As humans, we tend to be our own biggest critics. Every “flaw” can seem magnified within your personal perception bubble. Your thighs are too big, your eyes are too small, your skin is not “perfect”….you know what I’m talking about. It is easy to pick out the little things that make us self-conscious and to dwell on them a little bit. But, you always hear that how you view yourself in the mirror is not necessarily how others see you, so in the end we are able to push past it and move on with our day-to-day. However, what if how you saw yourself in the mirror disgusted you to the point where you could not get over it? What if every “little flaw” became a huge obsession? The phenomenon known as body dysmorphic disorder is garnering more attention as our cultural obsession with good looks grows.
Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is defined by the Mayo Clinic as, “a type of chronic mental illness in which you can’t stop thinking about a flaw with your appearance – a flaw that is either minor or imagined. But to you, your appearance seems so shameful that you don’t want to be seen by anyone. Body dysmorphic disorder has sometimes been called ‘imagined ugliness’”.
People with BDD are prone to obsessing about their looks for hours a day, and are also known to seek out multiple cosmetic procedures in order to “fix” their flaws. The problem is that despite having surgery, they are never satisfied with their appearance and continue to go back.
A recent episode of Taboo, a show by the National Geographic channel, titled “Beauty” had a segment about a Texas woman suffering from BDD. She was so unhappy with her chest size that she continually felt the need to increase her breast size because they never felt big enough. In fact, she wanted breasts so large (she wanted a triple K) that doctors in the US would not perform the surgery. She had to go to Brazil, where she ultimately got her breast size but also got an infection. When given the option to take out her breast implants or possibly die, she wanted to opt for keeping them in. Her US physician would not allow her too, and after a lot of sobbing he took out her implants. Despite her getting compliments from everyone around her about how much better, younger, thinner she looked without the basketball sized breasts on her chests, she was immediately contemplating when she could put them back in because she thought she looked flat-chested and ugly.
Although this may sound like a case of extreme vanity, experts caution that the disorder and its effects on a person psyche are real. According to an article in Everydayhealth.com, approximately 1% of all Americans have this syndrome. “The onset will usually begin in adolescence, but is often not diagnosed or treated until 10 to 15 years later. Men are just as likely to develop body dysmorphic disorder as women”, psychotherapist Pam Kasinetz told the article.
There is no known specific reason as to what causes BDD, but like many other mental illnesses there may be a combination of causes such as genetics, environment, and brain chemical differences. However, experts in the Everydayhealth.com article gave some warning signs to look for including:
- Constantly picking at the skin or touching the face
- Spending excessive time trying to hide the perceived defect with clothing or makeup
- Constantly comparing body parts to others and seeking reassurance
- Having problems at work or school because of being overly self-conscious
- Seeking out multiple dermatologists or plastic surgeons
BDD is frequently undiagnosed because of the secrecy of the shame that the person feels. With counseling and support people can get better and begin to lead lives where their obsessions do not rule their day-to-day. If you think that you or a loved one is suffering from body dysmorphic disorder please reach out to a mental health professional.