Body dysmorphia is more than feeling insecure about your appearance. Most people have things about their appearance they feel insecure about or wish they could change, and it’s totally normal to have days where you’re not thrilled with what you see in the mirror.
But if you find yourself obsessing over your appearance, honing in on what you believe are flaws or things that need to be “fixed,” you might be suffering from body dysmorphic disorder.
Commonly known as body dysmorphia, or BDD, this a mental health issue that is often misunderstood and rarely discussed. That’s largely because in a culture filled with selfies on social media and a barrage of products designed to improve our appearance, worries about bodily flaws are often brushed aside or not taken seriously.
INSIDER spoke with two psychologists and a psychotherapist, and they explained some of the telltale signs that somebody has body dysmorphia, because it’s so much deeper than putting a filter on your selfies or wishing you were a few pounds thinner.
1. You’re preoccupied with one or more body parts, frequently honing in on any perceived “flaws” you believe you have.
Most of us have things about our appearance we wish we could wave a magic wand and change, but someone struggling with body dysmorphia often thinks about these perceived imperfections to an obsessive degree.
Carla Korn, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist, explained this further.
“If you’re struggling with BDD, you might believe that a certain body part appears different in reality than it truly does.,” Korn told INSIDER. “For example, you might believe your legs are larger than they really are and constantly be ‘body checking’ or touching that part of your body subconsciously to ‘check’ on its size. You might also find yourself constantly seeking out your reflection in the mirror or window to examine them.”
2. You spend a lot of time thinking or worrying about your appearance.
These insecurities aren’t just a fleeting thought that goes away ― in fact, they are often unending and invasive.
“Individuals with BDD spend so much time obsessing over their appearance, or the appearance of a specific aspect of their appearance that it interferes with their ability to function at work or school,” Korn explained.
Licensed psychologist Dr. Ashley Hampton, PhD, agreed, noting that these thoughts become “all-consuming.”
“At the level where this becomes a disorder, these thoughts and preoccupations about perceived flaws and appearance take over life, so you’re looking at hours daily,” she told INSIDER.
Even if you’re not aware of it, BDD behaviours can impact so much of your life, distracting you from work, relationships, leisure activities, or pursuing your dreams.
3. Your perceived flaws weigh heavily on your self-esteem and how you think others feel about you.
If you have so much disdain for what you believe are your physical imperfections, you might think others around you focus on them, too.
“You might think that you can’t possibly have friends who genuinely likely you or feel loveable at all with your perceived imperfection,” Korn said. “You probably find yourself shying away from engaging with friends or pursuing intimate relationships.”Dr. Marla Deibler, a clinical psychologist and the executive director of The Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia, agreed, adding that this self-perception leaves the sufferer “believing that they are unattractive, hideous, or even deformed. This impacts the way they interact or refrain from interacting with the social world.”
4. You spend excessive time comparing yourself with others and feeling like you don’t measure up.
Especially with the rise of social media, it’s harder than ever to avoid feeling like others are living their best lives at all times. But if you’re constantly trying to compare yourself to those around you when it comes to your physical appearance, you might be suffering from BDD.
“You might spend a lot of time thinking about others’ bodies and how they are better than yours,” Korn said. “For example, you obsess about how everyone at the gym has a perfectly flat stomach, while you think yours is huge.”
Deibler added that though comparing ourselves to others is actually very common, those with body dysmorphia have a self-perception that “remains negative,” with the sufferer solely “focused on their perceived flaw.” Instead of seeing all the wonderful things that make you unique, you will often only see the flaws.
5. You ask others for their opinions about your appearance, or you avoid discussing it altogether, for fear of calling attention to the flaws.
Since these imperfections are so important to you, you might seek “constant reassurance from others that you ‘look ok,'” said Korn, noting that you then “rarely believe them when they tell you that you do.”
Conversely, you might try and hide the imperfection or refrain from discussing it with others so as not to call attention to what you believe is a major blemish on your person.
6. You’re struggling with anxiety or depression not related to your appearance.
If your fears about your body are intrusive enough, they can impact your self esteem, and can be intrinsically linked to other mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression. Though it’s similar to obsessive compulsive disorder, BDD often mimics similar characteristics to eating disorders and social anxiety disorders.
