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By Keeley Seymour, LCSW, CEDS, PMH-C
4 min read
Over the last year, several celebrities have opened up about struggling with body dysmorphic disorder including Megan Fox, Jane Fonda, Billie Eilish, and more. Megan Fox spoke in an interview last year about her struggles with body image and the challenges of living under the microscope of Hollywood. “I have body dysmorphia. I don’t ever see myself the way other people see me. There’s never a point in my life where I loved my body,” Fox, 37, said in a video interview for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2023 issue.
What is Body Dysmorphia?
Body dysmorphia, also known as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), is a mental health condition characterized by an obsessive preoccupation with perceived flaws or defects in one’s appearance. These flaws are often minor or even imagined, yet individuals with BDD experience intense distress and anxiety about them, which can significantly impact their daily lives and overall well-being.
Signs and Symptoms
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of body dysmorphia is crucial for early intervention and treatment. Some common indicators include:
- Preoccupation with Appearance: Constantly obsessing over perceived flaws, such as facial features, hair, skin, or body shape.
- Mirror Checking or Avoidance: Spending excessive amounts of time scrutinizing oneself in mirrors or, conversely, avoiding mirrors altogether due to fear of seeing flaws.
- Comparison with Others: Constantly comparing one’s appearance to others and feeling inferior or inadequate as a result.
- Seeking Reassurance: Frequently seeking reassurance from others about one’s appearance, yet never feeling satisfied with the responses.
- Avoidance of Social Situations: Avoiding social situations or activities that may draw attention to one’s appearance.
- Engaging in Compulsive Behaviors: Engaging in repetitive behaviors such as excessive grooming, skin picking, or seeking cosmetic procedures to try to fix perceived flaws.
Effective treatment for body dysmorphia typically involves a combination of therapy and medication:
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is the most common and effective form of therapy for BDD. It helps individuals challenge and change distorted thoughts and beliefs about their appearance, as well as develop healthier coping strategies.
- Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP): ERP is a specific type of CBT that involves gradually exposing individuals to situations that trigger their body dysmorphic thoughts and teaching them to resist engaging in compulsive behaviors.
- Medication: In some cases, antidepressant medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be prescribed to help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression associated with BDD.
While the exact cause of body dysmorphia is unknown, several factors may increase the risk of developing the disorder:
- Genetics: There may be a genetic predisposition to body dysmorphia, as the disorder tends to run in families.
- Brain Chemistry: Imbalances in neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which regulates mood and anxiety, may contribute to the development of BDD.
- Trauma or Abuse: Experiencing trauma or abuse, particularly related to one’s appearance, during childhood or adolescence may increase the likelihood of developing body dysmorphia.
- Sociocultural Influences: Living in a culture that places a high value on appearance and places pressure to conform to certain beauty standards can contribute to the development of body dysmorphia.
The media plays a significant role in shaping societal perceptions of beauty and can exacerbate body dysmorphia in several ways. Media outlets often promote idealized and unrealistic images of beauty, which can lead individuals to compare themselves unfavorably and feel inadequate. The widespread use of photo editing tools in magazines, advertisements, and social media creates unattainable standards of perfection, causing individuals to strive for an unattainable ideal. Social media platforms provide a constant stream of curated images that highlight people’s best moments and appearances, fostering feelings of inadequacy and inferiority in those who don’t measure up. The glorification of celebrities and their flawless appearances can lead individuals to idolize unrealistic standards of beauty and feel inadequate in comparison.
How do I know if I might have BDD?
If you answer “yes” to any of the questions below, you may benefit from speaking with a mental health professional. (Disclaimer: These screening questions provide a starting point for assessing body dysmorphia, but it’s important to note that a comprehensive assessment should be conducted by a qualified mental health professional to accurately diagnose the disorder and develop an appropriate treatment plan.)
- Do you often feel preoccupied with your appearance or certain aspects of your appearance that you perceive as flawed?
- Do you frequently check or avoid mirrors due to concerns about your appearance?
- Do you feel dissatisfied or unhappy with your appearance, even though others may not notice the flaws you perceive?
- Do you often seek reassurance from others about your appearance, yet never feel satisfied with their responses?
- Have you ever engaged in repetitive behaviors such as excessive grooming, skin picking, or seeking cosmetic procedures in an attempt to fix perceived flaws?
- Do concerns about your appearance interfere with your daily life, relationships, or ability to function?
Body dysmorphia is a serious mental health condition that can have profound effects on an individual’s quality of life. Recognizing the signs and symptoms, seeking professional help, and addressing underlying risk factors are crucial steps in managing and treating the disorder. Additionally, promoting media literacy and challenging unrealistic beauty standards can help mitigate the harmful effects of media on body image and reduce the prevalence and severity of body dysmorphia in society. It’s essential to foster a culture of acceptance and self-love, where individuals are valued for their unique qualities and inner beauty rather than their external appearance.
Evolve Counseling Services is a specialized team of Licensed Therapists providing treatment in Paoli, Pennsylvania.