Is It Poor Body Image or Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Most of us have things we’d like to change about our appearance. These are typically things we view as not being “good enough” about ourselves. Maybe you think your hips are too wide, your hair too thin, your nose too big, or your shoulders too broad. In fact, a national survey in 2018 found over 40% of Australians to be dissatisfied with their appearance, with 73% wishing they could change something about themselves. So, poor body image is extremely common – when does it become a disorder?

Unlike poor body image, body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a mental health disorder that affects a person’s perception of their physical appearance. While BDD may walk, talk, and act like poor body image, it involves intense preoccupation with perceived physical flaws and large amounts of time dedicated to checking, comparing, hiding, concealing, or fixing one’s physical appearance. The very image people have of themselves in their mind is distorted and this, in turn, affects what they see in the mirror.

People with BDD see themselves as unattractive or imperfect, even though others may see them as normal or even attractive. This condition can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life. It can negatively impact social and romantic relationships, work and/or study commitments, and general life enjoyment and satisfaction. In addition, BDD can lead to secrecy and isolation, as well as feelings of shame, disgust, anxiety, and depression. It can also lead to suicide.

The exact causes of body dysmorphia are not fully understood, but it is believed to be a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. For example, individuals who have a family history of anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorders may be more prone to developing BDD. This can be due to a genetic predisposition or due to learning the behaviours being modelled by family and/or close friends. Additionally, societal and cultural pressures to conform to certain physical standards can also contribute to the development of this condition, as can negative comments, bullying or teasing.

It is important to seek help for BDD, as this condition can have a significant impact on a person’s mental and emotional well-being. Therapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), is an effective treatment for body dysmorphia. CBT can help individuals challenge their negative thoughts and beliefs about their appearance, and learn new coping strategies to manage their distress. In some cases, medication may also be prescribed to help manage the symptoms of BDD. If you or someone you know is struggling with body dysmorphia, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional, such as the team at the OCD Clinic. With the right treatment, individuals with BDD can learn to manage their distress and improve their mental and emotional well-being.

Blog post written by Sally Youdale, Clinical Psychology Registrar at The OCD Clinic. If you have questions about psychological therapy please contact our intake team:


1180 700 OCD Clinic Brisbane
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