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Body Image: Symptoms and Treatment

Body image refers to the way you perceive your physical appearance. Most commonly, this refers to your perception of your physical attractiveness.

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In addition to your perception of your physical attractiveness, body image has other dimensions, including:

 

  • Effectiveness

  • Health

  • Sexual characteristics

  • Sexual behavior

  • Body integrity


When body image is poor and causes significant psychological distress, an individual may meet the criteria for body dysmorphic disorder. However, other body image concerns can be addressed in therapy as well.

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Symptoms of Body Dysmorphia (Body Dysmorphic Disorder)

Here are some common symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder. You don’t need to experience all of these symptoms to meet the criteria for body dysmorphic disorder:

  • Preoccupation with perceived physical defects or flaws that are slight or not observable by others

  • Repetitive behaviors (mirror checking, excessive grooming, skin picking, reassurance-seeking) or mental acts (comparing) in response to the physical appearance concerns

  • Excessive attempts to hide a perceived physical defect or flaw

  • Avoidance of situations that provoke fear of scrutiny of physical appearance by others

  • Seeking unnecessary cosmetic procedures

Please note that this is not intended for self-diagnosis. If you believe you have a body dysmorphic disorder, it is important that you seek the help of a mental health professional for a proper diagnosis.

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Other Body Image Concerns

Even when a person does not meet the full criteria for body dysmorphic disorder, their body image concerns can be addressed in therapy. 

Most commonly, individuals with body image concerns are most preoccupied with their body fat, but this would only constitute body dysmorphic disorder if the individual is preoccupied with body fat that does not exist (perception of being overweight despite indications of normal or low body mass index). 

Body image concerns are commonly accompanied by low self-esteem, as individuals who have negative thoughts about their appearance also have negative thoughts about themselves. 

Treatment should address negative thoughts an individual has about their body and themselves as a whole.

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Treatment for Body Image Issues

Treatment for body image concerns involves identifying negative thought patterns directed toward one’s physical appearance. These negative thought patterns are then challenged and modified throughout the course of treatment. 


If the body image concerns result in any form of social avoidance, this avoidance is addressed as well through systematic re-integration into those social settings. 


Finally, treatment aims to reduce repetitive grooming or checking behaviors that reinforce the negative beliefs one has about their physical appearance.