You know that friend — or maybe you are that friend — who relentlessly roasts their own body? A pinch of fat here, a growing zit there… it’s all self-shaming, all the time.
Chronic toxic self-talk about your body sometimes indicates a mental health condition. We all have down days, but obsessive dissatisfaction could be a symptom of body dysmorphia.
Fast facts on body dysmorphia
- Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a mental health condition characterized by obsession over imaginary physical flaws.
- BDD affects about 1 in every 50 Americans.
- Folks with BDD experience inaccurate perceptions of specific body parts.
- People with BDD exhibit compulsive behaviors intended to fix or hide “flawed” body parts.
Sound familiar? Let’s dive into the deets on dysmorphic disorder (BDD).
Here’s the expert-approved definition: Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a “preoccupation with one or more perceived defects or flaws in physical appearance that are not observable or appear slight to others.”
Folks experiencing body dysmorphia can seem obsessed over the tiniest of flaws. They bring it up in conversation. They frequently fall down the rabbit hole of fast fixes on the internet. They feel sad or angry or anxious about their so-called defects.
But the tricky thing about body dysmorphia is that it’s marked by inaccurate perceptions, so people experiencing it might not know they see themselves through a distorted lens.
In fact, an old 2012 research review found that most peeps experiencing BDD had “poor or absent” awareness of the psychological roots of their obsessions.
Body dysmorphic disorder is a documented mental health condition. Only a mental health professional can give a true diagnosis.
That said, there are some clear behavioral and mental signs of body dysmorphia.
Behaviors: What body dysmorphia looks like to others
Do you have a friend or loved one who can’t stop, won’t stop making negative comments about their own body? That’s cause for concern.
Here are some behaviors exhibited by folks living with BDD:
- frequent comments over an imaginary flaw
- over-the-top reactions to innocuous physical imperfections like fine lines, a little fat upper pubic area, or saggy boobs
- repetitive mirror checking *or* avoiding mirrors
- compulsive grooming habits that interfere with daily schedules
- frequent comments about other people’s bodies or faces
Over the last few years, researchers have also started digging into a potential link between BDD and excessive selfie-taking and social media obsession.
Inner dialogue: What body dysmorphia feels like
Here’s the thing about BDD: Your inner critic seems reliable, but it’s not. Acknowledging a skewed sense of reality can be jarring, but pinpointing the problem is a step in the right direction.
Here are some mental and emotional symptoms of BDD:
- preoccupation with the way a part of your body looks
- feeling emotionally triggered when you see yourself in the mirror or pictures
- extreme self-consciousness
- feeling unable to stop picking at your hair or skin
- comparing yourself to others even though it always makes you feel bad
“I hate my…”: Common areas of focus
BDD usually involves obsession over a specific body part or issue. A few:
- general body size (“too fat” or “too skinny”)
- skin (wrinkles or acne)
- facial features or facial hair
The intensity and focus of the preoccupation might ebb and flow, but general dissatisfaction with appearance remains. As you can imagine, this discontent can severely affect day-to-day activities, unleashing bouts of social isolation and even depression or anxiety.
Body dysmorphia and filters: A toxic combo
All day, we’re bombarded with smooth-as-glass skin, bubbly butts, and impossibly chiseled pecs. We know about IG filters and photo editing tools, but the images still mess with our heads. And if you’re living with BDD, manipulated photos feel like further confirmation of your flaws.
Whether or not you’re dealing with body dysmorphia, try to remember what’s real and true. At the end of the day, at the end of the commercial, at the end of the IG reel, your body and the bodies of your friends and family represent the reliable picture of the human form.
Whether you have a BDD diagnosis or not, obsession over your body’s flaws can indicate a deeper mental health concern. Symptoms of obsession, self-hatred, and chronic low self-esteem warrant a chat with a doctor or mental health professional.
Here’s what they might suggest.
Talk with a therapist
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy frequently recommended for folks with BDD. You’ll be able to talk through your triggers, anxieties, and stressors with a trained pro who can teach you to process your emotions.
CBT is designed to help you unpack your thoughts and feelings objectively. By understanding your thought processes, you can suss out which internal dialogue is accurate — and which isn’t.
Depending on the severity of your BDD, your doc might recommend a specific type of antidepressant: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These prescription drugs help increase your “happy hormones.”
Way back in 2004 (remember the “Napoleon Dynamite” craze?), researchers found that people with BDD benefitted from a higher dose of SSRIs than what is typically used for depression. So, if you’re *already* taking antidepressants and still spiraling with negative self-talk, talk with your doctor about a different dose or medication.
Practice positive self-talk
The only human you’ll spend your whole freaking life with is you. (Read that again. We’ll wait!)
Your body is your home, and you have a responsibility to love and care for it. That includes nurturing a positive inner dialogue.
So, whether your body fat is 6 percent or 26 percent, whether you’re hairy or balding, whether you have zits or wrinkles (or both!), your body’s a veritable masterpiece.
Think about it: Your body takes you all places. It allows you to savor your favorite foods or participate in your favorite activities. It *feels* things — everything! It gives and receives love. It’s pretty damn amazing. So, thank it often and thank it out loud (we dare you!).
Learning to love yourself
Wanna try a little exercise in self-love?
- Strip naked. (Yes, really. We’ll wait.)
- Stand in front of a mirror.
- Remind yourself that 👏 you 👏 are 👏 a 👏 beautiful 👏 human 👏 being. Say it out loud!
- Rinse and repeat.
- Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a mental health condition characterized by preoccupation with perceived aesthetic flaws.
- BDD can lead to social isolation, anxiety, and depression.
- Treatment for BDD could include talk therapy, antidepressants, or both.
- Practicing self-love and self-care can be helpful if you have BDD *or* are experiencing negative thoughts about your body.
- If your obsession with aesthetics or emotional distress over your body interferes with your daily activities, it’s time to talk with a doctor.