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  • Flipping through magazines as a teen, it was impossible not to compare myself

  • to the airbrushed faces and bodies on the pages.

  • Today, these images have gone digital.

  • And it's not just models in magazines anymore, because anyone can alter their appearance online.

  • Want bigger lips? Smaller waist? Bigger biceps? Bigger boobs? A six pack? You got it.

  • You can completely change your online image from the one staring back at you in the mirror.

  • But that disconnect, the gap between real flesh and blood human to modified, idealized online persona,

  • is starting to have an effect on how we see ourselves. And researchers are asking more questions about

  • what these digital manipulations are doing to our perceptions of our bodies and self-image IRL.

  • A growing number of studies show that social media can have a measurable negative impact on body image and self esteem.

  • Some research even suggests that scrolling through altered or filtered photos and videos on social media feeds

  • may be a trigger for more serious mental health conditions like anorexia, bulimia and body dysmorphic disorder.

  • Body dysmorphic disorder, BDD, is a condition in which people think there's something very wrong with their physical appearance.

  • People with BDD obsess about these perceived imperfections. It's not just a fleeting thought, or a few minutes a day.

  • They think about it and worry about it a lot, typically between three and eight hours a day.

  • It's probably a little bit more common in women than in men.

  • That's what we find in the general population studies.

  • BDD is only diagnosed when the perceived flaw in appearance is actually nonexistent or only slight.

  • But most people with BDD don't realize that the flaws they perceive are actually minimal or not even there.

  • They believe the flaw is clearly noticeable and seems unattractive or ugly to others.

  • And like Dr. Phillips said, BDD can be found in people of all gender identities.

  • Unfortunately, there've only been a handful of nationwide studies into how common BDD really is in the general population.

  • But these early studies have revealed startling numbers. It's estimated that BDD affects close to 2 to 3 percent of the population,

  • and that's somewhere between 5 to 10 million people in the U.S. alone.

  • So that makes it more common than obsessive compulsive disorder, anorexia nervosa, schizophrenia,

  • so it's very under-recognized, under-diagnosed.

  • Every case of BDD is different and they can range in severity.

  • In some cases it can be incredibly debilitating,

  • to the point where a person withdraws completely from school, work, and social life, like Kitty.

  • I was spending hours in front of the mirror obsessively picking at my skin, putting makeup on, taking it off,

  • because it wasn't right and putting it back on again. And what I saw in the mirror was a monster.

  • I just thought everyone would be horrified if they saw me, so it was just safer to stay at home.

  • This mental health disorder most often begins in early adolescence, and those with BDD often focus on multiple body parts.

  • Some people who suffer from it have likened their experience to staring into a permanent funhouse mirror,

  • where your self image is wildly distorted by your own brain.

  • Basically, people with BDD perceive themselves differently.

  • In one of the first studies looking into this, researchers compared the fMRI brain scans

  • of a small group of people with BDD to those without the disorder,

  • and they found a clear difference.

  • When viewing a batch of highly detailed photos of strangers and a batch of blurred images of those same strangers,

  • individuals with BDD used the left side of their brains much more than the control group.

  • And the left side is the part that processes detail.

  • Those without BDD, or the control group, used the right side of their brain more, taking in a more holistic image,

  • and they only switched to using their left side when processing the highly detailed images.

  • The researchers concluded that those with BDD focus more on the details than on the bigger picture,

  • basically like one researcher put it, they werelosing the forest for the trees.”

  • I focus in on different areas of my face, or my body, or whatever.

  • And then in my mind, that creates a picture of what I look like.

  • But of course, that creates a distorted image of how I look,

  • because certain features are distorted to be bigger or worse.

  • I think a major misconception is that BDD is just vanity.

  • That trivializes it and it trivializes the suffering of people with BDD.

  • For an illness that was first described over a century ago, it's only been in the past few decades that a continued research effort

  • has gone into better understanding this disorder.

  • And there are still some key questions that researchers are trying to figure out. Like what exactly causes BDD,

  • and what are its triggers once someone has it?

  • Now, the cause of BDD is very complex. And it's not any one thing that causes BDD.

  • It's probably about 40 to 50% genetically based.

