By CARMA HALEY SHOEMAKER
FAMILY ~ In the United States, greater than one-third of all women between the ages of 15 and 39 have a condition called body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). This disorder is made evident when preoccupations with body appear and especially when the preoccupations focus on one area. Body dysmorphic disorder interferes with social, career, sexual and personal relations and activities. However, there is no one cause or even one set of symptoms, which makes the issue even more pressing, especially in teen girls.
|Wikimedia photo by Mohamed Osman; used with permission under Creative Commons license|
According to Abigail Natenshon, psychotherapist, BDD is about self-loathing, body intolerance and body image disturbance. "It's one thing to be aware of your body; it is another to be over-aware," says Natenshon. "Those who suffer from BDD are preoccupied – or even overly obsessed – with their body, their shape, their size and their weight. It goes without saying that all of these conditions put a person at high risk to develop eating disorders."
But why? "Reasons why BDD develops come together in the context of genetic susceptibilities and temperament," says Natenshon. "In these cases, the whole can be greater and more devastating than the sum of its parts. The question why is far less significant than what to do to alleviate the emotional pain that BDD carries with it."
Warning Signs of BDD
While BDD is a dominant disorder, teens do not wear a sign on their neck to let you know it's there. Parents need to learn what it is, what it does and what to look for.
"When a young woman is worried more about what she ate than anything else, it is a warning sign," says Jessica Weiner, a motivational speaker and author of A Very Hungry Girl. "Other important signs to watch for related to BDD are: a withdrawal from friends; severe mood swings; a determined preoccupation with exercise, losing weight and with dieting; preoccupation with body size (both their own and others, often comparing). Basically if your body and your food is all you think about from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep, all of your 'worth' is based on body image and weight, your life has become unmanageable – there is a problem or warning sign there to pay attention to."
It is important to remember that all teens – especially tween and teen girls – have some natural preoccupation with their bodies, as they are changing, growing and developing in many ways. "Being aware of your body as it changes with the onset of the teen years and puberty is healthy," says Weiner. "However, a person struggling with BDD will begin to put their preoccupation ahead of all other things, although secretly at times. The presence of BDD usually develops after some type of dramatic or tragic events but can also be a learned behavior. In addition, events at home can also trigger BDD."