Mirror in a bedroom representing body dysmorphia

Women's health

Body dysmorphic disorder

Looking into the mirror 

What is body dysmorphic disorder?

Body dysmorphic disorder, also known as body dysmorphia, is a mental health disorder marked by an obsessive idea of perceived defects or flaws in your appearance1. They’re often not noticeable to others; however, your feelings are still valid, and we want to remind you that you’re not alone.

The NHS describes symptoms of body dysmorphia as:

  • Worrying a lot about a specific area of your body (particularly your face)

  • Spending a lot of time comparing your looks with other people's

  • Looking at yourself in mirrors a lot or avoid mirrors altogether

  • Going to a lot of effort to conceal flaws – for example, by spending a long time combing your hair, applying make-up, or choosing clothes

  • Picking at your skin to make it ‘smooth’

How might this condition impact your day-to-day life?

Body dysmorphia can have a huge impact on a range of aspects within your life as well as impacting those around you.

Impacts of body dysmorphia on your social life - You may feel that it is difficult to be around others as you feel self-conscious about your appearance and start to compare yourself to others.

Impacts of body dysmorphia on work and education - Body dysmorphia can make it feel impossible to be productive and satisfied at work or in education due to how you perceive yourself.

Impacts of body dysmorphia on families - Sometimes disagreements between families occur as they have different ideas on what’s going on, they won’t be able to see your perceived defects or flaws in your appearance. This can lead to frustration and disagreements on how to deal with it between families. 

What can I do?

Unfortunately, there is no quick fix but there are small goals that you can set yourself and act upon to combat body dysmorphia.

Identifying the problem

The first step to recovery is acknowledging that you may be suffering with body dysmorphia. The charity Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation has devised a quick and easy online test, with 9 questions that you can take to see how likely you are to be suffering with body dysmorphia.

Introducing safety behaviours

Although social media does not cause body dysmorphia, you may find it helpful to reduce your time on social media or unfollow impossible beauty standards.

Counselling and support groups

You may find it useful to speak about it. This could be in the form of structured counselling sessions one on one or support groups dealing with body dysmorphia. Don’t forget with a Simplyhealth health plan you have access to 24/7 advice and counselling that you can access anytime.

There are also online support groups available. The Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation for example host a bi-monthly ‘Zoom’ online support group providing an opportunity to meet with other people who suffer with body dysmorphia, share experiences, and provide mutual support. Explore online support on offer or alternatively search for local groups.

Speaking to your GP

If you have a Simplyhealth health plan you can book an online GP appointment via the SimplyPlan app, or alternatively visit your NHS GP. They may suggest treatment such as cognitive behavioural therapy which can help you manage symptoms and change the way in which you think and behave1. It is important to speak to your GP regularly and to tell them how you’re feeling so they can continue to support you and if necessary, explore options for medication and alternative treatments. 

How can you help a loved one with body dysmorphic disorder?

It can be tricky knowing the right thing to say or do when loved ones are struggling with body dysmorphia. Most important is providing a safe space to talk about their feelings and helping them to seek the help they need. Mental health charity Mind UK, outline the things you can do when trying to support someone else who is suffering with body dysmorphia. 

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