Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a chronic mental illness resulting in a preoccupation/obsession with a flaw in your appearance (either minor or imagined). It is also a Somatoform Disorder that is characterized by physical symptoms that cannot be fully explained by physical illness; the physical symptoms are the result of mental factors. Often, BDD co-occurs with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, OCD, social isolation and social withdrawl.
People can suffer with BDD for many years without anyone knowing. However, some signs of individuals suffering with BDD may include:
-an unnatural focus on appearance (compulsive behavior of having to check over and over again in the mirror).
-a specific focus/obsession on one particular area of their face or body that they perceive as imperfect.
-avoidance behaviors such as social isolation
-constant comparison to others
-refusing to be photographed
-constantly seeking approval and/or reassurance of their appearance
-measuring and checking their perceived defect.
-excessive dieting and/or exercising
2. How dangerous is this disorder and what is the damage that it can do?
Body Dysmorphic Disorder can be extremely dangerous. Approximately 80% of individuals with BDD have contemplated suicide and 25% of individuals have attempted suicide (Source: Butler Hospital). BDD can lead to social isolation, problems at work, family problems and relationship issues.
3. Is there a certain personality type that is more at risk for body dysmorphic disorder?
Those who have traits of introversion, perfectionism, neuroticism, introversion and schizoid personalities are more at risk for BDD.
4. What role has the media played in our perceptions of our bodies?
Most of our media (unfortunately) portray a very unrealistic body shape and type. The pressure of perfection is now higher than ever (particularly because we are exposed to an extremely high level of visual media all the time through computers, phones, billboards etc).
5. What can we do as individuals to change this negativity that surrounds our thinking about our bodies regardless of how we actually look like?
It is important to recognize your negative beliefs and engage in coping strategies to address them. Some coping strategies include:
-adequate self care (rest, nutrition, exercise)
-journal regarding your negative thoughts and feelings
-engage in creative/healthy outlets that you enjoy
-seek help when it is too difficult to engage in the above behaviors on your own.
6. What can we do as a society/nation?
As a society/nation we have to remember that BDD is a complex psychological disorder where people are plagued with deep underlying issues such as an absence of effective coping mechanisms to deal with stress and anxiety, low self-esteem and depression. Early education, identification and intervention are essential. Teach children from a very young age that every “body” is different and unique and create an emphasis on good health and self-love/acceptance rather than an idea of perfection.
7. How can someone who has struggled with negative self-perception come to terms with a less-than-perfect experience?
-By being truthful with oneself and identifying that they struggle with negative self perception.
By practicing self-love and empathy toward oneself (this helps to alleviate harsh self criticism that often drives this type of perception).
-By recognizing and truly understanding that no one is perfect. The idea of being “perfect” is a societal misconception as well as a “mind trap”.