If you have a child or know a child, you can probably agree that children are perfect. Sure, they’re noisy and messy, and unpredictable at times.
But those gap-toothed smiles and chubby feet and poking-out bellies? Perfect.
Unfortunately, we don’t always view our own bodies in such a positive light—especially as we grow. We can be, as the saying goes, our own worst critics. Sometimes, this self-criticism becomes so severe that it’s called “body dysmorphia.”
What is Body Dysmorphia?
Body dysmorphia, also called body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), is a mental health condition where a person is consumed by worries about perceived flaws in their appearance. These flaws are usually unnoticeable to others but are impossible for the person with BDD to ignore. The condition causes severe distress and may impair functioning in different areas of life, such as social or occupational. Signs of body dysmorphic disorder include:
- Spending a lot of time looking in the mirror
- Avoiding looking in the mirror
- Trying to hide the perceived flaw, i.e. with makeup, clothing, scarves, hats
- Excessive grooming or exercising
- Picking at their skin
- Constantly comparing themselves to others
- Needing ongoing or constant reassurance from others
- Not believing the reassurance they receive
- Avoiding friends, family, or other social engagements
- Seeing healthcare providers about perceived flaws
- Seeking out or undergoing unnecessary plastic surgery
- Feeling ashamed, anxious, or depressed
- Having thoughts of suicide
People with body dysmorphia spend excessive amounts of time worried about how they look, fearful of how others may perceive them, and trying to correct their perceived flaws. It can cause severe disruption to a person’s daily life, sometimes even keeping them from leaving the house. To be diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder, a person must:
- Be overly concerned about a minute or nonexistent physical flaw
- Experience severe thoughts that interfere with their ability to live normally
- Not have other mental health disorders that cause these symptoms
Body dysmorphia not only causes a lot of problems on the inside—with increased worry and anxiety—but it can also lead to problems on the outside, the most worrisome of which is an eating disorder.
Recognizing body dysmorphia and getting the help you need to see your body in a better light is the best step you can take to ward off a potential eating disorder. So let’s talk about what you might look for to determine if you have body dysmorphia.
3 Key Symptoms of Body Dysmorphia
The Mayo Clinic lists a few signs you can look for to identify body dysmorphia.1 We’ve grouped these signs into three main categories. Be honest with yourself as you read through these lists. Ask, “Do these things ring true for me?”
1. You fixate on your physical flaws.
While it’s normal for any person to care about their looks, someone who suffers from body dysmorphia will spend excessive time thinking about their body.
You may zero in on a specific area of your body that you deem ugly and be unable to see the good that surrounds it. Oftentimes what you’re worried about isn’t consequential in the grand scheme of things and may not even be noticeable to others.
Regardless, if you have body dysmorphia, you may assume that strangers—or even your friends and family—make fun of your appearance in secret.
2. You work hard to hide your perceived flaws.
Again, it’s understandable for a person to dress in a way that features their best assets. But someone with body dysmorphia will likely take this to the extreme.
You may spend lots of time and money on clothes, makeup, or even cosmetic procedures to cover up your perceived imperfections. In most cases, these efforts won’t help your body confidence.
You might find yourself excessively looking in a mirror throughout the day and changing your clothes, re-fixing your hair, or redoing makeup countless times.
3. Your relationships with others begin to suffer as a result of your fixations.
Perhaps the most telling symptom of body dysmorphia comes when a person’s self-consciousness affects their friendships and familial relationships.
You may notice that you constantly compare your appearance to those around you. Sometimes this comparison will make you feel better about yourself, albeit temporarily. Other times, it will leave you feeling worse than before.
As a result, you might regularly ask friends or family, “How do I look?” with a deep need for approval and to the point that it becomes frustrating for them. Or you may even stop going around with friends and family altogether.
How Do I Help a Loved One Showing Signs of Body Dysmorphia?
Body dysmorphia is a difficult condition to live with. It’s also tough to help a loved one who shows signs of BDD because their fears and worries aren’t easily swayed by the input or support of others. Although it takes some intentional work and ongoing support, there are some things you can do to help your loved one if they experience body dysmorphia.
Patience is one of the best things you can offer a loved one who shows signs of body dysmorphia. You might feel frustrated by their harshness towards themselves and their unwillingness to listen to your attempts to console them, but you must be patient with them. Their BDD is oftentimes as frustrating to them as it may be to you.
If you start noticing your loved one shows signs of body dysmorphia, intervene as quickly as you can. The longer body dysmorphic disorder is left untreated, the tougher it is to treat. Gently express your concerns and offer your unwavering love and support.
Keep an Open Line of Communication
Communicate consistently with your loved one if they show signs of body dysmorphia. Don’t shut down their worries; that’s a fast track to them refusing to trust you with their fears going forward. It’s probably hard to hear your loved one talk down on themselves, but it’s better they remain willing to talk with you than shut down entirely.
Encourage Them to Seek Treatment
There is only so much you can do as a loved one; overcoming BDD often requires specialized and intensive mental health treatment. Ask your loved one if they’re willing to go to treatment for their body dysmorphia. Find a few treatment programs nearby in case they agree to accept help.
If you resonate with these symptoms of body dysmorphia, please reach out for help. It’s not too late to learn to view your body in a better light. Aster Springs can help. Find the location nearest you.