In our culture, everyone gets a little self-aware every once in a while about the way they look. However, some people have a difficult time with the way they look that makes their overall life quite hard. In most cases, these people have what is called “body dysmorphic disorder” or BDD, which can be defined an intense and obsessive preoccupation with a real or imaginary defect in one’s appearance.
The Western world considers BDD to be a taboo, as most issues that deal with this part of life tend to be taboos and at many times people are embarrassed to talk about it, as they feel they will be labeled as “narcissistic”, “vain” or “shallow”, which is so easy to do in our culture. In other parts of the world, BDD is something that most people either don’t know about or consider that it’s for people “with too much free time on their hands”. But the truth is that BDD is real and is affecting many people.
People who have BDD are very concerned with the way they look and tend to focus either on their whole body or on a certain part. The parts of the body that are mostly related to BDD are moles and freckles, acne, minor scars, body hair, chest, genitalia, face symmetry, etc. While BDD is just as common among men as it is among women, many men are affected by a subtype, called “muscle dysmorphia”, which is the obsession with one’s muscles not being developed or big enough.
Here are some common elements found in people with BDD:
a) People with BDD see themselves as flawed, disfigured or ugly and constantly try to convince others of this
b) Many people who have BDD have feelings of shame, guilt and loneliness
c) A lot of people with BDD tend to be isolated and to avoid situations that can cause discomfort and anxiety
d) Due to the constant weight they feel on their shoulders, some people misuse alcohol or drugs
e) At times, people with BDD want or actually engage in self-harming
f) Sometimes, people who have body dysmorphic disorder tend to have suicidal thoughts because of the way they look.
g) Because of the obsessive nature of BDD, many people tend to develop obsessive habits. These can include always looking at yourself in the mirror or looking for objects in which you can see your reflection (cars, windows, etc.); constant picking of the skin to make it smoother; styling yourself constantly and / or excessively; always asking others about the way you look (and sometimes feeling bad about it afterwards); comparing yourself with people in magazines or ads or just with the people you meet; seeking cosmetic surgery or any practices that can change one’s appearance (wigs, excessive makeup, fake-body shirts, etc.).
h) People with BDD often tend to scrutinize others’ appearance for comparison
Causes of BDD
While it is still uncertain why people develop body dysmorphic disorder, there seem to be some common causes among the people affected by it.
Fear or being alone
People who worry about not fitting in or not having a romantic relationship can develop BDD. The cause can be that you believe that your exclusion from a group or from someone’s life is because of your appearance. However, the issue that arises is why do you believe that in the first place?
Apparently, people who get bullied, especially when they are young can develop BDD in their teenage years or adulthood. If you are bullied because of the way you look, you are very likely to become very focused on your appearance.
People who have low self-esteem can slip in BDD territory as well, as, since they don’t have a good view over themselves, finding a physical trait that causes them a hard time is just one step away. The problem with these cases is that given that BDD and low self-esteem are so strongly intertwined, it is hard to separate the two and see which one causes which and then treat them accordingly.
Perfectionism and competition
Research professor Brené Brown, Ph.D. wrote a great definition of perfectionism: “Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: “If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.” People who are perfectionists, unless they seek treatment, will have a hard time stopping from thinking that if they look a certain way, they will live a certain way, which is, obviously, a false thought.
Those who work in fields where they need to use their bodies a lot in a competitive way (models, athletes, bodybuilders) can also present symptoms of BDD.
People who have BDD can be helped to overcome it. If you think you have BDD, but don’t have a diagnosis, you should visit your GP and they will tell you what steps to take.
BDD can be overcome in a few ways, such as:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT is a form of therapy that is meant to identify connections between one’s thoughts, their actions and feelings and to help develop practical skills to manage these connections. This kind of therapy can be done one-on-one or in a group. Any type of therapy can be helpful and can make you discover why you feel the way you feel about your body.
Sometimes, therapy is not enough and people with BDD will need to take some medication. Usually, the type of medication prescribed in BDD cases is antidepressants. Always remember that when it comes to medication, you should always talk to your doctor about the pills you will take – their effects, but also about possible side effects.
Specialist BDD services
People who require more intensive support will be pointed to a psychiatrist or someone who specializes in BDD. There are very few of these and sometimes you will need to travel outside your area to be able to meet with one, but it can be worth it.
Of course, just like everything else, there are different types of BDD that can be treated in different ways. Some people, who have a rather mild version of it, can overcome it with self-help books or web materials or simply by talking to someone you trust.
One of the biggest issues we think of when it comes to the body dysmorphic disorder is the fact that it is considered a taboo and therefore many people won’t seek help for it, as they fear being laughed at.
This is the reason why all people should be more accepting and more open about different anxiety disorders that others may face and to discuss more openly issues that tend to be sensitive such as BDD.
Fraquoh and Franchomme
P.S. We want to hear from you! Did you have any experiences with BDD? What were they like? Share your feedback, questions or thoughts in the comments below! For more articles on style, fashion tips and cultural insights, you can subscribe to Attire Club via e-mail or follow us on Facebook or Twitter!