What is body dysmorphic disorder?

Everyone has times when they feel self-conscious about their body, but when it starts impacting on everyday life it can be classed as body dysmorphic disorder. There are a number of characteristics of body dysmorphic disorder as well as numerous causes. If you think you might be experiencing body dysmorphic disorder, there are heaps of things you can do which can help you feel better.

This can help if:

  • You hate certain parts of your body
  • You avoid going out because you don’t like the way you look
  • You try to disguise parts of your body
  • You think life would be better if you looked a certain way

Characteristics of body dysmorphic disorder

Let's face it - at one time or another you've wished a part of your body looked a little different to what it does. It might be that you think your thighs are too big, your skin's not perfect, or your nose has that little bump in the middle that everyone can see. This kind of thinking is pretty common and relatively normal, whether it's true or not. However, this kind of thinking becomes a problem when it starts to rule your life. You become totally preoccupied with the part of your body that you think is not okay and these beliefs severely interfere with the quality of your life. This kind of obsessing over a part of your body is known as body dysmorphic disorder (or BDD).

There are many different types of behaviours and symptoms that you might experience if you have BDD, however not everyone experiences every one. Some signs of body dysmorphic disorder include:

  • Frequently checking out how you look in mirrors
  • Constantly making sure you look clean and well groomed
  • Frequently touching the part of your body that you don't like
  • Trying to hide or disguise the body part or yourself
  • Avoiding going out or being with others because you feel so self-conscious about your appearance
  • Trying to 'fix' the body part - through exercise, medication, surgery, and other sorts of treatment
  • If you are concerned that these behaviours sound familiar it is important that you speak to a doctor or psychologist to find out more.

What causes body dysmorphic disorder?

BDD does not have a single cause. It is often due to a variety of different physical and mental health issues. Some of the factors that may contribute to having BDD include:

  • Having low self-esteem and negative beliefs about yourself
  • Negative self-talk – for example, thinking that life would be so much better if you could ‘fix’ a certain part of your body
  • Media emphasis and fixation on the ideal body
  • Feeling a lack of control in your life
  • Stress or coping styles
  • Relationships with family and peers
  • Genetics and chemistry
  • Sexual abuse or trauma

What to do if this sounds like you

If you think you might be dealing with body dysmorphic disorder, there are a number of things that might be able to help. Some of these include:

  • Chat online or by email to a counsellor from headspace
  • Talk to a GP and find out more about treatment options
  • Find out more about cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Try online tools like MoodGym to train your brain and thoughts

If you feel like you might be experiencing something different, like an eating disorder, have a look at some of our fact sheets about eating disorders and where to seek help.

What can I do now?

  • Avoid conversations about body size if they make you feel bad about yourself.
  • Get personalised support options for body image with the ReachOut NextStep tool.
  • Check out MoodGym and work on training your brain and thoughts.
  • Find out about eating disorders and their symptoms.
Last reviewed: 29 April, 2016
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