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  • Sanjana Mehra

Your Distorted Image : Body Dysmorphic Disorder

By: Sanjana Mehra, Contributing Writer

Edited by: Name, Editor; Name, Editor in Chief

Your eyes are deceiving you,

The reflection in the mirror is a lie.

Take a deep breath in and out.

And let the fear subside.

Plenty of people notice a single imperfection or a single flaw in the way they look. Insecurities are common, and can make people doubt whether or not they will be able to attain the imposed ideal. However, every day, individuals that suffer from body dysmorphic disorder look in the mirror and feel an intense emotion of disgust, self-loathing, and antipathy for what they see. The thought consumes them and sets them into a state of delirium and causes perturbation throughout the course of every day. The flaw they worry about is almost always minor or even imagined. It overtakes their lives and affects their decisions and judgements.

What is body dysmorphic disorder?

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is characterized as a mental illness or disorder in which individuals obsess over minor imperfections or flaws that are rarely noticed by others and are often imagined. It can affect both men and women and is common around the world. Approximately, 40% of individuals with BDD are men, and the remaining 60% are women.

Causes of BDD :

Though there isn’t a specifically known cause to body dysmorphic disorder, resembling other mental disorders, a variety or combination of factors can cause someone to develop BDD. These include the disorder being hereditary, chemical or hormonal imbalances in the brain, negative experiences of encounters with body-image (bullying, body shaming). Nonetheless, there are still risk factors that can trigger or eventually induce the concept of imperfections and flaws in an individual's mind. Being genetically related to individuals who suffer from body dysmorphic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder can increase someone’s likelihood of developing the disorder. Another leading cause of body image issues is social constructs. The social construct of body image ideals is extremely exclusive, looking for the archetypal and flawless ‘small waist, long legs and flat stomach’. This body image is naturally unattainable (for the most part) but has been idealized through the various social media platforms that teenagers now have daily interactions with. Cosmetic companies use photoshopping as a marketing strategy to convince others they can achieve exemplary bodies. It is often our unknowing (or knowing) validation and perpetuation of this that makes it effortless for the industry. Social media convinced people that their bodies are not appealing or attractive enough to incentivize buying products from companies that they advertise. So, young kids, teenager's, and adults are forced to measure up to society's unfeasible ideals and, as a result, develop body dysmorphic disorder. Negative experiences such bullying, body shaming, abuse or psychological neglect can eventually and indirectly lead to body dysmorphic disorder by first surfacing as other mental health concerns such as depression or anxiety. This especially affects children whose brains are not yet fully developed. Individuals who have to cope with intrusive thoughts throughout their day can have problems with their day-to-day activities.

Impacts :

Professor Susan Rossell at Swinburne University, cognitive scientist, has studied the effects of BDD on the brain of individuals by conducting scientific research. The research focused on answering the question of whether people with body dysmorphic disorder look at faces and bodies in different manners than people who don't. They use advanced pieces of technology, mainly, eye tracking devices. A healthy pattern of looking and interpreting faces would be looking at the eyes down to the mouth. A BDD pattern tends to be extremely random and irregular. Individuals with body dysmorphic disorder are almost unable to comprehend the concept that salient features such as eyes, noses, and mouths will provide prompt and definitive answers to the expression they are interpreting. They tend not to focus on important elements in pictures that can be used to actually give them information. Genetics play a part in this and can cause people to grow up with an overactive visual system that can easily be triggered by environmental factors such as bullying or neglect.

Body dysmorphic disorder can eventually develop alongside social anxiety, social isolation, low self-esteem, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders etc. People begin to isolate themselves from the world in the fear of their strangers, peers, colleagues, friends and even family passing judgement towards them about the part of themselves they feel disgust towards. Some behavioral impacts include seeking cosmetic surgery to change certain body parts, facial features or other aspects. As well as this, having BDD can lead to people having symptoms of eating disorders. They could begin excessively exercising and refraining from eating food.

Body dysmorphic disorder is an extremely dangerous and impactful disorder. It can lead to various more mental illnesses depending on its severity. Body dysmorphic disorder is a type of mental illness that requires much more awareness and focus. Society should be more concerned about the impacts this can have on individuals and aim to limit the factors that can potentially trigger it amongst the population.

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