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How to spot: body dysmorphia

by Amanda Collins

Most people have something they don’t like about themselves. It’s almost a cultural norm to be unsatisfied with our appearance. For most, this unhappiness stays at a low level. We grumble, complain about out arms, thighs, a pimple, or the newest wrinkle, but we move on.

Body dysmorphia, however, happens when someone becomes obsessed with what they see as a ‘flaw‘ in their appearance. They focus on one part, or a few parts of their face or body, and actively hate themselves.

This ‘flaw‘ could be anything, and will commonly revolve around their skin, hair, body or muscle tone.

These “flaws” are usually things that nobody else would notice about the person. But for the sufferer they become all consuming.

Body dysmorphia treatment

Who can get dysmorphia?

Anyone can get body dysmorphia. It can happen at any point in a person’s life, however the concern usually starts from a young age and grows over time.

What causes body dysmorphia?

Nobody knows what causes body dysmorphia, however experts have suggested that there may be several factors that may contribute to its development.

These factors include:


We live in an image obsessed era. The media, including magazines, television, movies and the internet, all work together to tell us that we are not good enough.

Impossibly photoshopped images portraying a single idea of “beauty” bombard us daily. We are taught that we simply don’t measure up.

The people around us also can have a big effect on the development of body dysmorphia. Bullying over appearance or the desire to fit in can cause issues. The need to impress a boyfriend or girlfriend can also kick start a problem, as can a critical parent, or neglect and abuse.


People who have relatives that have suffered body dysmorphia or obsessive compulsive disorder are at a higher risk of developing body dysmorphia.


According to experts, chemical imbalances may play a role in the development of the condition.

How to spot body dysmorphia

What are the signs of dysmorphia?

  • An extreme preoccupation with looks and perceived flaws.
  • Thinking about the ‘flaw’ for hours every day.
  • A belief that the perceived ‘flaw’ makes the sufferer ugly, deformed or unattractive.
  • An extreme fear of not meeting cultural or societal ideas of perfection in appearance.
  • A need for constant reassurance from others about their looks, and disbelief of any positive praise.
  • The idea that other people focus on the ‘flaw’ and are disgusted by it.
  • Obsessive dieting and exercise.
  • Repeated behaviours that are believed to cover or hide the ‘flaw’. These could include constant mirror checking, avoiding mirrors, skin picking or refusing to go certain places.
  • Hiding or covering the ‘flaw’ with clothes, make-up or styling.
  • Spending hours grooming and working on appearance every day.
  • Constant comparison to others.
  • Spending hours staring in the mirror and hating/despising their reflection.
  • Perfectionism when it comes to appearance, and the idea that they will never good enough.
  • Repeated cosmetic procedures, with the sufferer getting no lasting satisfaction from the result.
  • Depression, anxiety and even, at times, suicidal thoughts.
  • Social anxiety, and avoidance of social situations where they feel their ‘flaw’ may be judged. This can affect work, social and family life, and can result in the sufferer choosing to stay confined at home.

Getting help for body dysmorphia

What to do now?

If you think someone you know may be suffering from body dysmorphia, click here to find out how you can help. Alternatively, if you think you may be suffering body dysmorphia, read how you can get help here.

Interested in mental health?

If you are interested in helping people struggling with mental health issues, then a career in counselling may be perfect for you. With Open Colleges you can study a Diploma of Counselling online, in your own time, and get the skills you need to make a real difference!

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