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What Is Body Dysmorphia and How Is it Treated?

woman checking blouse in mirror.

Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental health condition that involves excessive negative thoughts about the appearance of a person’s own body. It is estimated that about one in 50 people in the United States has this condition.

Characteristics of Body Dysmorphia

People who have body dysmorphic disorder are hyper-focused on their personal appearance and their perception of how their body appears to others. They may engage in obsessive grooming, check their appearance frequently and seek constant reassurance from others. These behaviors often cause substantial distress, and their lack of body acceptance may interfere with their daily lives.

People who have this condition may attempt to correct their perceived shortcomings by seeking cosmetic surgery. However, even if they achieve some satisfaction from the procedure, it is usually short-lived, and their anxiety returns along with a desire to seek more ways to address their dissatisfaction with their appearance.

Symptoms of Body Dysmorphia

The most common symptom of body dysmorphia is an extreme obsession with a perceived negative aspect of a person’s physical appearance that is either minor or not noticeable to other people. People with this condition usually believe that this perceived issue makes them ugly or deformed and that other people view them negatively or may be mocking them because of their appearance.

They may compulsively engage in behaviors, such as skin picking, excessive grooming, or looking in the mirror, that are intended to correct the perceived problem. They may also attempt to disguise the problem with makeup, clothes or styling. People with this condition tend to constantly compare their appearance to other people and may seek constant reassurance about their appearance from others. They may also avoid social situations, have perfectionist tendencies and have multiple cosmetic procedures done.

Consequences of Body Dysmorphia

People who have body dysmorphia may have difficulty controlling excessive thoughts and behaviors related to their condition. These thoughts and behaviors may consume their daily lives to the point that other areas, such as school, work, or social life, may suffer. Body dysmorphic disorder may also increase a person’s risk of depression or other mood disorders, anxiety disorders, suicidal thoughts or behavior, eating disorders, health complications, substance abuse, and physical pain or risk of disfigurement caused by repeated cosmetic surgeries.

Common Manifestations of Body Dysmorphia

People with body dysmorphia are often fixated on their face, hair, skin, muscle size, breast size, or genitalia. The specific fixations may change with time. Preoccupation with believing that their body is too small or not muscular enough occurs mainly in men.

Causes of Body Dysmorphia

The exact cause of body dysmorphia is not known. It may result from a combination of factors, such as family history, negative experiences, and brain abnormalities.

Risk Factors for Body Dysmorphia

The condition usually begins in a person’s early teenage years and occurs in both females and males. Risk factors include having relatives with body dysmorphic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder, personality traits, negative life experiences, societal pressure, and other mental health conditions.

Treatment for Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is often used to treat body dysmorphic disorder. CBT helps people recognize how their negative thoughts, behaviors, and emotional reactions prolong their problems. It also teaches strategies for challenging negative thoughts about body image and how to deal with urges to engage in behaviors such as reassurance seeking or mirror checking. It also helps patients work on improving mental health and addressing issues such as social avoidance.

There are no medications specifically for treating body dysmorphic disorder. However, some patients respond positively to drugs that treat other mental health disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression. People with severe symptoms may sometimes require psychiatric hospitalization, but this is usually only done for individuals in immediate danger of harming themselves.

Body dysmorphia is a difficult condition that usually gets worse if left untreated. If you have signs or symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder, make an appointment with a doctor to obtain a diagnosis.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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About the Author: Carol Evenson is a loving mother of three, an aspiring writer, and a social activist. She enjoys educating and learning and loves sharing her knowledge with her family and friends.

Resources to Recover and Our Sponsor Laurel House Celebrate Black History Month

February is Black History Month, a time for celebrating the outstanding achievements of Blacks and African Americans and their central role in US history. It is also a time to recognize the struggles Black people have faced throughout the history of our nation and give tribute to the strength and resilience of generations of Black Americans who have risen above adversity.

Black History Month originated from an idea by Harvard-educated historian Carter G. Woodson, who wrote the Journal of Negro History in 1916 to herald the achievements of overlooked African Americans in US history and culture. In 1926 he led an effort by the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History (ASALH) to officially declare the second week of February as “Negro History Week.” These dates align with the birthdays of two crucial figures in Black American history: Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809), who signed the Emancipation Proclamation officially ending slavery in the United States, and the Black American abolitionist and author Frederick Douglass (February 14, 1818), an escaped slave who is widely considered the most influential civil and human rights advocate of the 19th century. In 1976, President Gerald Ford gave official governmental recognition to the observance by declaring February “Black History Month.”

Without the contributions of Blacks and African Americans to more than 500 years of US history, culture, entertainment and the arts, science, athletics, industry and the economy, public service, and the Armed Forces, we would not be the country we are today.

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The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.

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