The idea that there exists a ‘perfect’ body has led to many in India to live with body image issues, which may lead to something more serious — body dysmorphic disorder.

Delve Health Thursday, October 31, 2019 - 12:02

“My chest shape was inside out and my hands — one was huge and the other tiny. I felt that my friends and even strangers were staring at me, always trying to make fun. I read extensively about surgical corrections, even though I knew I could not afford it…”

What makes for a 'perfect' body? A billion-dollar fitness and lifestyle industry runs on the many answers to this question. Magazines and influencers often portray size-zero, hourglass figures or v-shaped bodies with sculpted biceps as ‘goals’. However, the consequence is that many young men and women in India now live with body image issues. These issues sometimes manifest into something much bigger and much more serious — body dysmorphic disorder.

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) comes from the Greek term 'dysmorphia,' which means ugliness. It is a mental illness where an individual feels that there is a defect with one or more of his body parts — be it his/her nose, eyes or even hands — and he or she can go to any lengths to get it changed or corrected. 

Dr Debanjan, a psychiatrist at NIMHANS in Bengaluru, explains, “It starts when an individual feels that a part of his body is not correct. That belief, that your body part is ‘flawed’ can grow from being just an insecurity it to the person resorting to any measure to get it changed. For example, a person can be so preoccupied with the belief that his nose is flawed, that he might even try to injure himself.” 

People living with body dysmorphic disorder thus often visit doctors and professionals like dentists, plastic surgeons, dermatologists — who specialise in making such changes — hoping that they will get the body they desire. But Dr Debanjan says that it is a vicious circle that has no end.  

“If you feel your body has a flaw, that flaw will always be there, no matter how many cosmetic surgeries you go through. Most of the times, we get patients who are referred to us by plastic surgeons, that is most common, who have had three-to-four surgeries. With every surgery, they have hope that the perceived flaw will be gone but post-surgery, the flaw increases and there is no end to this,” he says.

BDD is aggravated in people who are vulnerable or are already facing mental health issues like depression or anxiety, or simply body image issues. Sometimes, some events act as triggers — like your perceived flaw being commented upon in public — and bring out the illness. 

Along with a person’s relatives, friends and loved ones, it is also important for doctors and medical practitioners, who are first usually first consulted by people with BDD, to recognise the symptoms and refer the patient to a mental health professional, so that BDD can be detected early. Early detection helps, since symptoms of BDD can also lead to suicidal thoughts.

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