what is body dysmorphia

Ask the question what is body dysmorphia, and you’ll probably get one of two answers: they’ll shake their heads and look confused, or reply with “oh it’s some kind of eating disorder”.

But that’s not quite correct.

You see, whilst body dysmorphia does go hand in hand with many eating disorders, anorexia and bulimia often have a body dysmorphic element – but you don’t have to have an eating disorder to be suffering from body dysmorphia.

If you spend hours considering your “flaws”, have obsessive or excessive body care routines, feel anxious or depressed about the way you look, or if how you feel about yourself actually stops you from taking part in normal activities like socialising, going to work and leaving your home, then you could be suffering from a body dysmorphic disorder.

What Is Body Dysmorphia?

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is an anxiety disorder linked specifically to the way you look. It can manifest as a hyper-consciousness about your appearance. You might find you can’t stop thinking about your perceived defects or flaws – Usually a flaw that is very minor in reality or can’t even be noticed by others. Body dysmorphia is categorised as an obsessive and compulsive disorder and is a very real psychiatric illness.

You might find you feel so embarrassed, ashamed or anxious that you avoid certain social situations – and in some cases – this can stop you from participating in normal daily activities and in some cases can stop you from leaving your home.

People with body dysmorphic disorder, may repeatedly check their appearance in the mirror, be constantly grooming themselves or seek reassurance from others. In severe cases, it can cause the sufferer serious distress and even impact their ability to function in normal everyday daily life.

Common areas of the body that people obsess about include (but are not limited to);
  • Face including nose, complexion, wrinkles, acne and other skin problems
  • Hair – thinning and baldness or appearance
  • Weight or body shape and size
  • Skin appearance and vein visibility
  • Breast size
  • Muscle size and tone
  • Genitalia

Body dysmorphia is more common than you think, affecting around 1 in 50 people with an almost equal split between men and women. It often develops during the teenage and early adult years and it wouldn’t be surprising to know that the condition is on the increase. And whilst not specifically caused by, it could be suggested that one reason for the increase is due to the pressures young people feel for achieving the perfect physique or figure when they are exposed to so much “perfection” on social media.

What Is Body Dysmorphia: Symptoms & Signs

Intrusive, negative thoughts about your body

You might find you have persistent negative thoughts about a specific part of your body – or multiple parts. You might feel that some part of you is too small, out of proportion, too big, asymmetrical or even disfigured. These thoughts might dominate your mind, even when you’re trying to work or complete daily tasks.

Obsessive beauty routines or behaviours

Everyone checks the mirror once or twice a day, but if you’re spending hours staring in the mirror inspecting your flaws, then it could be BDD. Obsessive or compulsive beauty behaviours are a sign that something is wrong. It’s good to take care of your body, but if skipping your beauty routine causes you serious distress that’s a sign that something is wrong.

Obsessive and restrictive eating, extreme dieting and or exercise

Whilst most of us have insecurities about our weight and pledge to eat healthier and exercise more, for someone who has BDD their behaviour is obsessive and extreme. This could be identified with extreme eating patterns such as raw vegan diets, obsessively tracking and counting every calorie and macro they consume or extended periods of fasting.

Someone with body dysmorphia might have extreme and obsessive exercise routines and programmes, needing to exercise every day and feeling anxiety when they do not.

Compulsive cosmetic surgery

There’s nothing wrong with the occasional nip and tuck to fix a significant body problem, but if you find yourself obsessing about having cosmetic surgery to fix a certain body part or if you feel like you are maybe addicted to having cosmetic surgery then body dysmorphia could be the cause.

Other signs of body dysmorphia include:

  • Skin picking
  • Trichotillomania (pulling hair out from the scalp, eyelashes, eyebrows)
  • Checking the mirror excessively
  • Seeking constant reassurance about your appearance

What Is Body Dysmorphia: Causes

The cause of body dysmorphia is still unknown, but there are some things they consider to be risk factors.

You’re more likely to suffer from body dysmorphia if:

  • You suffer from depression, anxiety or OCD
  • You have a family history of mental illness
  • You’re a victim of abuse or bullying
  • You have low self-esteem
  • You have a fear of being alone
  • You’re a perfectionist
  • You’re super competitive
  • You have certain genes
  • You suffer from depression, anxiety or OCD

What Is Body Dysmorphia: Treatments & Solutions

If you think you or someone you know might have body dysmorphia, the first thing to do is to ask for help. Speak to your GP and discuss your concerns. He or she will be able to tell you what help is available for you and get you on the right track.

Common types of treatments for body dysmorphia include:

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy

CBT is one of the most common forms of therapy and can be available on the NHS. It’s a form of talking therapy that has the goal of helping you to identify the connections between your thoughts, feelings and behaviours – and give you practical strategies to change.

CBT for body dysmorphia usually aims to address the core foundations of your disorder, working on improving your general attitude to body image, alleviating your concerns about your perceived physical flaws and reducing your anxiety and compulsive behaviours.

The waiting lists for CBT on the NHS can be long, so if you’re in need of treatment urgently, you might need to consider going private. You can find an accredited CBT therapist through the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP).


In some cases, medication can be used to reduce your anxiety or alleviate any depression that may be triggering or caused by your body dysmorphia.

You might be given antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication alone, or in combination with CBT but this is usually only considered if therapy alone has not shown any success.

Mindfulness & Meditation

Body dysmorphia is a mental health condition and you should always seek professional help. But in the meantime, taking care of your mindset and reducing your stress levels may help reduce the severity of your symptoms until you can get medical help.

Mindfulness and meditation have been shown to reduce the symptoms of stress and anxiety, giving you more control over your emotions and behaviours and a better mindset.

I’ve written blogs posts on mindfulness and meditation previously, to learn more about it click here…