Body dysmorphic disorder

Everyone feels self-conscious about their body from time to time. However, if you hate something about your body and these feelings are interfering with your everyday life, you may have body dysmorphic disorder. Learn what the signs and symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder are and where you can find support.

This can help if:

  • you hate certain parts of your body

  • you avoid going out, or showing certain parts of your body

  • you believe that life would be better if you looked a certain way.

Girl walking through hallway

What is body dysmorphic disorder?

Let's face it, at one time or another we've all wished that a part of our body looked a little different from what it does. Maybe you think that your thighs are too big, or your skin's not perfect, or that everyone notices that small bump on your nose. Feeling self-conscious about our bodies is pretty common and relatively normal. However, it becomes a problem when it starts to take over your life.

If you’re totally preoccupied with a part of your body that you feel isn’t right, and you do certain things as a result (e.g. you constantly look at your body in the mirror or compare your body to other people’s), you may have body dysmorphic disorder.

Some signs of body dysmorphic disorder include:

  • being preoccupied with what you consider to be ‘flaws’ in your body

  • being the only person who considers these parts of your body as ‘flaws’

  • frequently checking the body part(s) you’re worried about in mirrors

  • frequently touching the part(s) of your body you don't like

  • trying to hide or disguise the body part(s) you don’t like

  • avoiding going out or hanging out 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.

What causes body dysmorphic disorder?

There is no one, single cause of body dysmorphic disorder. It likely develops due to a number of genetic and environmental factors, such as a family history of obsessive compulsive disorder or neglect during your childhood. Unhelpful behaviours, such as negative self-talk and believing that your life would be easier if you could ‘fix’ the body part you don’t like, only perpetuate the feelings of body dysmorphic disorder and make them worse.

What treatments are available for body dysmorphic disorder?

If you think you suffer from body dysmorphic disorder, the first thing you should do is seek professional help. The most effective treatment is a type of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which is based on:

  • Education: Learning about body dysmorphic disorder.

  • Changing thought patterns: Identifying and reframing unhelpful and unrealistic ways of thinking (e.g. ‘My fat thighs make me unattractive’).

  • Changing behaviour: Facing situations you normally avoid and engaging in new behaviours (such as practising looking at yourself in the mirror in a non-judgemental way).

In some cases, medication may also be effective, especially when taken in combination with CBT.

What can I do now?

  • Talk to a GP and find out more about treatment options.

  • Try an online tool such as MoodGym to retrain your brain and thoughts.

  • Check out the safe and monitored ReachOut Forums to hear from others who feel self-conscious about their bodies.