Real Talk: It’s Time We Discussed Body Dysmorphia And Its Psychological Impact

When it's not as simple as 'getting over it'.


Ondela Mlandu |

If you’re putting in the hard work at the gym and you can’t see the physical changes with the naked eye, it can feel discouraging and that can be detrimental to your progress. Many of us sometimes look in the mirror and see a defect in a body part. It’s called body dysmorphic disorder and it manifests with us becoming obsessed with perceived flaws in our appearance.

Body Dysmorphia explained

Women’s Health speaks to Counselling Psychologist, Lungako Mweli about the psychological impacts that come with body dysmorphia.

1/Body Dysmorphia – the breakdown

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a psychological disorder which is characterised by a preoccupation with a perceived physical appearance flaw, which is often not observable to other individuals. “It’s been characterised by excessive repetitive behaviours which often involve mirror checking, excessive grooming and seeking reassurance about one’s appearance. Individuals with BDD often experience difficulty controlling their preoccupations with their appearance which can cause impairment in their functioning,” says Lungako.

2/The psychological triggers…

Lungako says body dysmorphia may not necessarily be linked to triggers, but more of situations that may seek to confirm the belief that the perceived defect or flaw is real. “The culture and societal influence around the ideal physical appearance, body type, and the standard of beauty displayed through the advances of social media may often lead to a person with BDD to comparing themselves which heightens the belief about the perceived flaw,” she says.

3/How do you advise clients to overcome body dysmorphia? Are there any practical methods you use?

Lungako says there is no “quick fix” methods for psychological and mental health concerns, but taking responsibility for your mental health and committing to the process of self-awareness can be a good starting point.

There are various modalities of therapy that assist individuals who present with BDD. Therapy often seeks to understand and provide insight into the underlying issues that result in BDD and also provide them with space to pursue healthier behaviours. “I believe that people need to be more kind to themselves, by simply being kind to yourself can bring about a lot of change. I would also suggest individuals to explore their patterns of thinking, self-talk. Work on altering the negative thoughts, you hold about yourself and challenge yourself to minimise behaviours that feed into the belief,” she says.

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Some men experience it too…

Given Aphane who featured in last month’s Men’s Health Magazine says, dealing with body dysmorphia was an internal conflict which he had to overcome by loving and appreciating the body he is in, flaws and all. “There are certain aspects of your body that you will never be happy with, but that doesn’t mean that you have to change it. Once I was able to wholly accept and be comfortable with my body, I was truly happy and satisfied with my weight,” he says. When Given could show a part of his body that he was not necessarily comfortable with, he realised that he had overcome his body dysmorphia.

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Do genetics play a role?

Counselling Psychologist, Jaydene du Preez, says the cause of body dysmorphic disorder is unclear, but certain biological and environmental factors can contribute to its development, including genetic predisposition, neurobiological factors, personality traits and life experiences. “This is not an uncommon disorder, but it’s a hidden one since sufferers are often too embarrassed to talk about it. Many women are able to function well in society, but remain secretly obsessed by their hips or body shape,” says du Preez.

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A solution to the problem

Cognitive behaviour therapy can be extremely helpful and should be the first intervention. Du Preez says a cognitive therapy session would consist of a psychologist setting specific and attainable goals with you to plan for the next step of your weight loss journey. “A session would also include self-monitoring that looks at barriers or challenges holding you back from achieving those goals,” she says.

The therapy sessions have many benefits such as feedback and reinforcement of how you are transforming as well as motivation to keep going. “We would then focus not only on behaviour but on self-perception too,” says Du Preez.

READ MORE ON: Body Positivity Health Health Advice Mental Health