It can take up to 15 years before Body Dysmorphic Disorder is presented to a mental health professional (BDD Foundation, n.d.). Not because the individual doesn’t want to seek professional help, but because they may not realize they have it.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder is most likely to pop up in teens and young adults but can affect anyone. The triggers or reasons can all be different. Bullying or abuse, low self-confidence, OCD, the desire to be perfect.
I haven’t been diagnosed with BDD. However, after doing some research, I have been blown away by how much I relate to the symptoms. My boyfriend, who works in the medical field, mentioned some 2 or 3 years ago that I could possibly have it. It never crossed my mind as a real possibility. It was the true definition of in one ear and out the other. I was ignorant and didn’t know anything about Body Dysmorphia at the time, and probably in denial. I’m now convinced this is something I’ve suffered with.
What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?
Body Dysmorphic Disorder, also known as Body Dysmorphia or BDD, is a condition where an individual spends a chunk of their time worrying about a personal defect, or flaws that may be unnoticeable to others. It’s a mental disorder that can really hinder someone’s life in a big way. It negatively impacts mental health by potentially causing severe depression and anxiety.
Symptoms of Body Dysmorphic Disorder
Symptoms of BDD are not as straightforward as those you see for a viral infection or even depression and anxiety. I say this because everyone experiences body dysmorphia in different ways. Symptoms are more so defined by behaviors such as:
- frequently checking mirrors, or avoiding them
- constantly feeling the need to groom oneself by hiding or eliminating the “defect” (using makeup or getting cosmetic surgery)
- comparing self to others
- need for validation or reassurance from others
- skin picking
- exercising too much
There are other repetitive behaviors not listed here, and it’s possible these behaviors can consume 3-8 hours of the individual’s day (Phillips, n.d.). If you want to dive deeper into learning about BDD, I encourage you to check out The BDD Foundation and The International OCD Foundation.
People who suffer with Body Dysmorphic Disorder often feel defined by their flaw(s). They feel ugly, ashamed, not good enough, not worthy of life in some cases. It’s important not to confuse this disorder with OCD, and to understand those who struggle with it are not acting out of vanity. Even if you can’t visibly see the “flaw”, or you think it’s only minor, the distress is very much real.
The most common physical concerns are the skin (facial blemishes), hair (too much/too little body hair or balding), and nose. However, a person can feel insecure about any number of things about their body, including breasts and genitals (BDD Foundation, n.d.).
My Personal Experience
Though not officially diagnosed with BDD, as stated earlier, I’ve experienced many of the symptoms. And even with no diagnosis, I still want to share my experience because of how sneaky this disorder is. It literally took me years to even think of it as a possibility. All this time I thought I only had depression and anxiety.
As stated in my previous post, (click here to read) I’ve been on a health journey. I was slowly (and unknowingly) gaining weight for 4 years. On and off going to the gym or trying fitness classes to get me back in shape. However, the on again off again routine didn’t work and I found myself face to face with the truth. Once I finally realized how much weight I had gained, it was too late. It hit me like a ton of bricks, and I immediately hated my body.
I was the girl in grade school who could eat anything and never gain a pound. I had nicknames like Sticks, Twiggy, Twig. The names never bothered me. I was who I was, and I didn’t care. By college I was a good 120-125 lbs (I’m 5 foot 6) and boy did I take it for granted. I was naive in the sense I never thought I would become overweight. People always called me skinny, and I didn’t think a thing about it.
Fast forward 5 years where I was at my heaviest, 185 lbs…
2019 and 2020 were my worst years. This is when the Body Dysmorphia Symptoms really started. I was living alone for the first time, and I remember having some really, REALLY low days. My boyfriend can attest to this. I started my health journey in 2021. However, the 2 years before that, I had terrible social anxiety. I’ve always been a little shy and uncomfortable around groups of people, but this was so much more than just being timid.
When I would get invited to go places, I would go into a silent panic. What am I going to wear? I have to buy something new. I won’t go if I won’t look cute. How am I going to wear my hair? Do I wear my natural hair, or do I go buy a wig? I would spend hours going through my clothes trying to find a suitable outfit. Even getting angry and depressed if I couldn’t find anything good enough.
Most of the time, I would make an excuse not to follow through with the invite. All of a sudden, I was sick and not feeling well, had to babysit, too tired (which was probably true), I don’t know, maybe I needed to walk my fish. Okay that last one is an exaggeration I’ve never used, but you get the picture. I would do what I needed to do to get out of a situation with the least amount of guilt.
In my 185-pound days there were two body concerns that took front and center stage: my chin and stomach. There were days I would go spend $150+ to buy a wig just so I could keep my double chin covered. I loved having short hair, but at the same time hated it because all I saw in the mirror was a fat face. Several times throughout the day I would rub on my chin to assess the damage. I would take random side profile photos of just my head to see how bad it was. To my boyfriend and everyone else, what double chin?
When taking photos of myself I would always try and strategically place my hand, so it was covering my chin or framing my face in a way that made it look smaller and hid the double chin. I would frequently look up how to get rid of a double chin. To no surprise the answers came back as do some cardio. I wasn’t going to work out to lose my chin, it would take too long. I wanted a quick fix. There were several days I thought about getting liposuction, but I knew that would never happen.
