What Body Dysmorphia Looks Like in Men
Body dysmorphic disorder isn’t just a women’s issue; in fact, recent studies have shown that just as many men as women struggle with body dysmorphia. Currently, there is a surprisingly high number of males who are concerned or dissatisfied with their body appearance. That number has nearly tripled over the past 25 years, and now nearly as many men as women struggle with the disorder.
Body dysmorphia can be very debilitating and negatively affect everyday life; unfortunately, it can also be tricky to treat properly. So, what does body dysmorphia look like in men? What are its symptoms, and how can it be treated? For answers to these questions, just keep reading further!
About Body Dysmorphic Disorder
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is likely caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental and neurological factors. It may also arise from traumatic childhood situations like bullying.
No matter the gender, the effects of Body Dysmorphic Disorder remain the same. The disorder is classified with someone being preoccupied with a certain aspect of their body, whether it be a smaller aspect or a more significant feature. It doesn’t even need to be a real issue: a good number of patients with Body Dysmorphic Disorder often imagine their defects when in reality, they don’t exist.
This might sound like something that most people go through, but there is an important distinction between regular dissatisfaction with one’s appearance and full-on BDD. It has to do with the amount of time a person spends thinking about an imperfection. In people with BDD, the imperfection, whether it be real or imagined, takes up most or all of the thoughts that go through their heads each day. In some cases, a person could wake up and immediately start thinking about their presumed flaw. These thoughts would carry the person throughout their day until they went to sleep.
Because of these obsessive thoughts about physical features, BDD is often compared to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in that these people will go through daily routines to try to keep their thoughts at bay. Since many of the symptoms between the two disorders overlap, you might be misdiagnosed initially if you have BDD.
Body dysmorphic disorder can cause distress and even impair your ability to function throughout the day. This can lead to social isolation, poor job performance, or even unemployment. A lot of patients with BDD often are admitted to hospitals. In more severe cases, Body Dysmorphic Disorder can cause a person to be unable to leave their home due to their overwhelming thoughts, and others may attempt suicide because of it. Suicidal patients seeking dermatological treatment often have this disorder. People with BDD can also have a social anxiety disorder, an eating disorder, or depression to go along with it.
Just about 1% of the United States’ population – or about 3,270,000 people – has body dysmorphia. Despite medical knowledge of the disorder dating back to the 20th century, it remains to be one of the most under-recognized and under-diagnosed disorders out there, highlighting a need for further research on the topic.
Symptoms of Body Dysmorphic Disorder
As previously stated, a person with body dysmorphia will spend the majority of their day fixated on one imperfection. They will often try to act on their fixations, going through a series of grooming exercises to either hide or “fix” their perceived imperfection. These exercises can include constantly checking yourself out in the mirror, comparing yourself to other people to see if their features are better, grooming yourself excessively, or trying to hide the perceived flaw altogether. People with BDD will seek reassurance about their physical features often.
The symptoms of Body Dysmorphic Disorder can vary between genders. Some of this variation has to do with what the person is preoccupied with. Both genders can be preoccupied with their skin, hair, nose or genitals. They usually won’t make the connection that their concerns about their physical appearance are misinformed and due to a psychological disorder.
Men, however, have a preoccupation that is unique to their gender: their muscles. Often referred to as “bigorexia,” men are often concerned about the size of their muscles. No matter how big and bulky these men may seem to other people, their muscles will always be just a little bit too small in their eyes. They may consider themselves “weak” or “tiny” even if they can lift large amounts of weight at a time. This type of body dysmorphic disorder is especially dangerous considering the increased risk of physical harm that goes hand-in-hand with it.
Men with this type of BDD are often fixated on constant exercise. They may be unable to keep a steady job thanks to their fixation on exercising, needing to spend multiple hours per day at the gym to train. While this is in itself problematic, there are risks of physical harm associated with this excessive exercise. They may continue to train, even through injury, to maintain their strength. Now, this kind of training varies greatly from the kind that men without the disorder practice. Rather than making time for one workout per day in the mornings or evenings, these people will work out throughout the day, sometimes even taking time away from resting to cram in one last workout.
When they aren’t spending hours at the gym training themselves, they will spend the majority of the rest of their time working to maintain their muscular strength. Since a lot of the healthy ways to maintain muscle strength take time and perseverance, they will often try to cut corners in ways that may be detrimental to their physical health. These actions include abusing steroids and protein supplements in addition to maintaining special diets to maximize muscle mass.
