Stories of Teen Body Dysmorphic Disorder
Feeling like you have something wrong with your body is not all that uncommon. Most everyone might admit that they want to lose weight, go to the gym more often, or strengthen their abs. However, it becomes a bit more severe when you’re willing to have surgery to change your body, when you are obsessed with your body looks, you develop a teen eating disorder, or when you begin engage one or more of the following behaviors:
- hiding parts of your body (with body position, clothing, makeup, hair, hats, etc.)
- comparing your body to others’ appearance
- seeking surgery
- checking in a mirror
- avoiding mirrors
- skin picking
- excessive grooming
- excessive exercise
- changing clothes excessively
Fifteen-year-old Joanne asks her mother about 20 times per day or more how she looks. She doesn’t believe at all that she looks fine. She thinks her jaw is crooked, her breasts are too small, and her waist carries too much fat, even though she weighs about 125 pounds and is considered to have average body weight. She has started to use heavy makeup to cover what she sees as blemishes as well as wearing long sleeves to cover her skin. Joanne has become so obsessed with her looks that it has become time consuming to the point that she no longer spends time with friends. She has also let go of being on the swim team at school and playing a role in the school play. Joanne has teen Body Dysmorphic Disorder, also known as Dysmorphophobia.
Notice the word phobia in the second half of the word Dysmorphophobia. BDD can become so severe, turning into an obsessive fear or terror that a body, or a part of it, is repulsive in some way. For some individuals, like Joanne, dysmorphophobia impairs their ability to function, preventing them from going out in public, engaging in any social activities, or spending time with others because of their fear.
Steven, a 17-year-old sophomore, is also obsessed with his looks. He doesn’t believe that his nose looks normal. Because of this, he constantly checks his nose and each time he is unable to feel assured that there is nothing objectively wrong with his nose. He continues to make comment to his friends and family that his nose doesn’t fit right on his face or that it’s just not normal. He has already contacted surgeons to explore the possibility of surgery.
It may not come as a surprise to know that having a body image disturbance, such as those that Joanne and Steven have, is frequently a symptom of Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. However, BDD is not an eating disorder. When associated with Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa, it is only a symptom.
Instead, BDD is known as a Somatoform Disorder, which is a category of disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a manual used by clinicians across the country for diagnosing their clients. Somatoform Disorders are mental illnesses that suggest a physical illness yet have no medical or biological explanation.
BDD is sometimes considered a Psychotic Disorder because of the presence of a delusion. Delusions are false beliefs that are strongly held onto despite evidence that disproves the belief, such as the conviction that your face is severely scarred despite having a small, insignificant scar, or no scar at all.
BDD is often treated with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a type of therapy that examines the thoughts and beliefs of a teen in order to change his or her associated behavior. With BDD, a therapist might help an adolescent explore the thoughts related to the way he or she sees her body, and as a result, replace them with new thoughts, facilitating a new body image and sense of self.
– By Robert Hunt
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