Body Dysmorphia Symptoms and Effects

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Body dysmorphic disorder (body dysmorphia) describes a condition where a person can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived flaws with her appearance. The flaw can either be minor or one that is imagined. Seen from an outside perspective, the obsession with these flaws will seem unnecessary or baseless, but to the person, her appearance seems so shameful and distressing that in some cases she won’t want to be seen by anyone.

Body dysmorphia has sometimes been called imagined ugliness. Body dysmorphic disorder is also occasionally referred to as dysmorphophobia, or the fear of having a deformity.

Signs and symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder include:

  • preoccupation with physical appearance, similar to anorexia nervosa and bulimia
  • belief that one has an abnormality or defect in appearance that makes her ugly
  • frequently looking in the mirror
  • avoiding mirrors altogether
  • believing that others take special notice of ones appearance in a negative way
  • frequent cosmetic procedures with little satisfaction
  • excessive grooming, such as hair plucking
  • feeling extremely self-conscious
  • refusing to appear in pictures
  • skin picking
  • comparing appearance with that of others
  • avoiding social situations
  • wearing excessive makeup or clothing to camouflage perceived flaws

Signs of body dysmorphic disorder may include obsessive concern over various physical features such as:

  • nose
  • hair
  • skin
  • moles or freckles
  • acne and blemishes
  • baldness
  • breast size
  • muscle size
  • genitalia

What are the Effects of Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

It is not uncommon for a person with body dysmorphia to intensely obsess over her appearance and body image, often for many hours a day. She may seek out numerous cosmetic procedures to try to fix her perceived flaws but will never be satisfied.

A person may change which body feature is the center of focus over time. She may be so convinced about her perceived flaws that she begins imagining something about her body that’s not true, no matter how much someone tries to convince her otherwise. Similar to anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders, the intense subjective and implacable nature of this condition can cause it to be very trying for those close to the person. The intensity of shame and embarrassment about her appearance that body dysmorphic disorder causes cannot be overstated.

What Causes Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

It’s not known specifically what causes body dysmorphic disorder. Some evidence suggests that naturally occurring brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, in particular serotonin, which is linked to mood, may play a role in causing body dysmorphia. Some studies show that body image fixation is more common in people whose biological family members also have the condition. This may indicate a genetic cause behind body dysmorphic disorder.

Our image-obsessed culture may contribute to body image fixation, especially if the person has had experiences she perceives as negative about her body or self-image. The constant barrage of unrealistic, idealized physical perfection can be an aggravating factor.

Certain factors seem to increase the risk of developing or triggering the condition, including:

  • having biological relatives with body dysmorphic disorder
  • childhood teasing
  • physical or sexual abuse
  • low self-esteem
  • societal pressure or expectations of beauty

Body dysmorphic disorder is a serious disease, particularly if it is accompanied by other co-occurring psychiatric or addictive disorders. Like other eating disorders, body dysmorphia is a medical condition that can result in irreversible health complications, including death in extreme cases. Read more about body dysmorphic disorder treatment for women and adolescent girls (ages 12 and up) at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center.

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