When it came to my stomach, I was told once that I looked pregnant. I was also told by a pre-teen that I was too big. Imagine the emotional damage. And what made it worse is that most of the adults who knew this child said this about me, didn’t think it was a big deal. “He’s just a kid”, “He didn’t know what he did wrong”, “He didn’t know any better”, “He wasn’t trying to be mean”. This may be true, but for a person who may have been dealing with body dysmorphia and was already feeling insecure about their size, shouldn’t my feelings have been validated?
There were days I would stand in the mirror just looking at myself with nothing but panties and a bra. I hated what I saw. I would call myself ugly names in my head and verbally while staring in the mirror. Crying as I poked at my stomach fat and chin. Telling myself I’m ugly and will always be fat. I was so ashamed of my body.
I never wore clothes that fit, oversized was the way to go so I could hide my stomach. If I could look down and see my stomach poking from the shirt or dress, I would never wear it.
Being around people was extremely hard. All I would do is compare myself to every fit looking person that crossed my path. Or the girls with the pretty faces. The groups of friends enjoying their time together. Thinking these people have it made because they’re in shape or skinny and pretty.
My boyfriend would sometimes point out when he thought someone was checking me out, and my immediate response would be, “Nah, guys don’t think I’m pretty. If they did, I would get hit on and I don’t. So…”
My chin and stomach made me feel hideous, and in my head. That’s all people saw when looking at me.
Several days I felt absolutely hopeless. No one would care if I wasn’t here anymore. I would never amount to anything because I wasn’t pretty. I had this idea in my head that people didn’t like me. And I thought this because I felt so deeply insecure and didn’t love myself at all. If I didn’t like me, why would anyone else? No effort was made to make friends because I didn’t think anyone would want to be friends with someone who was ugly like me.
This may sound ridiculous to some and I’m sure someone reading this now is shaking their head going “people love you”. Try and understand how untrue I believed this was at the time. I honestly thought about leaving town and never looking back, just dropping contact with everyone because who would care?
These were thoughts that consumed my mind on a regular basis. Being alone was the worst because I had all the time in the world to think negatively. But I didn’t really care to be around other people.
There were times I would open up about how I felt, but never did I feel understood. Which made me not want to share this aspect of my life with anyone. I pretended to be okay with life when I was honestly suffering so much on the inside. It was exhausting.
Every week I was crying, breaking down asking why I was even here on Earth. I had no purpose.
It Didn’t Go Away After Weight Loss
Even now being over 40 pounds lighter and in a better headspace, I still experience BDD symptoms. I’m still insecure about my chin, checking it every day. And my stomach is still a problem area in my head.
What’s crazy to me is how weight loss and muscle gain have brought on new insecurities that occupy my mind every single day.
Now, before I lost any weight, I was always concerned my breasts would dramatically change after losing weight. I was worried they would shrink a lot and get droopy. Well, the size is still mostly there, but they have dropped a lot. It’s completely normal for this to happen with weight loss. Especially with an extreme dip in pounds. But I feel very insecure about it. I hate it actually and want to get a breast lift. My insecurity keeps me from feeling comfortable without a bra on, it makes me hesitant to wear tight shirts, I only buy certain swimsuits. I stare in the mirror lifting my breasts to where I wish they were. I make a comment about them weekly.
Legs and Muscle Definition
Another new insecurity is with my legs, specifically muscle definition in my quads and calves. I want to maintain the muscle, be able to see it effortlessly in the mirror and feel it. Every day I touch my thighs to see if they feel as muscular as the day before. I look at my calves in the mirror to see if they’re still defined and a decent size. I have this thing about my legs not being proportional. If my thighs are thick and my calves are skinny, I hate it. It may sound silly, but this is another perfect example of Body Dysmorphia.
Other people aren’t going to look at me and immediately think I have saggy breasts or that I have disproportionate legs. These are perceived flaws that live in my head.
Treatment for BDD
The BDD Foundation has a test on their website for anyone who is interested in finding out if they could have BDD. It was developed by specialists but is encouraged that anyone who believes they have Body Dysmorphic Disorder seek professional help. See a psychologist for a definitive answer and treatment. This is what I plan to do. Mental health is just as important as physical health.
Don’t let the symptoms get worse, don’t wait until it’s too late to seek help. Body Dysmorphia is a scary thing, which you will learn about if you check out the resources mentioned. If you’re a parent, pay attention to repetitive behaviors that surround your child’s physical appearance, if they open up about something they dislike about their body, listen to them. If you’re an adult, use this as a reference to assess your own situation. BDD can be misdiagnosed as several other disorders, including the most common: anxiety, depression, and OCD.
Social media can play a big role in how BDD develops. Are you liking someone’s post because you think they look great? Or are you liking it because you desire to look like them in some way, shape, or form?
Take care of yourself. Love yourself. And seek help if you’re struggling to do so. You’re not alone.
The BDD Foundation. “Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation.” BDDF – Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation, 2006, bddfoundation.org/.
International OCD Foundation. “What Is Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)?” International OCD Foundation, 2022, bdd.iocdf.org/professionals/what-is-bdd/.
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