All of us have, at some point, felt unhappy about a part of our body. We are after all our own toughest critics. For some, however, their preoccupation with their own body is not only a fleeting issue. It becomes the sole focus of their attention and their goals and dreams, affecting their social life, relationships and employment; this is why we need to talk about body dysmorphic disorder.
Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is defined as preoccupation with a body part, which is perceived to be flawed despite appearing completely normal to others. The difference between BDD and eating disorders is the lack of preoccupation with eating habits. People with BDD spend excessive amount of time checking said body part in the mirror, try to conceal it in different ways and can go as far as to completely avoid social interaction to try and avoid ridicule. The disorder is a source of paranoid thoughts; the person believes that any whisper they hear, any giggle or remark must be related to their flawed body part. They come to define their worth by said body part and believe it is the source of all problems in their life, seeing beauty as their ultimate goal. Most believe that they can solve the problem by getting plastic surgery; sadly, this is not the case. BDD is a psychological disorder which can’t be cured by altering a physical feature. After the surgery, the person either continues to be preoccupied by the body part, or relocates their focus to another body part.
Studies have shown that people with BDD perceive faces differently than those who don’t have the disorder. They seem to focus on individual features as opposed on the complete picture. They have bias towards positive and negative stimuli related to looks, words such as beautiful or disgusting. This shows that the way they process information is different, even though it might not be apparent in day-to-day situations.
This is why we need to talk about body dysmorphic disorder. Many people seem to think, that a girl who believes her nose is disgusting is being silly and seeking reassurance and attention, that a man preoccupied with his teeth is vain and labelled as a “metrosexual”. When in reality they might be struggling and insensitive remarks of others on social media or in real life might only make their situation worse. We see faces and bodies altered with surgery, but what we don’t see is the anxiety, the paranoid thoughts and confidence issues that are happening on the inside. We don’t understand the force of the disorder that drives people to attempt to perform plastic surgery on themselves when they’re refused by professional surgeons. We need to talk about body dysmorphic disorder because many of these people are not aware or willing to admit that they have a psychological problem.
We need to talk about body dysmorphic disorder because people’s unawareness can be harmful to themselves, and to others.
Here are some studies for anyone interested in looking deeper into the mechanisms of BDD:
Fang, A., & Wilhelm, S. (2015). Clinical features, cognitive biases, and treatment of body dysmorphic disorder. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 11(1), 187–212. doi:10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-032814-112849
Feusner, J. D., Yaryura-Tobias, J., & Saxena, S. (2008). The pathophysiology of body dysmorphic disorder. Body Image, 5(1), 3–12. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2007.11.002
Veale, D. (2000). Outcome of cosmetic surgery and DIY’ surgery in patients with body dysmorphic disorder. Psychiatric Bulletin, 24(6), 218–220. doi:10.1192/pb.24.6.218