Korn told INSIDER that “often times, for individuals struggling with this, it might serve as a coping mechanism to manage more uncomfortable emotions.” After all, it’s easier to focus on what you feel you can change or alter, instead of things you may feel you have no control over, including anxious or depressed thoughts.
7. You have obsessive rituals or habits around your appearance.
There are so many things that those struggling with BDD do, often subconsciously, that might seem totally normal, but are actually symptoms of a much bigger issue at hand.
“Rituals, compulsions, or other repetitive behaviours are carried out by those who have this disorder as a response to these thoughts about themselves and their body part of concern,” Deibler told INSIDER. “For example, they might check their appearance in mirrors or by pinching fat rolls, groom themselves in some way, seek reassurance from others, change clothing, or seek information on the internet.”
“Sometimes weighing [or measuring oneself is] associated with BDD,” she added. “Grooming, picking, or other grooming behaviours may be part of BDD but may also not be; grooming behaviours such as hair pulling or skin picking may be more appropriately diagnosed as trichotillomania, excoriation disorder, or other body-focused repetitive behaviour.”
Hampton agreed, saying “rituals and obsessive habits can be things like skin picking but are usually more towards attempting to enhance appearance, like weighing yourself multiple times a day and excessive grooming, [including] multiple showers per day, taking hours to get ready,” and the like.
As for why sufferers engage in these behaviours, Korn said, “engaging in them momentarily relieves anxiety or makes you feel ‘calm,’ but the feeling is short-lived.”
8. You spend excessive amounts of money and time to “fix” your flaws.
Since there’s no shortage of products designed to help us “look and feel our best,” it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that those with body dysmorphia try the latest and greatest products or procedures to “fix” what they feel is wrong with them.
According to Korn, “You might find yourself constantly finding new products,” such as those “that minimise the appearance of cellulite,” or, as Hampton noted, “dyeing hair, using weight loss supplements or laxatives,” constantly on a quest to perfect your image.
Even more costly might be a fixation on “researching surgical procedures, and spending more and more money or plastic surgery to try to ‘fix’ the problem,” Korn said.
9. You’re altering your life or schedule due to fears or anxiety around your appearance.
If you start withdrawing socially, or avoiding certain situations due to concerns about your image, you might be struggling with body dysmorphia.
“You might find yourself unable to get dressed for the day or pick out clothing that you feel ‘hides’ that body part that your hate,” Korn noted. “This can definitely lead to avoiding socialising with friends or even leaving the house.”
If you’re finding it easier to isolate yourself than go about your normal activities, this could be why.
10. Your thoughts or worries are intrusive or never-ending.
Body dysmorphia isn’t simply a matter of passing thoughts or concerns ― these feelings can truly eat away at you, and become a constant loop in your brain.
“Thinking about your perceived imperfections occupies all of your thoughts,” Korn said. “For example, you [might] spend all of your time thinking about how you can make your thighs appear more muscular, researching new exercises, and finding ‘skin tightening’ moisturizers.”
11. You either spend a ton of time looking in the mirror or avoid mirrors altogether.
Mirrors are a tricky beast when you deal with obsessive worries about your body image – you can easily go one way or another.
“You might alternate from ritually checking your appearance in the mirror to avoiding it completely,” Korn said. “This likely goes from one extreme to the other, depending on how you are feeling from day to day.”
12. Your eating or fitness habits are extreme in order to “fix” body flaws.
With so many fad diets and fitness trends always on the rise, this problem can be an easy one to totally miss. After all, isn’t trying to eat healthily and keep up your fitness game a good thing?
Unfortunately, plenty of dysmorphic behaviours can fall under the guise of a “healthy lifestyle,” fooling both the sufferer and others into thinking nothing is wrong. As Korn told INSIDER, “You are constantly seeking out the next diet or ‘lifestyle change’ that will allow you to finally ‘fix’ the perceived flaws in your body. You might spend hours at the gym, even when you are sick or injured.”
She noted that if an “individual thinks they might be struggling with body dysmorphic disorder, it’s very important to be assessed by a licensed mental health professional.” Seeking guidance from a trusted source can help you understand your actions, thoughts, and feelings, and find peace in your body once and for all.
If you or someone you know is struggling, you can call the
. If it’s a crisis, text “NEDA” to 741-741, which is accessible 24/7.
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