Does the term “body dysmorphia” sound familiar?
If so, you’re likely all caught up on Keeping Up with the Kardashians. In a recent episode, Kim Kardashian West revealed that she, like many of us, experiences major anxiety when it comes to her own body image. “You take pictures and people just body-shame you,” she said, referring to then-new bikini photos of her on vacation. “It’s like literally giving me body dysmorphia.”
We’ve heard that term a lot, but what does it actually mean? To find out, we turned to Dr. Eda Gorbis, a member of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America and the director and founder of the Westwood Institute for Anxiety Disorders.
Gorbis put the definition of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), it’s official name, in layman’s terms: “Body dysmorphic disorder is considered to be the disease of self-perceived ugliness,” she told InStyle, explaining that it affects roughly 5 million Americans, both women and men equally.
Essentially, people with the disorder become obsessive about their appearance, most commonly emphasizing what they believe to be imperfections on their nose, chin, eyelids, skin, ears, penis, and breasts. “They have a disturbed, distorted self-image,” Gorbis said, explaining that these “imperfections” are typically not visible to the naked eye.
Sometimes, patients seek help from cosmetic surgeons to alter their appearances before they notice the underlying psychological issues. “I had one patient who had 100 procedures and 17 plastic surgeries, and then she was obsessed with another part of her appearance. Usually, once the surgery is done, they may be happy for a little while, and then the focal point moves to another body part or appearance,” she said.
Gorbis adds that people living with BDD may spend many hours (think 10) assessing their bodies in front of the mirrors, and others may simply avoid mirrors at all costs. Generally, patients with severe BDD obsessively turn to close family and friends for reassurance. “I had a person who was late to her 36th birthday by hours because she was stuck in the mirror finishing her makeup until it felt gorgeous to her,” Gorbis said.
But what’s the difference between waking up with a lower self-esteem and actually having BDD?
Gorbis explained that the condition—which often stems from disorders like obsessive compulsive disorder and can lead to others like anorexia nervosa—varies from mild to severe, but it boils down to whether or not an obsession with your own self-perception is affecting your ability to carry out routine daily functions.
“More than 50 percent of the human population feels as though they would like to improve their appearance or they feel uncomfortable in the morning when they look in the mirror, but it doesn’t interfere with life,” Gorbis said, elaborating that those with the disorder enter an endless, snowball-like cycle of comparing and contrasting specific body parts to those of others.
She calls it “an internal monster that moves from one body part to another” and says the danger in not seeking professional help can result in impulse actions like suicidal thoughts or substance abuse. Others develop hermit-like social patterns, Gorbis explained and are “very, very social timid because of the disorder.”
So what should you do if you’re checking “yes” to all of these symptoms?
“It’s very important to seek out the professional help of people who specialize in body dysmorphic disorder and are treating it along with a psychiatrist who specializes in it,” she concluded.
And talking about the issue, like Kardashian West did boldly and publicly, is a great way to help people take that first step.