Men with this form of Body Dysmorphic Disorder will also often be seen checking themselves out in the mirror, measuring their muscle mass, finding ways to camouflage their clothing in order to appear bigger or even using clothing like hats and scarves to hide their perceived imperfection. Others will avoid mirrors altogether, refuse to have their photo taken or even keep their obsessions a secret from their friends and family in order to avoid the social stigma that they associate with telling them. Since men going through the symptoms spend lots of time in a gym, locker room, or even at modeling agencies, men who frequent these types of places are at an increased risk for developing Body Dysmorphic Disorder.
In extreme cases, some men will even go as far as to get plastic surgery in order to fix their imperfections. Operations that you’ll typically see them ask for include liposuction, as well as pec and calf implants in order to make themselves appear more muscular. While these people may believe that their surgery will get rid of their perceived flaw, the method is ineffective. As their body heals from the surgery, their mind will still have the disorder, causing them to remain unhappy about their physical appearance. In the days following a visit to the plastic surgeon, these men will often experience severe depression or become suicidal. In their minds, the physician and plastic surgeon didn’t fix their flaws, but in reality, a surgeon isn’t the person you should be seeing to combat Body Dysmorphic Disorder.
As you can see, the symptoms that surround Body Dysmorphic Disorder can vary widely from person to person. For a disorder that is so specialized, how would you go about treating it?
Properly Treating Body Dysmorphia
If you think that you may have Body Dysmorphic Disorder, there are a few things that you can do to get started on the treatment process. First, you’ll need to get the correct diagnosis of BDD. Physicians can usually diagnose this in men by asking a few basic questions. These questions are designed to determine if a man is concerned about a perceived “flaw” in his appearance, whether the “flaw” is small, imagined, or more significant, whether or not the concern causes a significant amount of distress, and whether or not that concern interferes with their aspects of daily life.
Once the disorder is diagnosed, the next challenge is finding the best way to treat it. This can prove to be difficult, as clinical trials and studies based on Body Dysmorphic Disorder are still ongoing with no concrete answer on how to properly handle it. According to PubMed Central, this should not be a reason to lose hope; some of the trials that have been conducted show that serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which restrain the neurotransmitter known for modulating numerous physiological processes, are effective for most patients dealing with BDD. These inhibitors are often used to combat depression, but in the case of BDD, higher doses and longer trials may be needed to achieve the desired effect.
They are not your only option when it comes to treatment, however. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can also be effective in treating BDD. For this disorder, the therapy is designed to help patients develop positive opinions of their physical appearance as well as quelling any negative behaviors caused by their skewed perception. It also helps the patients to face their fears when it comes to social situations they would previously avoid due to their perceived flaws. Since Body Dysmorphic Disorder shares a variety of symptoms with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, medications used to treat it can also be effective in treating BDD.
In terms of gender, men may need more specialized treatment plans due to the fact that their symptoms may differ greatly from women with BDD. In any case, each case of BDD can warrant a variety of individualized needs, strengthening the need for personal treatment plans. The proof isn’t concrete yet, and there is still a lot of research that needs to be done in order to properly combat the disorder, but these methods have been shown to be the most effective so far. There are some methods, however, that many men turn to which are actually ineffective.
Body Dysmorphia Disorder Treatments to Avoid
Through clinical studies, the methods listed above are thought to be the most effective form of treatment for BDD. These aren’t the options that all men choose, however. Most patients with BDD choose to receive treatment through dermatologists, surgeons (like the plastic surgery mentioned earlier), or non-psychiatric means. According to PubMed Central, these treatments are largely ineffective and can lead to more problems associated with the disorder, although more in-depth research still needs to be done.
When these methods of treatment are used, symptoms of the disorder can actually become more severe. Chances are, the patient seeking treatment is going to be largely dissatisfied with the results of their treatment, which can lead to increased depression, suicidal tendencies, threats or commitments to legal action against their physicians, and even showing levels of violence toward physicians for their perceived lack of treatment.
This is why it is important to seek trained psychiatric help if you suspect that you may have Body Dysmorphic Disorder. As you might think, trying to talk a person with BDD out of their concerns and behaviors is not going to get the job done.
As you can see, Body dysmorphia is just as prevalent in men as it is in women. It can also be very different from gender to gender. Not only do men and women have varying symptoms of BDD, but the category often referred to as “bigorexia” is much more common in men than it is in women. It can be detrimental to social situations and personal life, which can affect relationships with friends and family members and a person’s ability to maintain and perform well at a full-time job.
Keeping the public informed as well as continuing to press on with research and clinical trials is important to our understanding of the disorder. If the public works to increase awareness, they can increase the proper diagnosis and treatment of this disorder.
If you are struggling with the symptoms mentioned above or know someone that is, use this article to inform them of ways to get treatment. You can also visit our website in order to find effective methods of treatment.