Understanding Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)

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Understanding Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)

We’ve all felt bad before when we look in the mirror. Maybe you gained weight over the holidays. Maybe you’ve slacked off at the gym, or maybe you’re just getting older. But most of us either shrug and move on, or change our habits in a healthy way. It’s a bummer, but not a big deal.

Imagine that moment in the mirror becoming an all-consuming source of anxiety and self-loathing. Imagine it controlling your life and even leading to self-harm or suicidal thoughts. For people with body dysmorphic disorder – also called BDD – this is their reality. Today we’ll discuss BDD and how to get help.

What is BDD?

Body dysmorphic disorder is an obsessive fixation on a real or imagined flaw in one’s appearance, to the point that it interferes with daily functioning and overall happiness. If the flaw is real, it is usually small and rarely noticed by anyone but the sufferer. BDD sufferers may go to extreme, time-consuming lengths to conceal or fix the perceived flaw.

BDD is not merely vanity. A vain person seeks to improve their appearance, to build it up. A person with BDD seeks to correct their appearance. This correction can take forms as tame as excessive makeup or as severe as skin-picking and starvation.

This obsession over appearance may lead some people to associate BDD with eating disorders, and therefore females. However, BDD affects men and women almost equally. Expressions of the disorder do often take gendered forms; for instance, most BDD men obsess over muscle mass or similar features.


There is no single cause of BDD, but it is often comorbid with other mental illnesses such as OCD and depression. Some patients trace it back to childhood trauma, such as abusive parents. Social pressures are sometimes a cause, which makes sense with BDD’s first appearance usually being in puberty.

That comorbidity is important, as BDD is frequently misdiagnosed due to its symptoms having significant overlap with other mental illnesses.


SSRI medications can be very effective in treating BDD, as they can help pause racing thoughts and keep patients grounded. Support groups – both in-person and online – can give sufferers perspective and reassure them they are not alone. Because so much of BDD relies on faulty thought patterns, a professional therapist can also help significantly.

Do you or someone you love suffer from body dysmorphia? Cognitive behavioral therapy Body Dysmorphic Disorder can be hugely beneficial. Azevedo Family Psychology offers therapy to patients across the Triangle. Contact us today, and together, we can create a life worth celebrating!

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