Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) affects 1.7 to 2.4 percent of the U.S. population, which translates to approximately one in fifty people. Individuals who struggle with body dysmorphic disorder tend to be “overly preoccupied” with imagined flaws or minor flaws in their appearance. As a result, individuals spend hours each day obsessively thinking about this flaw. Symptoms associated with body dysmorphic disorder include obsessions over their appearance, skin picking or excessive grooming, avoiding social situations, and constantly looking at or avoiding mirrors. The average age of onset for this mental health disorder is approximately 16 to 18 years of age however symptoms can start as young as 12 years of age. Body dysmorphia is often overshadowed by other more common mental health disorders such as depression and generalized anxiety disorder. It is also often mistaken for an eating disorder. The following are common misconceptions regarding body dysmorphic disorder.
Myth #1: Body dysmorphia is a type of eating disorder
Truth: Body dysmorphia is a mental health disorder, more specifically a type of anxiety disorder.
The DSM-5, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, classifies this mental health disorder as a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder because it is characterized by unwanted obsessive thoughts followed by compulsive actions. Eating disorders are based on behaviors surrounding food, exercise, and body image issues, but body dysmorphia does not always play a role. BDD is about persistent thoughts associated with perceived flaws that can consume an individual struggling to the point that they affect daily life. Obsessional worries, intrusive thoughts, and repetitive behaviors related to appearance are often in seen in both eating disorders and BDD and therefore it is essential to understand that body dysmorphia can play a role in a client’s eating disorder, which can be an integral component of the treatment plan.
Myth #2: Body dysmorphia is merely an extreme expression of vanity
Truth: Individuals with BDD delay seeking treatment for their disorder out of fear of being dismissed as vain.
Individuals with body dysmorphia genuinely believe there is something wrong with their physical appearance to the extent that it severely disrupts their social functioning. These individuals will often go to extreme measures to eliminate this physical “disfigurement.” These individuals are not seeking attention or any underlying gain.
Myth #3: Body dysmorphia goes away or dissipates when an individual reaches adulthood.
Truth: Although body dysmorphia is most common in adolescence the disorder will extend into adulthood and worsen if not treated.
Body dysmorphia disorder tends to grow stronger with time, and leaving this disorder untreated can have serious consequences. A 2007 study revealed that nearly 80 percent of individuals diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder experience lifetime suicidal ideations. Around 24 to 28 percent actually attempt suicide indicating this mental illness can be a lifelong issue that presents severe threats to an individual’s wellness regardless of their age.
Myth #4: Undergoing a cosmetic procedure or plastic surgery will boost self-esteem for individuals with BDD.
Truth: Seeking plastic surgery or cosmetic procedures is a symptom of BBD, not a cure.
Between 26 percent and 40 percent of individuals with body dysmorphic disorder seek some kind of cosmetic treatment or surgery, but the majority of the time; they feel no satisfaction or relief from any surgical procedures and will even feel compelled to seek more cosmetic procedures. Underneath the obsession and the behaviors associated with body dysmorphic disorder is deep emotional pain, such as anxiety, depression, and past trauma. To effectively treat this disorder and maintain long-lasting healing, the emotions underneath the diagnoses must be addressed. Cognitive behavioral therapy and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are recommended as the first-line and most effective therapy for this disorder.