Body Dysmorphic Disorder In Teens


We all have a trait that we don’t like about our appearance – uneven teeth, a big forehead, or legs that are too long or too short. But, unlike people who suffer from body dysmorphic disorder, we are not overly tormented by these “flaws”. Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a psychological disorder in which an individual becomes obsessed with minor or perceived defects in their appearance. They are extremely anxious about how they look to the point that it interferes with their lives and their ability to function properly.

The causes of eating disorders are complex and each person who suffers is unique. Symptoms emerge out of interaction among biological, psychological, relational, and environmental forces that converge in an imperfect union. — Judy Scheel Ph.D., L.C.S.W., CEDS 

Teens & Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Research shows that BDD affects men and women equally and that 1.7% to 2.4% of the general population (about 1 in 50 people) suffer from this. There is also a chance that it may be more common than previously said. People with this disorder are usually reluctant in telling others about their symptoms, making it a hidden disorder that is undiagnosed. Kids who move on to the young adolescent or teenage stage often develop BDD. They are commonly influenced by celebrities, the media, and ads about beauty or fashion. These daily norms send a message that a person needs to look in a “certain way” to feel happy or content.


What do People with Body Dysmorphic Disorder Constantly Worry About?

There are a multiple number of things that a person with BDD constantly stresses about. The most common features that people obsess about are:

  • Face, such as structure, complexion, proportions, wrinkles, acne, and other blemishes
  • Hair, whether it is thinning or going bald
  • Skin, like appearance of veins or moles
  • Breast size
  • Muscle size
  • Genitalia

Eating disorders are not a choice. No one chooses to lose all of their friends, because they cannot go anywhere that there will be food. — Jennifer Rollin MSW, LCSW-C

Where Does Body Dysmorphic Disorder Come From?

It is not specifically known as to what really causes body dysmorphic disorder, but like most mental illnesses, it may come from a combination of causes:

  • Brain defects
    • People with abnormalities in brain structure or neurochemistry may have a chance of forming body dysmorphic disorder.
  • Genetics
    • Studies have shown that people with blood relatives who have BDD or obsessive-compulsive disorder exhibit higher chances of suffering from these conditions.
  • Environment
    • The location where a person lives, their life experiences, and their culture may result in developing body dysmorphic disorders. They may involve negations about their body or self-image, childhood abuse, bullying, or even false beliefs about appearance that they may have been brought up with them.

There are also many risk factors and complications that may increase the risk of triggering body dysmorphic disorder:

  • Negative and traumatic life experiences, such as teasing and bullying;
  • Pressure from society, such as ideals of beauty and fashion;
  • Personality traits, such as perfectionism;
  • Having multiple mental illnesses combined, like OCD, depression, or anxiety;
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior;
  • Substance abuse, such as illegal drug use and excessive alcohol intake;
  • Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating.

Just because someone is at a higher weight doesn’t mean that they aren’t struggling. — Alexis Conason Psy.D.

Is Body Dysmorphic Disorder an Eating Disorder?


Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, share similar symptoms and characteristics with BDD. This is why body dysmorphic disorder is often mistaken to be an eating disorder. However, when an eating disorder is perceived to be present, BDD is not diagnosed. People who suffer from an eating disorder and BDD show negative self-esteem and body image turmoils. But, individuals with BDD report greater obsessions with their face or a specific trait in their appearance, while others with eating disorders are concerned about their weight and body shape. However, a person can suffer from both BDD and an eating disorder.

Patients who are diagnosed with an eating disorder like anorexia entail a noticeable body weight deficiency (weight of 85% or less of what is normal and healthy). Whereas, individuals with body dysmorphic disorder are overly convinced that there is an abnormality in their appearance even though a close friend or physician finds none at all. Or, if there is, it could typically be unperceived by others.


Signs of Body Dysmorphic Disorder in Teens

Symptoms and signs of BDD include:

  • Extreme preoccupation with an imaginary flaw or a minor defect that others will most likely not notice
  • Strong belief that there is something “wrong” with their appearance and that others take notice of this in a negative way
  • Behaviors that attempt to hide or fix the perceived defect, which is difficult to suppress or control such as frequently checking the mirror, grooming, constant retouching of makeup or skin picking
  • Always seeking reassurance from others about your appearance
  • Perfectionist tendencies
  • Having little satisfaction over beauty or cosmetic procedures
  • Avoidance of social situations or events
  • Seeking plastic surgery
  • Constant comparing with others’ appearances
  • Excessive exercise
  • Excessive clothing changes
  • Being overly preoccupied with one’s appearance that it interferes with your social life, work, or school life, causing major distress


How and When Should I Help Someone with Body Dysmorphic Disorder?


When a person you know or who is close to you is showing signs and symptoms that are written above, do not hesitate to reach out to them and ask for help. Although, in some cases when people with this condition try to hide it from others, it is best to talk to them and look for professional help from a counselor or a therapist. Body dysmorphic disorder can be avoided or treated through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques.