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Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)

Explains the symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), including examples of obsessive worries about your body and compulsive and repetitive behaviours.

What are the symptoms of BDD?

People with BDD see themselves differently to how others see them. Although everyone's experience of BDD is unique, there are some common signs. This page covers:

I'm constantly worrying about my appearance to the extent that I rarely feel present in any social situation.

Obsessive worries about your body

If you have BDD, you may experience intrusive, negative thoughts about one specific area of your body, or several areas of your body, which you think are:

  • Out of proportion, such as being too big or too small
  • Disfigured or the wrong shape
  • Lacking symmetry
  • The wrong colour or texture

These thoughts cause you significant anxiety, and you'll often spend several hours a day thinking about the area or areas of concern. BDD can affect any area of the body, but common areas of anxiety include your skin, hair, nose, chin, teeth, lips or genitals.

Some people with BDD are preoccupied with negative thoughts about their general appearance rather than a specific feature, and may feel that they’re ‘generally ugly’ or out of proportion.

I've struggled with BDD for 13 years. It changes. Sometimes it's something little, like my nose, that is really bothering me. Sometimes every centimetre of my body just feels wrong.

BDD and eating disorders

BDD and eating disorders share similar symptoms, such as:

  • Having poor body image
  • Worrying excessively about your physical appearance
  • Developing compulsive behaviours to try to deal with these worries

But BDD and eating disorders aren't the same. When a person is experiencing an eating disorder, they're mainly concerned about their weight and shape, and develop eating problems to control this.

Someone experiencing BDD may also experience concerns about weight and shape, but is likely to experience other concerns around body image – for example, they may also have concerns about a particular facial feature. You don't need to have an eating disorder to be diagnosed with BDD.

Some people with BDD experience an eating disorder but not all people with eating disorders have BDD.
A mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, can assess your symptoms to help you find out whether you're experiencing BDD, an eating disorder or both.

For more information see our page on eating disorders and our pages on eating problems more broadly.

Compulsive and repetitive behaviours

If you have BDD, you develop compulsive and repetitive behaviours and routines to deal with the anxiety you feel about your appearance. You may spend hours each day carrying out these behaviours to try to reduce your anxiety. The behaviours may briefly lessen your worries, or they may make you feel worse.

Common compulsive behaviours include repetitively or obsessively:

  • Checking your appearance in mirrors, or avoiding mirrors completely
  • Using heavy make-up to try to hide the area you're concerned about
  • Changing your posture or wearing heavy clothes to disguise your shape
  • Seeking reassurance about your appearance
  • Overexercising, often in a way that targets the area you're worried about
  • Body checking with your fingers
  • Picking your skin to make it smooth
  • Using tanning products or skin-lighteners
  • Weighing yourself
  • Brushing or styling your hair
  • Comparing yourself with other people
  • Changing your clothes
  • Shopping for beauty products or over-the-counter treatments
  • Taking selfies
  • Using social media image filters or photo editing apps
  • Seeking cosmetic surgery or having other types of medical treatment to change the part of you that causes you distress

Some of these behaviours, such as picking your skin and overexercising, are considered self-harm behaviours. For more information, see our pages on self-harm.

I'm performing exhausting, compulsive rituals that simply perpetuate this cycle of anxiety. It’s like being stuck in a noisy hamster wheel spinning endlessly inside a hall of mirrors.

What is muscle dysmorphia?

Muscle dysmorphia (or muscle dysmorphic disorder) is a type of BDD where you experience obsessive worries about your body being too small, skinny or not muscular enough. Despite these worries, you're of average build. Or in some cases exceptionally muscular.

This often leads to compulsive behaviours that focus on building muscle that can sometimes be damaging, such as:

  • Overexercising, particularly lifting weights
  • Dieting
  • Taking nutritional supplements
  • Abusing steroids and other substances

You can find out more about muscle dysmorphia on the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation website.

This information was published in July 2022. We'll revise it in 2025.

References and bibliography available on request.

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