Body dysmorphic disorder, also known as dysmorphophobia, is a common disorder, affecting approximately 1.7% to 2.4% of the population, with roughly equal distribution between men and women. This disorder usually surfaces in adolescence and commonly progresses into adulthood. It is characterized not only by obsessive thinking about a flaw that is often imagined or if present, hardly noticeable, but is also characterized by compulsive checking of the perceived flaw (spending lots of time in front of the mirror), engaging in behaviors to minimize the appearance of the perceived flaw (covering it up with makeup or an article of clothing), and hiding the disorder from others due to fear of social stigma. Whereas most individuals might be annoyed by a real or imagined physical imperfection, if you are suffering from body dysmorphic disorder, you are likely spending hours and hours a day obsessing over it, taking excessive precautions to hide from others (i.e., social isolation) so others will not notice the perceived flaw, exercising excessively, and even undergoing drastic plastic surgery to try to “fix” the flaw with usually non-satisfactory results. The most common places you are likely to perceive a flaw if you are suffering from BDD is your hair, skin, stomach, nose, or chest. Although the most common, this list is not exhaustive and a perceived flaw can happen anywhere on the body. Body dysmorphic disorder is not as well known as eating disorders and other mental health disorders; so with that in mind, here are the five things that nobody tells you about body dysmorphic disorder:
You are thinking about your appearance all of the time
Even if you are not looking in the mirror, searching for a reflective surface or talking to others about your body, you constantly spend hours thinking about and obsessing over your perceived or minor flaw.
Body dysmorphia is not about food
Body dysmorphia is not an eating disorder, and it is not centered on food and weight. Instead, body dysmorphia is a mental health disorder that fits in the same spectrum as obsessive-compulsive disorder. An individual with BDD does not binge, purge, restrict their diet, or excessively exercise out of fear of weight gain. Rather than being pre-occupied with weight and body shape, you are preoccupied with one specific body part.
You avoid looking in the mirror or having your photo taken at all costs
Many individuals obsess over their perceived law in the mirror or any reflective surface for hours each day however there are a large number of individuals who avoid mirrors at all costs out of fear and anxiety. These individuals will avoid mirrors in shopping malls, dressing rooms, cars and bathroom as will put the same amount of effort into avoiding having his or her photo taken. Having your photo taken or looking in a mirror is a constant reminder of your perceived flaw.
You are constantly making doctor appointments
Individuals with BDD will have many dermatologists, and cosmetic surgeons lined up and on speed dial. These individuals often seek medical advice to correct or erase their minor or perceived flaw. It is not uncommon to visit the same dermatologist multiple times or visit many different dermatologists for them to fix or eliminate your mole, scar or acne and the same goes for cosmetic surgeons. Many individuals will make multiple trips to a cosmetic surgeon in hopes that they will correct their perceived or minor flaw.
You repeatedly ask others for their verbal opinion of how you look and do not believe them when they say you look great
Individuals with body dysmorphic disorder constantly need positive affirmations from others but never actually believe these affirmations. “Does my nose look big?” “Does this freckle look ugly?” “Are my arms too long?” are all common questions that will be asked over and over in hoping the response will be, “no, you are beautiful”; but even with a positive response, you still continue to doubt and as a result, ask for reassurance from your friends and family.