About body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) or body dysmorphia
A healthy body image can help to prevent your child from developing BDD. You can help your child develop a healthy body image by talking with your child about images of bodies on social media, focusing on your child as a whole person, and being a positive body image role model.
Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), unhealthy body image and other mental health conditions
BDD differs from gender dysphoria. People with gender dysphoria might be concerned about body parts that don’t match their gender identity, but gender dysphoria isn’t a mental health condition.
Signs of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) in pre-teens and teenagers
- hide body parts that they’re worried about – for example, they might use hats, scarves or baggy clothes to cover up
- use heavy make-up to hide perceived flaws
- groom their hair excessively – for example, they might comb, style, pluck or adjust their hair over and over
- tan a lot to darken ‘pale’ skin or make pimples or acne less noticeable.
- struggle to recognise that other people don’t notice the things they see as their ‘flaws’
- feel distressed if they can’t have cosmetic or surgical procedures to correct or improve ‘flaws’
- find it difficult to concentrate because they’re preoccupied with their appearance
- develop anxiety or depression because of extreme unhappiness with their appearance
- have suicidal thoughts.
- say negative things about their appearance
- constantly check their appearance in the mirror
- pick their skin to improve their appearance
- seek constant reassurance about their appearance
- look for information about cosmetic or surgical procedures on the internet
- avoid going out, being with others or being photographed
- refuse to go to school
- exercise excessively to build muscle or get lean
Getting medical help for pre-teens and teenagers with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)
BDD might be a difficult topic to talk about. It’s important to be sensitive, caring and non-judgmental when you talk with your child about their appearance. It’s best to focus on your child’s health and wellbeing and avoid arguing with your child about whether the ‘flaws’ in their appearance are visible.
Diagnosing body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) in pre-teens and teenagers
Treatments and therapies for pre-teens and teenagers with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)
Cosmetic or surgical procedures aren’t recommended as treatments for BDD. These procedures reinforce concerns about appearance and can make BDD worse.
Supporting pre-teens and teenagers with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) at home
- Positive self-talk: encourage your child to practise saying things like ‘I’m more than just my appearance’ or ‘My worth doesn’t depend on how I look’.
- Distraction: encourage your child to do something that they enjoy, like reading a book or playing soccer. Even short distractions from worries about appearance can be good. And if your child does some regular and different activities, it can improve their self-esteem and reduce their focus on their appearance.
- Active listening: let your child tell you how they feel about their appearance. Accept your child’s feelings, and avoid making judgments if you can.
- Limits on mirror use: encourage your child to cover or hide mirrors while they’re recovering from BDD, especially if they spend a lot of time checking their appearance. Or encourage your child to put a time limit on their mirror use and reduce the limit gradually.
- Conversations about social media: appearance-based social media content can lead to or worsen BDD. Talk about the type of content that your child sees online, and offer to help your child hide unhelpful content. You can also challenge harmful appearance-based messages.
Risk factors for body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) in pre-teens and teenagers
- a family history of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and other OCD-related disorders
- being bullied about body shape, weight or appearance
- low self-esteem
- anxiety disorders, including social anxiety
- eating disorders
- physical changes in appearance, like acne
- difficulty managing emotions
- perfectionism or very high personal standards
- childhood neglect and abuse.