  • The rest of BDD is due to, you know, we think broadly in terms of environmental factors, that's a very big bucket.

  • These risk factors may include a lot of things like being teased when you're young, societal messages dictating what you should look like,

  • or like we mentioned earlier, research now looking into whether the hyper-edited images on social media have become a trigger as well.

  • And this is something Dr. Phillips has seen change over her 30 years of studying BDD.

  • I think for some people it is and we don't have good research studies on this issue.

  • Studies in non BDD groups have shown that certain forms of social media can worsen body image concerns,

  • which in turn can worsen depression.

  • In my own patients, my sense is that certain forms of social media can make BDD worse.

  • Social media platforms like Instagram, Tiktok, and Snapchat, where it's easy to compare your own appearance to that of others,

  • might be more likely to worsen body image than platforms that don't focus on appearance

  • or don't allow editing of one's face or body.

  • And in all of these apps, there are built-in features that can alter your looks

  • like thinning your face, smoothing out your skin, or applying makeup.

  • We just need studies of social media in people with BDD specifically.

  • And now I think increasingly, we see that certain forms of social media can be so distressing for people with BDD.

  • Like Kitty for example, who used her own experience in her work with the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation.

  • I would always say it's important to be mindful of how you're using anything.

  • Because when you've got BDD, almost anything could be triggering.

  • So it's about learning to cope with these challenges and find new ways of managing them.

  • But platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and Tiktok aren't all bad, either.

  • They can provide a space to raise awareness about things like BDD and create a stronger sense of community.

  • And talking more openly about disorders like this, and the role social media may play in perpetuating them, helps tackle the stigma around these issues too.

  • And the good news is that BDD is treatable. One of the most effective ways to treat it is with medication called SRIs.

  • These can limit compulsive behaviors, lessen obsessions, depression, and anxiety over the perceived flaw

  • and also make it easier to be around other people and to function well in daily life.

  • Another treatment is a specialized form of cognitive behavioral therapy

  • that focuses on identifying the patient's appearance-related thoughts and behaviors

  • and then applying cognitive restructuring, ritual prevention, and exposure techniques.

  • And good treatment can be transformational for folks like Carly, who has dealt with BDD for over a decade.

  • I often think of my journey, as, it's been a little friend that's come with me.

  • So from that 11 year old little girl who had a demon,

  • and she sort of latched on to me, and she obviously wanted to pick me apart.

  • She was a bully. I like to think that from then, to where we're at now, she's sort of become my friend.

  • So I keep her at a distance. But when she does come, and she will hurt me,

  • I just have to remind her that she's only allowed a few hours, maybe a day max, and then she's got to go back.

  • Some who suffer from BDD may think the solution is undergoing cosmetic procedures to alter the flaw they're fixated on,

  • but this usually doesn't improve their issue and can actually even make the fixation worse.

  • And the reason is that BDD is a body image problem. It's not a problem with actual appearance.

  • It's not really a body problem, it's a perception problem.

  • Ultimately, we need more research.

  • Body Dysmorphic Disorder is its own separate issue, but those who struggle with it may also struggle with

  • an eating disorder, obsessive compulsive symptoms, a great deal of anxiety, substance abuse, and even suicidal ideation.

  • So the more we know about what's going on in the brains of those with it,

  • the better equipped we'll be to help those who are dealing with BDD.

  • If you think someone may have BDD, it's important to take it seriously and encourage the person to get help.

  • Filters can be fun. Social media can be fun, and it's great place to be creative.

  • But I hope you don't see the way other people look, or the way a filter makes you look, and think that's how you should look.

  • I know it's easier said than done, but this is the only body we get,

  • so better to spend our time making friends with it than being at war with it, right?

  • You are enough, just as you are.

  • If you or someone you know is struggling with BDD or something similar,

  • we've included resources in our description below for more information on where to find help.

  • Thanks so much for watching Seeker's new series, Body Language.

  • I hope you've enjoyed this video. And if there's another health topic you want us to cover,

  • leave us a comment down below, and I'll see you next time!

Flipping through magazines as a teen, it was impossible not to compare myself

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What Exactly Is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

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    Summer posted on 2021/08/03
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