Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) goes beyond body image and self esteem, someone who suffers from BDD has extreme unrealistic views of some part of their body. This article helps define body dysmorphic disorder and the causes, effects, warning signs, and more.

Body dysmorphic disorder occurs when teens become obsessed with a small flaw in their appearance, to the point that it interferes with their life. Teens with body dysmorphic disorder are at higher risk for other problems too, including depression and suicide. Body dysmorphic disorder often goes undiagnosed and untreated, but parents can learn to recognize the symptoms and find treatment for their teen.

It's normal for teens to worry about their appearance and to spend time in front of the mirror trying to change the way they look. A teen may have body dysmorphic disorder, however, if he or she obsesses over a minor or imagined flaw, or thinks that he or she is deformed when he or she looks normal. For this reason, body dysmorphic disorder is also called imagined ugliness. Body dysmorphic order can occur in teen boys and girls of any race or culture, usually starting in adolescence. Teens with body dysmorphic disorder may obsess over any part of their body, from their nose to their weight, and what they obsess over may change from time to time.

The exact causes of body dysmorphic disorder are not known, but there are several theories:

  • Body dysmorphic disorder may be related to other mental illnesses like depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, which stem from chemical imbalances in the brain.
  • Severe teasing or bullying may lead to body dysmorphic disorder in some teens.
  • Messages in the media encouraging impossible physical standards may cause some teens to develop body dysmorphic disorder.

Regardless of the cause, body dysmorphic disorder is a dangerous condition, with possible negative effects such as:

  • Low self esteem
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Withdrawal from others
  • Dropping out of school
  • Suicide

Some signs that a teen may have body dysmorphic disorder include:

  • Avoiding social situations
  • Having few friends or social activities
  • Refusing to look in a mirror, or spending a lot of time at the mirror
  • Going through compulsive beauty routines or diets
  • Spending a lot of money for beauty treatments but not being satisfied with the results
  • Thinking that others are noticing or making fun of their imagined ugliness
  • Avoiding having pictures taken
  • Trying to cover up or hide themselves as much as possible

The best way for parents to determine if their teen has body dysmorphic disorder is to talk to them about their body image. Parents can ask them how they feel about themselves and their appearance. Teens may not like some aspects of their appearance, but they shouldn't feel like they are deformed.

Teens with body dysmorphic disorder need treatment to recover from the disorder. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one method that can help teens by teaching them to recognize and correct flawed thinking.

Some other things parents can do to help teens with body dysmorphic disorder:

  • Spend time talking to your teens and telling them that you love them
  • Be patient with teens as they recover, as it can be a long process
  • Help teens to view the media critically and to understand that the images it presents aren’t realistic
  • Do not tease anyone about body image issues
  • Compliment people on their non-physical aspects
  • Be on the lookout for other mental disorders that may need treatment, especially if a teen has been bullied or abused


Nemours, TeensHealth, "Body Dysmorphic Disorder" [online]
MayoClinic, "Body Dysmorphic Disorder" [online]
Katharine A Phillips, World Psychiatry Journal, "Body dysmorphic disorder: recognizing and treating imagined ugliness" [online]

Related Article: Teen Body Image >>