For centuries, women (and some men) have primped, powdered, plucked, and generally fussed over their appearance, sometimes to the point of obsession. But only recently has a syndrome known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) come to light (although cases have been reported as far back as 100 years). It is most commonly recognized in persons who undergo extensive plastic surgery over and over to the point that they barely look human anymore (and certainly look nothing like their original selves), but this occurs in only the most severe cases that go unchecked. So how can you tell if someone you know is suffering from this disorder or merely indulging a bit of harmless vanity?
Most people obsess over small perceived flaws, like a big nose or a flabby belly, but are able to continue living their normal lives despite infrequent unhappiness. Some rely on fad diets and intense exercise to solve their body woes while others resort to heavy make-up, miracle creams, and even plastic surgery to give them an appearance they can feel good about. In a society that places such an emphasis on physical attractiveness, a little of this is to be expected. BDD, on the other hand, is marked by a severe obsession that focuses on an assumed defect in the face or body. This preoccupation can cause a person to become so fixated that they lose interest in their life (work, friends, etc.) to the point that they can no longer function. They suffer from a distorted body image, generally relating to one specific area. It is also very common for people with BDD to be diagnosed with other psychiatric disorders, so if you suspect someone of having BDD, a pre-existing condition like depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) could clue you in.
A few signs of this disorder, beyond an unhealthy focus on a specific facial feature or body part, include ritualistic behaviors like extensive make-up routines, camouflaging (make-up, clothing, even plastic surgery), a compulsive need to look in (or avoid) mirrors, a penchant for comparison with others, and a constant need for reassurance concerning their appearance. And again, withdrawing from outside interests is almost always a strong indicator that something is seriously wrong.
If you think a friend or relative is suffering from BDD, you should try to get them to see a professional. Chances are, they are unaware that they even have a problem, despite obsessive behavior and ongoing depression over their supposed defect. It’s possible that their disorder can be treated with medication, psychotherapy, or more likely a combination of the two. If allowed to continue, this disorder can lead to isolation, self-destructive behaviors, and hospitalization.
Alexis Montgomery is a content writer for Online Schools, where you can browse through various online degree programs to find a college that suits your needs.