What is Body Dysmorphia?


Body image. We all go through times where we are insecure about our bodies and where we criticize our “flaws”. But how do you know when these mental critics are getting out of hand and might be developing into something more serious?

Body Dysmorphia, or Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), is a mental health disorder in which you may find that the negative thoughts you have about your body are hard to control. Although we all have things we consider “flaws”, body dysmorphic disorder makes the reaction you have to these perceived “flaws” overwhelming. This can lead to many hours spent worrying about how you look, and if escalated may also lead to suicidal thoughts (Johns Hopkins, 2021).

Risk Factors

We know, eating disorders affect people of all ages and backgrounds. It may be surprising to know that BDD is a significant health challenge amongst Ethiopian and Eritrean youth, all over the world. However, there is a lack of information on this topic due to the idea that eating disorders are not something that is acknowledged in our communities. 

Historically, there has been a perception that eating disorders are issues affecting young white females of upper socioeconomic backgrounds in the West, though in recent years there has been a rise in eating disorders in minority groups, including Ethiopian and Eritrean communities (Shem-Tov et al., 2018). 


Although eating disorders such as body dysmorphic disorder do begin in either adolescence or teen years, men and women are equally affected by the disorder (Johns Hopkins, 2021). 

In a scientific study by researchers at Gondar University on the disordered eating attitudes of teens aged 12-19 in Addis Ababa, they found that a significant number of adolescents were found to be at risk of developing disordered eating attitudes (Yirga et al., 2016).

Another factor that could put members of our communities at risk is migration. Immigration, particularly from a non-Western nation to a Western nation, is a life event that can significantly increase the risk of psychological distress and mental disorders in individuals who have experienced extreme hardship and/or trauma (Shem-Tov et al., 2018). Some general causes that can lead to the development of body dysmorphic disorder are:

  • a family history of BDD or a similar mental disorder
  • abnormal levels of brain chemicals
  • your personality type
  • your life experiences

(Johns Hopkins, 2021)


You might be wondering: “what should I do to keep an eye out for body dysmorphic disorder?”

Here are some of the symptoms to look out for:

  • a hyper-focus on your appearance
  • constantly exercising 
  • constantly comparing yourself with others
  • constantly checking yourself in the mirror
  • strong avoidance of mirrors
  • always asking people if you look okay, but not believing it when they say you look fine
  • not leaving the house, especially during the daytime
  • avoiding social activities
  • feeling anxious, depressed, and/or ashamed
  • thoughts of suicide

(Johns Hopkins, 2021) 


So, what should you do if you recognize some of these behaviors? Firstly it’s important to remember that there is nothing to be ashamed of and that there are options for you to improve the issue. Body Dysmorphic Disorder is quite common, with an estimated 1/100 people experiencing the disorder, so you are not alone.

Treatment options often depend on a variety of factors such as your age, the extent of the problem, and the opinions of healthcare providers involved in your care. However, your treatment can include talk therapy or medicine, and often, the best treatment plan is a combination of both (Johns Hopkins, 2021).


If you are concerned that you may be dealing with BDD, the first step is going to your primary care provider and discussing your symptoms with your doctor. Your family physician may then recommend different services that could be beneficial to you in your area. These supports and services may include a mental health clinic, a social worker, a psychologist, or another health professional (CAMH, 2021). 

It is important to know that regardless of any diagnosis, the power always lies with the patient to choose a treatment plan – be it talk therapy, medication, or both – that you are comfortable with. 

Body Dysmorphia is a disorder that can be treated, and although it may not be discussed often within Ethiopian or Eritrean communities, you are not alone. If you feel like you are experiencing symptoms, do not be afraid to reach out for help!


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CAMH. (2021). Looking for mental health services. https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/guides-and-publications/looking-for-mental-health-services

Johns Hopkins. (2021). Body dysmorphic disorder. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/body-dysmorphic-disorder

Shem-Tov, R. G., Zubery, E., Hecht, N. L., & Latzer, Y. (2018). Isr J Psychiatry. “A Full Stomach”: Culturally Sensitive Diagnosis of Eating Disorders among Ethiopian Adolescents in Israel, 55(2). https://cdn.doctorsonly.co.il/2018/10/06_A-Full-Stomach.pdf

Yirga, B., Assefa Gelaw, Y., Derso, T., & Wassie, M. M. (2016). Disordered eating attitude and associated factors among high school adolescents aged 12–19 years in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: A cross-sectional study. BMC Research Notes, 9(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13104-016-2318-6

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