What are the symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder?
A person with body dysmorphic disorder will develop compulsive thoughts and behaviours as a result of their anxieties surrounding their appearance.
Everyone can experience the effects of body dysmorphic disorder differently, but experts have identified common thought patterns and behaviours associated with the condition:
If you have body dysmorphic disorder, you might spend several hours per day dealing with intrusive, negative thoughts about your appearance. This can result in feelings of significant stress and anxiety.
There may be one or several areas of your body that you believe to be flawed. Common areas of concern can include your skin, nose, chin, lips, hair, or genitals.
Some of the worries you might have about these areas include:
• The body part is too big or too small.
• The body part is disfigured.
• The body part is out of proportion.
• The body part isn’t symmetrical.
If you are experiencing constant negative thoughts about your appearance, you might also develop compulsive behaviours and routines to cope with the stress and anxiety this causes.
These behaviours and routines can also take up a significant amount of your time and energy each day, often only alleviating your anxieties for a short time or even making them worse.
Some of these compulsive behaviours and routines can include:
• Seeking constant reassurance about your appearance.
• Frequently discussing your own appearance or other people’s appearance with others.
• Frequently weighing yourself.
• Frequently touching and checking your body with your hands and fingers.
• Altering your posture to change your appearance.
• Wearing heavy or oversized clothes to disguise your body shape.
• Applying heavy make-up to conceal areas of your face or body.
• Applying excessive amounts of tanning products, teeth whiteners, etc.
• Obsessively combing or styling your hair.
• Picking your skin to make it look smooth.
• Avoiding having your photograph taken.
• Obsessively checking your appearance in mirrors and reflective surfaces, or avoiding them completely.
• Constantly comparing your appearance to people on social media, in magazines, or on the street.
• Undergoing unnecessary cosmetic, dermatological, or other medical procedures in order to change your appearance.
The effects of these compulsive thoughts and behaviours can also make people living with body dysmorphic disorder more vulnerable to self-harm, suicidal thoughts, or further mental health conditions.
What causes body dysmorphic disorder?
No exact cause for body dysmorphic disorder has been identified, but a number of factors are thought to contribute to the development of the condition. These factors can vary from person to person.
Low self-esteem may lead to body dysmorphic disorder, especially if your physical appearance is very important to you. You might become fixated on the idea of improving your appearance if your opinion of your appearance is very negative to begin with.
Similarly, someone who has been bullied or abused may also develop body dysmorphic disorder if their experience has left them with negative self-esteem. A teenager who has been bullied may be particularly sensitive about their appearance, for example.
Certain professions and hobbies can encourage perfectionism and comparison with others, which in turn increases the likelihood of someone developing body dysmorphic disorder. Personal trainers, models, professional athletes, or similar could all be at greater risk.
Someone who believes that they must look a certain way in order to maintain personal relationships or meet certain social standards could also develop negative thought patterns that lead to body dysmorphic disorder. This can stem from a fear of being alone or feeling isolated.
A person with a family member who experiences symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder is more likely to develop the condition themselves, though there is no clear evidence to suggest genetics contribute to this. Learned behaviour in childhood, such as witnessing an adult’s frequent mirror checking or overhearing discussions about physical appearance, could also play a part in this risk.
Other mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, and obsessive compulsive disorder have also been linked with body dysmorphic disorder. However, it is unclear whether these conditions themselves contribute to the development of body dysmorphic disorder, or if body dysmorphic disorder causes these conditions as a result of symptoms.