Body Dysmorphia simply put!
Most of us are very conscious of our physical appearances and want our bodies to be in the best shape they can. This is natural and understandable, from both a health and a social perspective. But, have you ever found yourself obsessing over one particular trait of your body that you find fault with?
When you explain it to others, do they either say they cannot see it or that it is so trivial it should not cause you to worry? If the answer to these questions is yes, you may well be suffering from body dysmorphia.
What is body dysmorphia?
It is a disorder in which the afflicted person cannot help obsessing over a perceived flaw in their physical appearance. The obsession can grow to such an extent that the person may experience shame, embarrassment and anxiety. This can lead them to avoid social situations as much as possible.
They may repeatedly examine their appearance in a mirror, constantly groom themselves or seek reassurance from others that nothing is amiss. Body dysmorphia can lead to impairments in the person’s ability to properly function in their daily lives.
As it is a mental health condition, many of the symptoms of body dysmorphia are psychological in nature. For example, someone with body dysmorphia may think that people they meet may notice their perceived fault and point it out or otherwise ridicule them for it. They may attempt to hide their fault by putting on excessive make up or extra clothes. They may find the temptation to compare their appearance to others irresistible.
They may have a desire to achieve perfection in not only their physical appearance, but other aspects of life too. There may also be attempts to fix the problem via cosmetic surgery which will ultimately lead to a little to no satisfaction. It is not uncommon for people with body dysmorphia to be obsessed over more than one part of their body. The object of the obsession may also change as time goes on. Features of the body that people commonly obsess over include the face, particularly the nose, wrinkles, acne or any other blemishes.
The hair is also a common object of fixation, particularly where thinning and baldness is concerned. The skin and the prominence of veins is another common cause for concern. The size of the muscles and their tone is another area where people may fixate.
So far, no concrete cause has been identified for body dysmorphia. However, recent studies have singled out potential risk factors that may increase the likelihood of developing it. The first of these is bullying. If you are the victim of bullying, especially during the teenage years when your body is undergoing significant changes, you may develop a very low opinion of your appearance.
Low self-esteem is another risk factor, especially if you attach particular importance to how you look or if you especially value your appearance and if you perceive improvements need to be made. The fear of being alone or isolated can also contribute to body dysmorphia, especially if you believe you have to look a certain way in order to make friends or to “fit in” somehow with society as a whole.
This can lead to you forming unhelpful judgements about how you “should” look. Body dysmorphia may also occur if you are constantly trying to perfect your appearance or comparing yourself to others. If you have a hobby that requires you to focus on your body, such as weightlifting or gymnastics, you may find yourself at greater risk. There is some dispute as to whether genetics play a part in the onset of body dysmorphia or whether the symptoms come from behavioural traits witnessed in childhood as opposed to genes.
Similarly, it is unclear whether other mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety bring on body dysmorphia, or whether the opposite is true. If left unchecked, body dysmorphia can lead to more serious complications such as thoughts of suicide, eating disorders and addiction to various substances.
Although it may be difficult to seek help from a healthcare professional due to the shame and embarrassment you feel, it is important that you address your body dysmorphia before it takes too strong a hold on you. Body dysmorphia does not go away by itself. It is important that you speak to your GP regarding the concerns you have. They will give you an assessment and decide which form of treatment is most appropriate for you.
This may include cognitive behavioural therapy, where you will be supported in identifying the links between your thoughts and feelings and how they influence your behaviour. This may be done as part of a group or as a one-to-one service. You will focus on improving your attitude towards your appearance, your concerns regarding your flaws, perceived or otherwise and reducing the need to engage in unhelpful behaviour.
In some cases, your GP may prescribe medication in addition to referring you for CBT. These will most likely consist of antidepressants such as serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs. They will help to curb obsessive behaviours and thoughts. It is important to discuss them with your GP as they can cause unpleasant side effects.
Whichever treatment works best for you, the earlier you identify your body dysmorphia, the better it will be in the long run. There is no known method of preventing it from occurring but long-term treatment and maintenance should help in preventing any relapses in the future.
Provided you seek treatment quickly, there is no reason why you cannot live a normal life following a diagnosis of body dysmorphia. Just ask such well-known figures as the American actor Robert Pattinson, artist Andy Warhol and writer Franz Kakfa, all of whom have grappled with this condition in the past.
The Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation provides further support and information for those who are affected by body dysmorphia.
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