Most of us have some feature of our face or body that we might change if given the chance, but most people don’t actually change these features, and don’t think about them very often. With body dysmorphia, these perceived flaws become a fixation, and thinking about them or trying to cover them up can become an obsession. If you or someone you know has a fixation on a part of their appearance, you might have questions. You might wonder exactly what is body dysmorphia? Can it be treated? How is it caused?
What is Body Dysmorphia?
Your first question is probably, what is body dysmorphia? If you suspect you, a friend, or a family member has body dysmorphia, you may already be familiar with some aspects. Body dysmorphia is a fixation on a slight flaw or perceived flaw with one’s face, skin, or body. This flaw might be a skin blemish, the size or shape of a facial feature, muscle tone, facial or body hair, or something else. It is important to note that, with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), this perceived flaw is not noticeable or barely noticeable to other people. Body dysmorphic disorder is mainly a struggle with perception and fixation; someone with BDD believes there is something very wrong with their appearance when there isn’t. This fixation is not merely dissatisfaction with one aspect of a person’s appearance. Body dysmorphic disorder dominates a person’s life, interfering with social activities, work, school, and everyday life.
What Are the Symptoms of Body Dysmorphia?
For people with BDD, it is difficult to stop thinking about a perceived flaw. BDD is now classified as a type of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and shows similar symptoms. Similar to OCD, people with BDD suffer from intrusive thoughts and take part in rituals, such as a particular work-out or make-up routine, and repetitive acts, such as checking a mirror or picking at the skin.
Someone with body dysmorphia might do some or all of the following:
- Frequently check their appearance in a mirror
- Try to hide features with makeup, clothing or posture
- Spend an inordinate amount of time on their makeup, clothing or muscle tone
- Pick at their skin or pull their hair
- Seek cosmetic surgery
- Avoid certain activities or meeting new people
- Missing events or showing up late due to excessive grooming, changing clothes or exercising
- Seek validation about their appearance
- Frequently compare their appearance to others
Though BDD can appear as a fixation with one’s body shape, it should not be confused with symptoms of an eating disorder. People with eating disorders tend to fixate on body weight or appearance, and these disorders are classified and treated separately. Skin picking or hair-pulling (excoriation and trichotillomania) may also exist independent of BDD, and should not be confused.
Who Suffers From Body Dysmorphia?
Studies indicate that BDD affects approximately 2% to 2.5% of the population. Many are surprised to learn that body dysmorphia affects men and women in almost equal numbers. Body dysmorphia often begins during late adolescence at approximately 16 to 18 years old, though it can appear at a later or earlier age. There are some risk factors that may increase a person’s chances of developing BDD, such as childhood bullying, a family history of OCD or similar disorders, and perfectionist or obsessive tendencies.
Can Body Dysmorphia be Treated?
Body dysmorphia can be successfully treated with therapy, medication or a combination of both. The first and most challenging step is diagnosing the disorder. Body dysmorphia can be difficult to diagnose for several reasons. Often, people with body dysmorphia believe there is something seriously wrong with their body that must be corrected, and they do not believe their perception is incorrect. This means many people seek medical procedures such as cosmetic surgery before or instead of seeing a therapist. Body dysmorphia also occurs frequently with other disorders, such as anxiety, depression, or substance abuse. Often, therapists may attempt to treat these disorders without realizing that body dysmorphia is the underlying cause. Many people with body dysmorphia are unwilling to talk about their perceived flaw and may hide their attempts to cover it. For all of these reasons, it is important to recognize body dysmorphia and work with an experienced therapist.
How is Body Dysmorphia Treated?
Once body dysmorphia has been properly diagnosed, it can be effectively treated. Experts recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness-based behavioral therapy, or emotion regulation therapy (ERT) to treat body dysmorphic disorders. All of these therapies focus on removing judgement and subjectivity from reality in an attempt to correct the person’s perception of the harmless flaw. These therapies also focus on interrupting obsessive thoughts and fixations. It can also be helpful to interrupt repetitive behaviors. For example, it may be helpful to cover mirrors or remove some types of make-up.
Michigan Counseling Centers (MCC) is the premier clinical therapy provider in the State of Michigan. Our highly-educated and highly-experienced therapists use a variety of approaches including counseling services, psychotherapy, and assessment/referral services, and our actions are tailored to the individual needs of you or your loved one.
Body dysmorphia can be a very difficult disorder to live with, but it can also be successfully treated. If you, a friend or a family member may be struggling with body dysmorphia, request a consultation with a therapist and talk about these challenges. Give us a call at (888) 622-3345 to make an appointment with a therapist in Taylor, Michigan or Bloomfield Hills, MI. Whether you are seeking therapy for yourself, a family member, or jointly with your partner and family, we can help.