A preoccupation with an aspect of one’s appearance is usually defined as thinking about the perceived defects for at least an hour a day. To meet criteria for BDD, the appearance flaws must not be easily noticeable or clearly visible at conversational distance.Preoccupations most often concern the skin (e.g., scarring, acne), hair (e.g., balding, excessive facial or body hair), or nose (e.g., size, shape). However, the preoccupation can focus on any area of the body and concern with multiple body areas is common.
Repetitive compulsions focused on the perceived flaw may be observable by others. For example, the compulsions can include obsessively examining oneself in the mirror, excessively grooming to hide or fix the perceived flaw, or frequently seeking reassurance from others. Compulsions can also be mental acts, such as comparing one’s appearance with that of other people.
Appearance preoccupations and associated compulsive behaviors become a problem when they cause distress or impairment in functioning in social, academic, or other important areas of life. This distress and impairment criterion helps to differentiate BDD from more typical appearance concerns that usually do not require intervention.
BDD must also be distinguished from symptoms of an eating disorder. Unlike distorted body image seen in eating disorders, BDD involves focusing on a specific body part or feature. Individuals who meet criteria for an eating disorder and only have appearance concerns that focus on excessive fat or weight would not be diagnosed with BDD. However, concerns with fat or weight in a person of normal weight can be a symptom of BDD, and the condition can be diagnosed if criteria for an eating disorder are not met.
Clinicians assessing BDD should also determine whether the individual meets criteria for the muscle dysmorphia form of BDD, which is diagnosed if the individual is preoccupied with concerns that his or her body build is too small or insufficiently muscular. These individuals may also be preoccupied with other body areas. Individuals with the muscle dysmorphia form of BDDhave been shown to have poorer quality of life and higher rates of suicidal behavior and substance use disorders.
Finally, clinicians should also assess the level of the individual’s insight regarding his or her beliefs. Some individuals with good insight recognize that their beliefs are not true. However, most individuals with BDD have poor or absent insight and are entirely convinced that their beliefs about the appearance of disliked body parts are true. Some individuals with the condition have delusional appearance beliefs (e.g., total conviction that they look disfigured).