BODY DYSMORPHIC DISORDER (BDD)

There is such an emphasis on how we look in these days of celebrity culture, that our own self image can sometimes take an unnecessary battering.

Here, you can find out everything you wanted to know about body dysmorphic disorder (or at least we hope so!). You can click (or touch) each of the headings below to find out more about specific aspects of the condition.

We hope you find the information useful and if you do, please feel free to share it.

WHAT IS BODY DYSMORPHIC DISORDER? . . .

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) gives sufferers anxiety about their body, or a particular part of it. When used in context of body-building, it is sometimes referred to as 'bigorexia'.

To other people, their body may seem perfectly 'normal', but those with BDD will not see it in the same way; for example, a small, barely noticeable scar will be perceived as a major disfiguration or muscles may never seem big enough or toned sufficiently. Because of this, they begin to develop routines that impact on their day-to-day life, such as excessive use of mirrors, picking at the skin with damaging results or over-exercising.

BDD isn't the same as being vain or self-obsessive about your looks. Those living with BDD simply view their body differently to other people and, as such, can spend an excessive amount of time looking in the mirror, comparing themselves to others and trying to conceal the 'problematic' body part in question wherever possible. They can also feel like they are too fat, or too thin, or that their body parts are out of proportion or symmetrically unbalanced.

Common causes of anxiety with those suffering with BDD include their facial features or particular areas of the body, such as stomach or genitals. In extreme cases, this can drive people with BDD towards unnecessary plastic / cosmetic surgery.

These feelings can be so strong they often don't seek help for fear of being judged or passed off as being too vain. Feelings can become so strong that they can go on to develop depression and even suicidal thoughts.

WHAT CAUSES BODY DYSMORPHIC DISORDER? . . .

The cause, as is often the case with mental illness, is unclear. Some believe it to be a genetic disorder, while others think an imbalance in the brain's chemistry is to blame. Bloody brain chemistry!

BDD is often (but not always) triggered by abuse or bullying. It can also affect those with already low self-esteem making them become more isolated or alone. It can also come about through the struggle to compete with others who they see as 'perfect'. This is particularly common in walks of life that focus on the physical form, such as modelling or bodybuilding. Often initially non-threatening thought patterns associated with these causes can ultimately lead to body dysmorphic disorder.

OK, BUT DO MEN GET IT? . . .

They do, but not exclusively. The condition affects around 1 in 20 people, but the reality may be higher than that. Research suggests more women are affected, but, as is often the case, this might be attributable to more women seeking medical help in general. It's hard to say. Many people who live with this condition believe that there simply isn't any treatment available for it, so don't seek any help. That's not the case (see below).

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF BODY DYSMORPHIC DISORDER? . . .

People with body dysmorphic disorder will :-

  • Be preoccupied with their physical appearance and become EXTREMELY self-conscious.
  • Spend excessive time examining themselves in the mirror or, in some cases, avoid mirrors all together.
  • Strongly believe that their body, or part of it, is abnormal despite reassurances to the contrary.
  • Constantly seek assurances from others about their body.
  • Compare themselves with others.
  • Believe that other people are negatively judging them.
  • Avoid social situations and can become housebound.

Those with BDD can obsess about their whole body or a particular part of it. This can include:

  • The face, or particular features such as the nose, chin or the condition of the skin itself (acne / wrinkles).
  • Hair - whether it's thinning or balding even when it's not.
  • Breasts / pectorals or genitals.
  • Muscle size and tone.

WHAT TREATMENTS ARE AVAILABLE? . . .

The first step will be to get some professional medical advice, whether that's your GP or self-referral. It's important to stress that sometimes the physical symptoms of BDD can be hard to spot so may be missed, even by professionals. A lot is going to depend on what they are told by the person in front of them. Symptoms call be played down with no obvious way to know the truth.

Many people will try CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) as a treatment, often in conjunction with some self-help books. The sessions may be 1-2-1 or in a group setting.

Medication may also play a part in a treatment plan. In addition, some self-help techniques might be suggested to encourage new thought processes.

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO HELP SOMEONE WITH BDD? . . .

If you're looking to support someone close to you who's living with BDD, then it can be difficult. Because of the nature of the condition and it's reliance on how they look and feel, it can often be the case that they don't want to see other people and begin to withdraw from social situations. If this happens, don't take it personally and be patient with them. It's just as important to look after you, so be aware of how it makes you feel too. It's also important to be consistant in how you comment on their appearance. Things like "you looked better yesterday" or "have you lost weight" might seem innocous, but can make matters worse.

Like many other mental illnesses, you can be so much more supportive by learning about the condition and accepting it. You may be able to see your 'reality' on how they look, but it's going to be different to how they see themselves. Accept that they feel how they do and recognise that it's difficult for them to accept another viewpoint. As always, don't judge them as being 'vain' or 'self-obsessed', it's really not going to help anyone. Again, if they're embarrased to talk about it, then create a space that will encourage and support them to talk about what they're going through.


If you suffer with Body Dysmorphic Disorder, there may be some organisations on our Where To Turn pages that can help you. If not, and you know of one, please let us know and we'll look into it.

Also, if you'd like to share your experiences of living with BDD with our community so they can better understand how it feels, please take a look at our 'Men Tell' section.