of care used in treating body dysmorphia.

Outpatient Care: This level of care involves regular therapy sessions, usually once or twice a week. The therapy sessions can be individual or group therapy, depending on the patient’s needs. Outpatient care is suitable for patients with mild to moderate body dysmorphia symptoms.

Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP): IOP is a more intensive level of care that provides more therapy sessions per week, typically three to five sessions. Patients in IOP still live at home but spend several hours a day receiving treatment at a hospital or outpatient clinic. IOP is suitable for patients with moderate to severe body dysmorphia symptoms.

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP): This level of care involves patients attending a hospital or clinic for several hours each day for therapy, but they return home in the evening. Patients receive treatment five to seven days a week, depending on their needs. PHP is suitable for patients with severe body dysmorphia symptoms that require intensive treatment.

Inpatient Care: This level of care involves hospitalization, where patients receive 24-hour medical and psychiatric care. Inpatient care is suitable for patients with severe body dysmorphia symptoms that require constant monitoring and treatment.

Dealing With Body Dysmorphia On Your Own

While professional treatment is crucial for managing body dysmorphia, there are some things individuals can do on their own to help manage their symptoms. This includes practicing self-care, such as getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and eating a balanced diet [9]. Engaging in activities that promote relaxation and stress reduction, such as meditation or yoga, can also be helpful [2].

Some tips for managing body dysmorphia include:

  • Recognizing negative thought patterns and working to challenge them
  • Avoiding triggers, such as mirrors or social media accounts that trigger negative thoughts
  • Engaging in self-care activities that make you feel good, such as exercise or spending time with loved ones
  • Practicing mindfulness and meditation to help manage anxiety and stress

Support And Help For People With Body Dysmorphia

There are several resources available for individuals who are struggling with body dysmorphia. These resources include support groups, online forums, and hotlines.

The BDD Foundation, for example, is a UK-based organization that offers information and resources for individuals with body dysmorphia and their families [10]. In the US, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) also offers resources and support for individuals with body dysmorphia.

In addition to these organizations, it is also important to seek help from a mental health professional if you are struggling with body dysmorphia. A therapist or counselor can work with you to develop a treatment plan that is tailored to your individual needs and can help you manage your symptoms safely and effectively. 

Body dysmorphia is a serious mental health disorder that affects many individuals. 

The symptoms can vary from person to person but may include obsessive thoughts about perceived flaws in one’s appearance, repetitive behaviors, and avoidance of social situations. 

The causes of body dysmorphia can be complex, including genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. 

However, there are effective treatments available, including therapy and medication, which can help individuals manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Seeking help is an important first step in overcoming this disorder. Remember, you are not alone and support is available. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of body dysmorphia, reach out to a mental health professional or support group to receive the help and care needed.

  1. Vashi, N.A., 2016. Obsession with perfection: Body dysmorphia. Clinics in dermatology, 34(6), pp.788-791.
  2. Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). NHS UK.
  3. Lemma, A., 2009. Being seen or being watched? A psychoanalytic perspective on body dysmorphia. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 90(4), pp.753-771.
  4. Body dysmorphic disorder. Mayo Clinic.
  5. Do I have BDD? Take the test. Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation.
  6. Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Cleveland Clinic.
  7. Body Dysmorphic Disorder. John Hopkins Medicine.
  8. What Is Body Dysmorphia and How Do You Know If You Have It? Center For Change.
  9. Foroughi, A., Khanjani, S. and Asl, E.M., 2019. Relationship of concern about body dysmorphia with external shame, perfectionism, and negative affect: The mediating role of self-compassion. Iranian Journal of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, 13(2).
  10. Body Dysmorphia Test – Identifying the Signs and Symptoms. Eating Disorder Solutions.


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