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Obsessing About Your Body

Most people can find one thing or another that they don’t like about their bodies. For example, maybe you feel you have a few unwanted pounds, perhaps you don’t like the size or the shape of your nose, or maybe you struggle to deal with your complexion. If so, your concerns fall within a normal range.

There’s no reason to think you have a serious problem. In fact, if you saw your face and body as totally, wonderfully, gorgeous and without flaws, many people would think you were narcissistic.

But there’s a problem called Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) that takes normal, minor dissatisfactions to a level that lies far outside the range of normal. People with BDD have heart-rending distortions of their own bodies. They obsess and feel anguish about one or more perceived bodily flaws.

More often than not, they view these imperfections as grotesque. Some typical concerns of those with BDD include worries about having:

  • A forehead that seems too small or too large
  • A slightly crooked nose
  • A chin that feels too large or too small
  • A penis that’s seemingly too short or too narrow
  • Slight discolorations of the skin
  • Ears that don’t look quite right to the person
  • Crow’s feet

Those with BDD often shift their concerns from one imagined defect to another over time. You might review the list of supposed defects above as trivial concerns. But people with BDD seriously believe that their bodies are painfully deformed, blemished, or disfigured. But a hallmark of the disorder is that other people rarely see them that way; in fact, other people often do not even perceive anything at all as wrong with the actual appearance of those with BDD.

Yet when people with BDD worry about these issues, they sometimes engage in a host of rituals or compulsive behaviors in order to feel better. Unfortunately, they feel better only for a brief time.

Some of the compulsions include seeking plastic surgery (often many times), asking others for reassurance about their appearance, checking their “defects” in the mirror over and over again, seeing dermatologists excessively and requesting numerous procedures, wearing gobs of makeup to hide their presumed defects, picking at imagined skin imperfections and thereby causing irritations and scars, wearing clothing designed to hide their presumed deformity, extensive body building, steroid injections, supplements, and hormones to build body mass, and on and on.

If you think that BDD sounds a lot like obsessive compulsive disorder, you’re right. BDD has a lot in common with OCD. However, there are a few differences. For example, unlike OCD, those with BDD are more often depressed; they often have less insight into their problem than people with OCD, and some of the compulsions associated with BDD don’t occur as often as the compulsions of people who have OCD.

For example, you don’t exactly have plastic surgery a hundred times a day in the way that someone with contamination OCD might wash their hands that often. But trust me, some people with BDD do seek and obtain an astonishingly large number of plastic surgeries over time—and each time they think “this” surgery will finally be the one that corrects the problem, but it never seems to work out as planned. So they have another plastic surgery and then another.

So BDD does look a lot like OCD. And in actuality, whether or not BDD should truly be called a disorder that’s different from OCD or simply a subtype of OCD is an open question. We can think of arguments for both sides of that issue.

The bottom line is that if you or someone you know has BDD, get help. BDD is a serious problem that disrupts lives, ruins relationships, and sometimes leads to depression and even suicide.

Man with broken nose photo available from Shutterstock.

Obsessing About Your Body

Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D.

Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and a Founding Fellow in the Academy of Cognitive Therapy. He is also a member of the faculty at Fielding Graduate University. He specializes in the treatment of adolescents and adults with obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, anger, depression, and personality disorders. Dr. Elliott is coauthor of: Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies (2nd Ed), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder For Dummies, Seasonal Affective Disorder For Dummies, Anxiety and Depression Workbook For Dummies, Depression For Dummies, Why Can't I Get What I Want?, Why Can’t I Be the Parent I Want to Be?, and Hollow Kids: Recapturing the Soul of a Generation Lost to the Self-Esteem Myth. His website is:

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APA Reference
Elliott, C. (2012). Obsessing About Your Body. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 16 May 2012
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