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Are your body flaws real or perceived?


PHOTO: Unsplash

Do you like what you see when you look in the mirror? It’s wonderful if you do love and embrace your God given beauty. But for some, a simple glance in the mirror may be an extremely distressful ordeal. Some people suffer from a condition in which they perceive certain body parts to be extremely disfigured and as a result obsess nonstop about their appearance.

Issues with body image perception tend to develop during one’s formative years of childhood and adolescence. Sometimes childhood trauma or even teasing and taunts about physical appearance may precipitate the development of serious obsessions over body “defects” that may not actually exist. There are other factors which may also contribute to the condition known as body dysmorphic disorder or (BDD).

BDD is classified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a real psychiatric condition. It typically affects young adults, but various age groups may be impacted. One may continuously obsess over perceived imperfections in body parts such as the nose, breasts, buttocks, skin, and even genitals. Coupled with the obsession is also a component of severe compulsion to hide or fix the perceived problem. BDD is not simply an issue of feeling a bit insecure about appearance from time to time, it is actually a severely debilitating mental illness for some.

What is even more important to recognize is that the disorder isn’t just exclusive to the Western world or those engrossed in the image-driven industry of media and entertainment. BDD exists worldwide and is oftentimes undiagnosed, especially in African countries like Nigeria. Mental health conditions in this part of the world tend to be grossly under recognized and remain unaddressed, since in general psychiatric illnesses are still deemed extremely taboo topics of discussion. But considering that symptoms of such disorders may start manifesting as early as puberty, it’s necessary that more awareness be brought to light on these conditions which may affect the youth.

So how can you tell if you may have a serious problem with body dysmorphia versus just minor insecurities with your appearance? One major tell tale sign of BDD is that the obsession with body image may actually start to interrupt your day-to-day life and functioning.

Let’s take for example a scenario in which someone with BDD may fixate over the size or shape of their nose. Although there may be nothing at all wrong with the individual’s nose, that person may consider the body part so severely disfigured and grotesque, and as a result harbour obsessive thoughts and engage in subsequent compulsive behaviors to hide their “defect”.

Other hallmark signs of the condition may include the following:

Continuous self comparison
The individual suffering from BDD may incessantly engage in self comparison whereby they become preoccupied with always comparing their “flawed” body parts to others.

Social isolation
Sufferers of the disorder might even choose to avoid all social outings. They may start skipping school or work on account of feeling so disgusted, anxious, and depressed by their appearance.

Constantly checking or avoiding mirrors
On account of pervasive thoughts about a defective body part, the individual may engage in behaviour such as frequent mirror checks for hours unending, in order to scrutinize everything they deem flawed with their appearance. Alternately, they may totally avoid all mirrors because they become too distressed by the sight of their “disfigured” body part.

BDD is sometimes overlooked in males, since so many incorrectly presume that it’s specifically a woman’s disorder. But it’s essential to recognize that men also suffer from body dysmorphia in almost equal proportion to women. Sometimes a man’s preoccupation with appearance is predicated upon a desire to achieve the perfect masculine body or physique. Some may even experience what is known as muscle dysmorphia, in which there is an obsession with building muscle. No matter how toned or muscular the individual’s body may actually be someone with muscle dysmorphia may continue to find a problem with their physique. This may drive the compulsion of excessive and extreme hours working out to try and bulk up and achieve the perfect muscular build.

Another example of how BDD may manifest in some men is in another condition termed “penile dysmorphic disorder.” It’s a subcategory of body dysmorphic disorder in which a man may obsess over the size of his penis or erections, although no problem with the genitalia actually exists.

Nonetheless, as symptoms of various forms of body dysmorphia progress, the obsession with appearance may drive one to undergo numerous unnecessary plastic surgeries to fix the perceived defect in appearance. Even worse, the battle with this mental health condition may lead to multiple suicide attempts.

BDD is an extremely serious mental health condition that simply can’t be swept under the rug anymore. If you think you may suffer from the disorder, you must seek help from a mental health specialist immediately. Treatment may sometimes include anti depressant medication and cognitive behavioral therapy. Ultimately, early intervention is the key to avoiding the grave and emotionally debilitating consequences of the disorder.

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