Distorted Images: Body Dysmorphia
Updated: Feb 15
By: Fauzia Haque, Contributing Writer
Insecurities affect judgement and perception, especially as teenagers and young adults. Most people find something about themselves that they dislike, a flaw or imperfection that they tend to fret about. These imperfections tend to not affect or intervene with the occurrences in one’ daily life. However, someone struggling with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is likely to feel extremely overwhelmed by their perceived flaws and are bound to hide within their own self-judgement and isolation in order to avoid having those perceived imperfections judged by someone else. This can interfere with the functionality of one’s daily lifestyle and come into their work, school, and especially their relationships with family, friends, and others.
What is BDD?
Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental illness that causes an abnormal obsession and focuses on a flaw based on the individual’s perception of themselves. Most people with BDD fixate on their stomach, chest, or different facial features. Even if the perceived imperfection may be nonexistent or non-important to the eyes of others, the eyes of someone with BDD tells them that it is much more intense and more prominent than what it really is. Research done by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) has found that around 1.7% to 2.4% of the population is affected by body dysmorphic disorder, which accounts for 1 in every 50 people of the population. The period of adolescence is the prime time that one’s image of their body and their self can become so extremely distorted that it affects the state of their mental health.
In the United States, BDD affects both men and women almost equally. In males, 2.5% of the population is affected whereas 2.2% of the female population is affected by the disorder, according to the ADAA. The disorder tends to develop around the age of twelve to thirteen as a prepubescent pre-teen where most insecurities start to sprout. BDD does not have a clear-cut cause or determinant, but certain biological or environmental predispositions, like the inheritance of hormone defects or as in a long history of childhood abuse. As this condition becomes more and more difficult to control, victims often spend more of their time obsessing over the flaw they perceive as significant rather than anything else. This can deter attention away from schoolwork, grades, familial relations, social situations, and can cause low self-esteem and confidence issues in addition to the problems that adolescents tend to face already as an ever-maturing teenager within a high-expecting society. The compulsive behaviors that BDD tends to enforce upon its victims include the following: camouflaging in order to excessively hide the perceived flaw no matter the cost; scrutinizingly comparing one’s body to another’s; looking into plastic surgery operations to intensely alter their external appearance; excessive and strenuous exercise or diets; and fixating on that perceived flaw in any reflective surface in an attempt to excessively wish it gone. BDD can inflict severe pain on the already tender and fragile neural system of a teenager due to the fact that it can lead them to adopt dangerous tendencies and behaviors to make their “flaw” go away or it can cause adolescents to develop other mental health disorders, like social anxiety, an eating disorder, or depression. Since many disorders contain the same or similar symptoms as body dysmorphia, it is important to note that the difference between these disorders can be overlooked, which often leads to misdiagnosis. Victims of this suffering should seek professional advice and help if these symptoms relate heavily to them and they believe that there is a much more profound root to their marred perception of their bodies.
Options for Treatment
If a child is preoccupied with their outer looks and appearance so much so that it affects their school and personal life, it is best to consult a mental health professional. Once diagnosed, treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be suggested, or, in some cases, medications like antidepressants. CBT can help the patient acknowledge the harmful way that they view their body and instead introduce more healthy and positive affirmations for the patients to truly see their body for what it's worth. As for antidepressants, selective serotonin uptake inhibitors can be prescribed in order to redirect the amount of serotonin produced as those suffering from BDD tend to have abnormally low levels of serotonin present.
Sometimes, with the state of society, insecurities or self-hatred can be confused for body dysmorphic disorder. It is important to be aware of the disorder and seek help when necessary, but it is not okay to self-diagnose oneself without professional input. Insecurities stem from a nasty place in the mind. Learn to accept and love the body as it can tell so many stories and proves to be unique only to the beholder. As a teenager, it is especially beneficial to know and hold this deep within the heart, one’s body is one’s refuge, sanctuary, and home. Treat it as such and acceptance, love, gratitude, and happiness will follow.