What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder — and Why is It So Dangerous?

When you look in the mirror, you probably — at least occasionally — spot something in your reflection you wish could be different. If only you could snap your fingers and instantly smooth out your skin, tame your hair, and finally achieve a body shape that fits into all the cute jeans.

It’s not abnormal to have these thoughts. For one thing, we all want what we don’t or can’t have, even if it’s a significant reach. And for another, just scrolling through Instagram shows us image after image of people who, honestly, look like we wish we could.

There’s wishing you could look like Jennifer Aniston (sigh). And then there’s constantly worrying that the way you look in the mirror right now is somehow wrong and needs fixing — whether you’re trying to achieve that Aniston flawlessness or not.

When your appearance becomes all you think, talk, and worry about, it’s no longer considered a mere concern. For some, it spirals into mental and physical distress so severe that they need professional help to cope.

Body dysmorphic disorder

Body dysmorphic disorder | Robertprzybysz/iStock/Getty Images

What is body dysmorphic disorder?

We all have that one part of our bodies we wish we could change. People with this disorder have the same problem — but to the absolute extreme.

Body dysmorphic disorder is an obsession with one or more flaws or “defects” in your appearance that aren’t obvious or worrisome to those around you. If you have BDD, you might spend hours in front of a mirror trying to “perfect” your imperfections.

Many people with this condition are so worried about their appearance that they avoid social situations to curb their anxieties and fears.

It’s also not uncommon for those living with BDD to undergo cosmetic surgery to “correct” their perceived flaw. The satisfaction that comes from these procedures usually does not last.

Think you or someone you know could have body dysmorphic disorder? Those with a diagnosable health issue that can be treated with psychotherapy and medication:

  • Constantly seek out reassurance from others about how they look
  • Believe those around them notice and will ridicule them for how they look, even when they don’t
  • Obsessively compare their appearance to others
  • Make consistent attempts to hide their perceived flaw
  • Have problems at work, school, or in their social lives because of their obsession.

The most common parts of the body people with this disorder fixate on are facial features, skin, hair, and breast size or muscle tone.

Someone who lives day-to-day with these preoccupations isn’t always in direct physical danger. But in extreme cases, the disorder could cause much more severe problems.

Woman taking selfie

Woman taking selfie | oneinchpunch/iStock/Getty Images

Is body dysmorphic disorder dangerous?

It may not seem like an obsession with a facial feature or your hair could turn deadly. But BDD is often associated or a major risk factor for many dangerous mental health conditions such as:

  • Major depression and other mood disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance use disorders.

These mental health issues each come with their own health risks — especially eating disorders such as anorexia, which is the deadliest psychiatric diagnosis in the United States.

How is body dysmorphic disorder treated?

The “cause” of BDD typically varies from person to person. Genetics, environment, and differences in brain chemistry can all put someone at an increased risk of the disorder.

It’s not necessarily the fault of Snapchat or other social media platforms, for example. But people, especially young teens, who are prone to traits such as perfectionism are much more likely to take a healthy presence on Snapchat to an unhealthy extreme.

And because different factors determine someone’s chances of developing BDD, it’s impossible to prevent it. It can, however, be treated.

Usually, a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and medications are used to help a person cope with their obsessive thoughts and behaviors surrounding their appearance. Someone with BDD can absolutely lead a long, healthy life despite their experiences with mental health.

It’s not wrong to want to change your appearance seemingly for the better. But too much of anything isn’t good for anyone.

Check out The Cheat Sheet on Facebook!