Teen Mental Health: Treatment for Body Dysmorphic Disorder

“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” Like the dialogue between the evil queen and her enchanted mirror, some of us get a response we don’t want to hear when we look at our reflections. “My nose is too big. My ears stick out. My skin looks bumpy,” your inner voice may say. Most everyone has experienced this. But some teenagers obsess about their appearance so much that it interferes with their ability to see themselves accurately. It creates havoc in daily life for their families. If not treated properly, teenagers with Body Dysmorphic Disorder may also suffer from severe anxiety, extreme depression, or develop an eating disorder.

Body Obsession

Teenagers with body dysmorphic disorder typically focus on one flaw in their physical appearance. This flaw may actually be very slight. Or it may not even exist. They may attempt to hide the real or imagined flaw with makeup, clothing, or, in some cases, plastic surgery. Their constant obsessions about this flaw may cause them to feel great shame. Nothing they can do to correct the flaw will end their obsessive behavior, because it’s not really about their appearance. It’s all about the way they see themselves. The disorder is also called Dysmorhpophobia, or the fear of having a deformity.

Body dysmorphic disorder is often referred to as “imagined ugliness.” Because of their fixation with a real or imagined flaw, teenagers with this disorder typically consider themselves to be ugly because of the physical defect. The ugliness they feel can become larger than life. Common signs of this disorder may include:

  • Constant examination in mirrors
  • Avoiding all mirrors
  • Excessive grooming
  • Heavy use of cosmetics
  • Avoiding any photographs of themselves

These behaviors may sound innocent or common for awkward teens, but in these cases, this behavior is carried out to extremes. Teenagers with body dysmorphic disorders may be so preoccupied with some part of their bodies that they become very depressed or anxious in social settings.

Body Hatred

The “flaw” may be something about their hair, nose, teeth, skin, shape, or their size. With adolescents, the flaw may be related to body changes they have experienced with the onset of puberty.

In an article posted on The Mighty, a mental health resource blog, contributor Rachel Gralewski wrote, “Every morning I look in the mirror and hate what I see. While I have many insecurities, my biggest issue stems from blemishes on my face. I go through great lengths to cover my blemishes, spending about an hour applying makeup — usually two coats of foundation and a ton of covering with a cover-up stick. Each time I leave the house throughout the day, I have to redo my makeup, typically about three or four times. I often fear people may think I’m shallow for how much makeup I wear and because I can never leave the house without wearing it. In reality, the reason I wear so much is because I cannot stand how I look without it.”

Possessing a healthy body image could be a difficult challenge for anyone going through puberty these days. It’s a time of huge physical and emotional changes.

When these physical stages are compared against the common standards for beauty that surround them, the result can produce an internal crisis for some teenagers. For these teenagers, the crisis so intense, it distorts their vision of reality. While there may not be any one singular cause for body dysmorphic disorder, the Mayo Clinic offers this list of possible factors:

  • Natural weight gain and other changes caused by puberty
  • Peer pressure to look a certain way
  • Media images that promote the ideal female body as thin
  • Having a mother who’s overly concerned about her own weight or her daughter’s weight or appearance
  • Research suggests that seeing material that sexually objectifies girls — where a girl is seen as a thing for others’ sexual use rather than an independent, thinking person — can also have a harmful effect.

Body Distortion and Treatment for Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Teens with BDD do not see themselves they way you see them. Women that have recovered from Anorexia say that when they looked in a mirror, they could not see how thin they were at the time. Some large women, with other food-related disorders, say they always saw a smaller person when they looked at themselves. This form of body distortion is also a symptom of BDD. The disorder may co-exist with an eating disorder such as Anorexia, Bulimia, or binge eating. For this reason, the treatment the disorder requires should be comprehensive and multifaceted. When combined with an eating disorder, serious health risks increase.

Body Statistics

Today, there is more pressure than ever to be perfect. And the “perfection” troubled teens seek may only be an illusion. Digital forms of trickery such as Photoshop can remove every blemish, every wrinkle, and add or subtract several pounds from a celebrity’s photograph before it winds up on a magazine cover.

Consider the alarming results from these surveys:

  • 40% of all 9 and 10-year-old girls have already been on a diet – Duke University
  • 70% of 6-12-year-olds want to be thinner – National Eating Disorders Association
  • A study found that adolescent girls were more afraid of gaining weight than getting cancer, nuclear war or losing their parents
  • Teen pregnancy statistics show that girls who engage in unprotected sex often have lower self esteem – Family First Aid
  • 69% of girls in 5th – 12th grades reported that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect body shape – National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and
  • 80% of women who answered a People magazine survey responded that images of women on television and in the movies make them feel insecure
  • The body type portrayed in advertising as the ideal is possessed naturally by only 5% of American females – National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
  • An average US woman is 5’4” tall weighing 140 pounds, but the average US model is 5’11” weighing 117 pounds – West Virginia Dept. of Education
  • 90% of people with eating disorders are women between the ages of 12 and 25 –
  • Over half of teenage girls and a third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives – National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
  • Men are less likely to seek treatment for eating disorders because of the perception that they are woman’s diseases – National Association of Anorexia
  • Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness – National Alliance on Mental Illness
  • Anorexia is the 3rd most common chronic illness among adolescents – National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
  • Studies indicate that 50% of those who have anorexia nervosa later develop bulimia nervosa – National Alliance on Mental Illness

Body Acceptance

Health comes in all sizes at Center for Discovery. Along with therapy and medical care, we also provide a variety of expressive therapies and experiences in both individual and group sessions. We teach teens and adults a new way to “self-talk.” These exercises encourage our clients to talk to themselves with the kind of compassion and kindness they feel when they speak to close friends or family members. Guided activities such as dancing, hiking, or yoga can solidify the physical aspects of their disorders. Because each person’s care is personalized to fit their needs, our teams of highly trained experts are able to help someone heal a broken relationship between the body and the mind.

Need Treatment for Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Call us now! To learn more about the dangers of Body Dysmorphic Disorder, Bulimia, binge eating, Anorexia, and other behavioral disorders, call Center for Discovery at 800.760.3934. The health risks some disorders pose can be life threatening, so please feel free to call us immediately. Call now and you can talk with one of Center For Discover’s experienced admission specialists today. Or you can fill out this form for a FREE assessment. All calls are completely FREE and strictly confidential.


Body Dysmorphic Disorder Basics, by Childmind.org. Retrieved Sept 8, 2016.

The Mighty. Body Dysmorphic Disorder: The Ugly Truth About Feeling Ugly, by Rachel Gralewski. Retrieved Sept 8, 2016.

Mayo Clinic. Healthy body image: Tips for guiding girls. Retrieved Sept 8, 2016.

Kids Health. Body Dysmorphic Disorder, by KidsHealth.org. Retrieved Sept 8, 2016.

BDD, by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Retrieved Sept 8, 2016.