What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is characterised by a preoccupation with one or more perceived defects or flaws in appearance, which is unnoticeable to others.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is characterised by a preoccupation with one or more perceived defects or flaws in appearance, which is unnoticeable to others. This perceived flaw is sometimes noticeable, but is usually a normal variation (e.g. male baldness) or is not as prominent as the sufferer believes.

The older term for BDD is “dysmorphophobia”, which is sometimes still used. The media sometimes refer to BDD as “Imagined Ugliness Syndrome”. This isn’t particularly helpful as the ugliness is very real to the individual concerned, and does not reflect the severe distress that BDD can cause.

As well as excessive self-consciousness, individuals with BDD often feel defined by their flaw. They often experience an image of their perceived defect associated with memories, emotions and bodily sensations – as if seeing the flaw through the eyes of an onlooker, even though what they ‘see’ may be very different to their appearance observed by others.

Sufferers tend repeatedly to check on how bad their flaw is (for example in mirrors and reflective surfaces), attempt to camouflage or alter the perceived defect and avoid public or social situations or triggers that increase distress. They may at times be housebound or have needless cosmetic and dermatological treatments. There is no doubt that the symptoms cause significant distress or handicap and there is an increased risk of suicide and attempted suicide.

Find out more about the symptoms of BDD >

Most people with BDD are preoccupied with some aspect of their face and many believe they have multiple defects. The most common complaints (in descending order) concern the skin, nose, hair, eyes, chin, lips and overall body build. People with BDD may complain of a lack of symmetry, or feel that something is too big, too small, or out of proportion to the rest of the body. Any part of the body may be involved in BDD including the breasts or genitals.

BDD usually begins in late adolescence (16-18 years). However milder symptoms of BDD often precede this from about the age of 12-14. However it may take up to 15 years before presentation to mental health professionals.

Listen to the specialists:

Psychological Understanding and Treatment of BDD with Professor David Veale
Body Dysmorphic Disorder with Katherine Phillips MD
The Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation. Charity no. 1153753.