Body dismorphic disorder

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Body dysmorphic disorder is a psychological condition that causes people to obsess over perceived flaws in their physical appearance. While most, if not all, people have aspects of their appearance that they do not like, people suffering from body dysmorphic disorder will experience huge amounts of stress and anxiety over their body.

As body dysmorphic disorder is a psychological condition, it is not always based in reality. While someone may obsess over something that is objectively real, such as a mole, they may also become distressed over things that are more subjective, such as weight, height, colour of skin, eyes, or hair, or a number of others.

It is not yet known what exactly causes body dysmorphic disorder. Psychological processes, genetic differences, and environmental factors are all thought to play a role in its manifestation, although most people believe that it is a result of the unachievable standards of beauty set by society and perpetuated by the media.


Like anorexia and bulimia, body dysmorphic disorder is a psychological condition that causes the sufferer to focus on their body. These conditions are overwhelmingly found in western cultures such as ours, suggesting that even if society is not the sole cause, it is a major factor. The condition affects people of all ages, and women are slightly more likely to suffer from it than men, but not by much.

Most people who suffer from body dysmorphic disorder will obsess over about 5 to 7 different parts of their body, with the skin, hair, and nose being the three main causes of concern. Up to 76% of people with body dysmorphic disorder will look into the option of getting cosmetic surgery, with up to 66% actually undergoing some form of procedure to correct their perceived flaws.

Related Issues

About 40% of sufferers say they focus on their perceived flaws for anywhere between 3 and 8 hours per day. A further 25% spend over 8 hours a day obsessing over their appearance. This is why, like many other psychological conditions, body dysmorphic disorder is often linked to a number of different psychological issues. For example, it makes people feel less confident about themselves, which makes them less likely to go out and socialise and meet people. Comparing themselves to others is also common practice, and makes the whole idea of meeting other people seem unappealing. This leads to social isolation, which leads to depression. Social anxiety, isolation, depression, and eating disorders are all common consequences of the condition, and due to the fact that most of these symptoms are common in so many different conditions, body dysmorphic disorder can be easily misdiagnosed.

Although the condition is psychological, it can lead to genuine physical problems. Many patients develop eating disorders, which can have hugely detrimental effects on our bodies. Excessive exercise is also a risk factor that can lead to heart, bone, and muscle problems, as well as injury. In fact, it is not uncommon for patients to physically harm themselves in an effort to fix what they perceive to be a flaw. This could be a purely physical act, such as cutting off a growth, or a chemical act, such as using pills to lose weight or put on muscle.

It is clear to see that the effects of body dysmorphic disorder are varied and far-reaching. As it is a psychological condition, and one that is often based on a person’s own subjective perception of themselves, therapy is the best way to approach it. Over time, working with a therapist will help a person stop obsessing over and perceiving real or imaginary flaws, helping to improve their senses of self-image and self-worth.

David Clarke