In this day and age of airbrushed supermodels, no real person can compete with the perfected images that saturate the media. Dysmorphia is a term meaning bad body image and refers to the exaggeration of a minor flaw, or the invention of one, to the extent that a person obsesses about it and seeks ways to disguise, change or destroy it. When this obsession interferes with daily life, it may be diagnosed as a chronic mental illness. Even if it does not advance to this level, a person with a bad body image usually suffers from low self-esteem and related difficulties. If dysmorphia continues unchecked and worsens, it may possibly lead to financial strain, eating disorders, unnecessary diets and depression for the sufferer.
The mental health community has long recognized the negative effects of a bad body image. Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) and muscle dysmorphic disorder (MD) are labels adopted to designate different aspects of this misperception, with BDD more common in women and MD most commonly found in men. A bad body image stems partially from low self-esteem and further undermines self-esteem in a vicious cycle. Individuals may spend inordinate amounts of money on clothing, cosmetics, supplements or other products in an effort to disguise their perceived flaws. Even if the expense is beyond their means, a person with a bad body image might religiously visit a tanning salon or pay for a regular gym membership.
Dysmorphia is exhausting and expensive. Not only must sufferers seek to disguise or fix the offensive flaw, but all other aspects of their appearance are usually attended to with meticulous care in order to draw attention away from it. For example, a person's weight is often a major component of a bad body image, particularly for women. This perception — real or imagined — often leads to yo-yo dieting or even a life spent on a perpetual diet. In serious cases, life-threatening eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia may develop, with terrible consequences.
Men who suffer from muscle dysmorphic disorder may spend hours in the gym, working out and exercising in an effort to demonstrate a perfect bodybuilder physique. Repeated plastic surgeries may be the ultimate symptom of a bad body image in those men and women who can afford them. Unfortunately, one's efforts can never be enough to overcome dysmorphia. Treatment usually consists of antidepressant therapy and cognitive therapy or counseling.