What is Body Dysmorphia – Types, Causes, and More

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What is Body Dysmorphia?

Body dysmorphia, also called body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), is a mental health disorder that primes to distress over your appearance. You may think certain parts of your body are defects. Other people may be unable to see what you perceive as flaws. As a result, you may have psychological distress that can interrupt your everyday life.

It is related to an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) but is often misdiagnosed. If you have it, you may need to perform certain rituals or routines (compulsions), like checking a mirror or avoiding one.

Body dysmorphia can affect anyone. It usually begins during the teen years or early adulthood. In the U.S., it affects about 2.4% of adults – slightly more people assigned female at birth than people assigned male at birth.

Types of Body Dysmorphia

Muscle Dysmorphia

Muscle DysmorphiaIf you don’t think your body is big enough or muscular enough. You may exercise a lot, count calories, wear more clothes to appear bulkier, strictly monitor your diet, or have a rigid eating schedule. It’s sometimes called “bigorexia” or “reverse anorexia.” It can overlap with an eating disorder, but it’s not always an eating disorder.

Body Dysmorphia By Proxy

You may be hyper-focused on what you think are flaws in another person’s appearance – it can be someone you know or a stranger. It causes distress and affects how you function. You may perform repetitive behaviors to ease your anxiety or feelings of guilt.

Causes of Body Dysmorphia

Experts don’t know the exact cause of body dysmorphia. There are a lot of possible factors.

One theory suggests a problem with the size or functioning of specific brain areas that method information about body appearance. The fact that body dysmorphia often arises in people with other mental health disorders, such as foremost depression and anxiety, further supports a biological basis for the disease. Genes can undoubtedly be a cause, experts say.

Other things that might influence the development of or trigger BDD include:

  • Traumatic events or emotional conflict during childhood, like bullying
  • Low self-esteem
  • Parents and others who were severe of the person’s appearance

Body Dysmorphia Symptoms

Some of the warning signs that a person may have body dysmorphia include:

  • Engaging in repetitive and time-consuming behaviors, such as looking in a mirror (or avoiding one), picking at the skin, and trying to hide or cover up the perceived defect
  • Comparing your body part to others
  • Constantly asking for reassurance that the fault is not visible or too obvious
  • Not believing others when they say you look fine
  • Repeatedly measuring or touching the body part
  • Having problems at work, in school, or in relationships due to the inability to stop focusing on the perceived defect
  • Feeling self-conscious and not good enough to go out in public or feeling anxious around others
  • Seeking out plastic surgery or other cosmetic procedures to improve the appearance
  • Not being satisfied with attempts to improve the appearance

Body Dysmorphia Diagnosis

The secrecy and shame that you may have can make it hard to get diagnosed – or diagnosed accurately. Most experts agree that many cases of body dysmorphia go unrecognized. You may be embarrassed and reluctant to tell your doctor or therapist about your concerns or behaviors. As an effect, the disorder can go unnoticed for years or never be diagnosed.

Sometimes, you can be misdiagnosed with depression, OCD, anxiety, or an eating disorder. For example, If you cut or pluck your hair to improve your appearance, you may be misdiagnosed with trichotillomania. It can also be misdiagnosed as schizophrenia or psychotic depression.

To diagnose body dysmorphia, the doctor will likely ask about your medical history and make a physical exam. If the doctor suspects it, they might refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist – health care specialists specially trained to diagnose and treat it.

Body Dysmorphia Treatment

Treatment for body dysmorphia likely will include a combination of the following therapies:


This kind of individual counseling focuses on changing the thoughtful (cognitive therapy) and behavior (behavioral therapy) to support you better. Often, therapists turn to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) because it helps you recognize negative thoughts and learn to think more supportively about yourself. Counseling can also be in a group format and include others with body dysmorphia. It can also have family members or loved ones.


These antidepressant medications, known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are showing the ability to treat body dysmorphia., They work better than other antidepressants, research shows. Antipsychotic remedies such as aripiprazole (Abilify), olanzapine (Zyprexa), or pimozide (Orap) (either alone or in a group with an SSRI) can also help. No drug is formally FDA-approved to treat body dysmorphia, specifically. All 50% to 80% of people on medication have fewer or less severe symptoms. They’re less likely to relapse if symptoms return.


It can be a good choice if you’re in immediate danger of self-harm or overwhelmed with symptoms.

You may think cosmetic surgery or procedures can help, but that’s not necessarily true. It can often trigger symptoms, make them worse, or cause you to focus on another area of your body.


Body dysmorphia is a mental health disorder that disrupts how you see and feel about your body and appearance. People commonly experience negative thoughts and feelings about their appearance, which can cause severe disruption in their lives and damage their mental and physical health.


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